Excited about the present, Rex Ryan is keeping his options open on his future.
The Ravens introduced Ryan as the team's assistant head coach and defensive coordinator yesterday, ending speculation Ryan might depart to become another team's defensive coordinator.
But Ryan conceded his stay in Baltimore might be short as long as his name is floated when head coaching positions become available after next season and beyond.
"I think eventually I will become a head coach - whether that's three, five, six or whatever years down the road [or] next year," said Ryan, who signed a three-year deal worth $1.3 million to $1.5 million a season. "And that's fine. That will be the right time. I think every coach has a goal of becoming a head coach if you truly believe in yourself and your abilities."
Ryan, a finalist for the head coaching job with the San Diego Chargers after the 2006 season, interviewed with the Atlanta Falcons and the Miami Dolphins for their head coaching vacancies earlier this month. But those teams hired Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith and Dallas Cowboys offensive line coach Tony Sparano, respectively.
Named assistant head coach, Ryan will provide input on football decisions made by coach John Harbaugh.
"I've been coaching 11 years in the NFL, and I realize that I have a lot of learning still to do," Ryan said. "It's not just, 'Hey, I've got all the answers.' I'm the wrong guy. I don't. But this is just going to give me another opportunity to learn and maybe when I do get an opportunity down the road, I think maybe I'll be more prepared for it."
This latest position could accelerate Ryan's quest to become an NFL head coach, but Ryan insisted his primary focus is improving a Ravens defense that fell from No. 1 in seven major categories in 2006.
"We know we're a better football team than the way we played last year, and we've just got to go out and prove it," he said. "I'm not really motivated that much by becoming a head coach. I'm motivated by, 'Let's get back to work, let's get a great staff together and let's go get our players and start practicing.' These guys are going to be so excited to get this opportunity."
Harbaugh, who competed with Ryan for the Ravens' vacancy, said he did not hesitate to hire Ryan after several players had supported Ryan's candidacy.
"That's why I wanted to do it more than anything," Harbaugh said. "With some guys, maybe you would think that way, and there are guys out there that you would have concerns. But not with Rex Ryan. We go too far back [they coached together at the University of Cincinnati in 1996]. I love the guy. Always have."
Ryan's return was welcomed by Bart Scott, who credited Ryan with his transformation from an undrafted rookie to a Pro Bowl linebacker after the 2006 season.
"The fact that he came back speaks volumes about his character," Scott said. "It shows the love that he has for his players, and, in return, we will show our love for him. It's a privilege and a pleasure to play for Rex."
In Ryan's three years as defensive coordinator, the Ravens have finished no worse than sixth in the NFL in yards allowed (301.6 per game in 2007), ninth in rushing (99.4 yards in 2005) and 10th in first downs (17.3 in 2005).
The unit enjoyed its best success in 2006, as the Ravens compiled a 13-3 record, earned a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs and sent six defensive players (including their entire starting linebacker corps) to the Pro Bowl. The defense ranked first in the league in yards (264.1), points (201), interceptions (28), first downs (14.8) and third-down efficiency (28.8 percent).