Bisciotti gets back in game

The Baltimore Sun

So much for the mistaken notion that the Ravens did not have a Plan B.

Barely a day after they were left at the altar by Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, the Ravens announced the hiring of Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach John Harbaugh to replace Brian Billick as head coach.

Apparently, owner Steve Bisciotti's gut has a second gear.

He didn't hesitate when that gut told him to fire Billick on New Year's Eve. He didn't dither when it told him to offer the job to Garrett on Tuesday, though Garrett's gut apparently told him to stay in Dallas and become the highest-paid assistant coach in the history of the NFL. And Bisciotti didn't hesitate this time after spending yesterday with the affable Harbaugh, who becomes only the third coach in club history.

Harbaugh agreed to terms about 5:30 p.m., so maybe Bisciotti's gut also told him the search was threatening to hold up dinner. (But then, maybe I'm the only one who makes decisions that way.)

In the end, he went outside the box and took a chance on a coach who had not yet climbed to the coordinator level, but that shouldn't come as a great surprise if you were listening when the owner explained himself Dec. 31. He said he would be looking for "the next Hall of Fame coach," which was widely interpreted as a preference for an up-and-coming coaching prospect instead of a seemingly safer option such as Marty Schottenheimer.

Garrett certainly fit that description and Bisciotti obviously felt he was the best man for the job, which left the search committee open to speculation that it had put too much emphasis on the team's first choice.

In some circles, there was even the notion that the Ravens had been "used" by Garrett to leverage his position with the Cowboys.

The funny thing is, both notions might bear some truth, but that is not proof of a flaw in the Ravens' decision-making apparatus. The NFL is all about the "next man up," and Harbaugh was identified as that guy before Garrett turned down the job, so it wasn't as if the front office got caught in some kind of administrative vacuum and had to settle for a second-tier coach.

It's possible that Harbaugh was the best choice all along. It's a process that can only be judged in hindsight anyway.

There was no shame in focusing on the No. 1 candidate in their search and making a strong play for him as soon as he was available. Garrett was the guy just about everyone in the NFL viewed as the top up-and-comer in the game. Perhaps the Ravens miscalculated his interest in Baltimore, but you can't blame the Ravens for not knowing something that wasn't knowable.

They knew Garrett was being pursued by the Atlanta Falcons and would likely get a big counteroffer from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. If they had decided to go after someone else because of the possibility Garrett would not accept the job, that - not the eventual outcome - would have been a sign of organizational weakness.

Bisciotti made his best play and, failing that, quickly moved ahead. Garrett also made his play, and only he knows if he was sincerely seeking the Ravens job when he arrived here for his second interview. I'm pretty sure Harbaugh doesn't care, though it's always nicer to be the first one invited to the prom.

The idea that Bisciotti was so focused on Plan A and didn't see this coming is a little ridiculous. It wasn't that complicated, and even if it were, Bisciotti is not a rookie corporate executive. He is an aggressive guy who played his hand all the way to the river. If you lose, and you've still got chips, you forget about it and look at new cards.

He acknowledged at the outset that he depends a lot on his instincts, which have served him very well during the whole of his professional life. I think that's preferable to the rumors (now debunked) of a more Machiavellian approach that allegedly included a clandestine golf outing with former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher while Billick was still in place.

It would have been great if the Ravens could have wrapped up their coaching search earlier, but that's why they call it a search, because you have to find the right guy. Bisciotti originally thought that was Garrett, but found out quickly that it would have to be somebody else.

There is no perfect system for choosing a coach, and there are no sure things. The Ravens might someday look back at Garrett's decision as the best thing that ever happened to the organization. That depends on how well the search committee has done its job and whether Bisciotti's gut is still giving him good advice.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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