The Ravens’ line of succession at defensive coordinator went from Marvin Lewis to Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan to Greg Mattison and then Chuck Pagano to Dean Pees. After the initial 1996 hiring of Lewis, who was lured from Bill Cowher’s Pittsburgh Steelers coaching staff, the Ravens have had five defensive coordinator openings and they’ve filled each one by promoting one of their position coaches.
If that trend continues, the Ravens would likely fill the void after Pees’ retirement announcement Monday by elevating linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale to run their defense.
However, another prominent option has emerged from the outside. According to sources, the Ravens are speaking with Pagano about potentially returning to the organization and running the team’s defense. It's unclear how much progress they've made in the negotiations.
Pagano, 57, was fired this week after a six-year run as the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach. He has maintained close ties with several Ravens officials, including head coach John Harbaugh, who hired Pagano as his secondary coach in 2008, and he’s held in extremely high regard by owner Steve Bisciotti and other team officials.
In Pagano’s one season as defensive coordinator in 2011, the Ravens finished third in the NFL in yards allowed per game (288.9), fourth in passing yards allowed per game (196.3), second in rushing yards allowed per game (92.6) and third in points allowed per game (16.6).
Pagano is known for a brash and aggressive defensive style that the Ravens feel would fit their current personnel well. However, there remain questions about whether Pagano is interested in jumping right into a defensive coordinator job after an at-times tumultuous tenure with Indianapolis. Pagano battled and overcame leukemia during his first season with the Colts in 2012.
He has said in the past that Indianapolis would be his last coaching job, and he will be getting paid by the Colts for two more seasons.
There are no guarantees that the Ravens will woo him back to Baltimore, though that appears to be the team’s focus at the moment. If they can’t, they have a slew of options.
Martindale has been on Harbaugh’s staff for the past six seasons and has been instrumental in the development of young linebackers C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr and Matthew Judon while meshing well with older ones such as Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain and Daryl Smith. He’s long been a favorite of players who appreciate his direct-yet-flexible coaching style and his ability to connect with them on a personal and professional level.
Mosley, the Ravens’ leading tackler this past season and a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has already endorsed Martindale for the job. The Ravens’ two most accomplished defenders, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety Eric Weddle, also have expressed support for Martindale.
“I know what kind of coach he is, what kind of person he is,” Mosley said Monday.
Rookie linebacker Tyus Bowser vouched for Martindale’s “tough-love” approach.
“He always keeps it real with us. In the good times, he’s going to let us know, and when the bad times come up, he’s going to let us know, too. It’s just part of life, Bowser said. “You would much rather have someone come up to you and tell you how you’re doing and the things you need to work on if you’re struggling and just letting you know by being real. You need that because there are a lot of coaches around the NFL that it’s not like that. So Coach Wink is one of a kind to help us out and be that type of man and talk to us face-to-face as grown men and let us know what we need to work on and if we’re doing good or bad.”
Martindale, 54, first coached alongside Harbaugh in 1996 at the University of Cincinnati, then worked under Harbaugh’s father, Jack, at Western Kentucky in 2001 and 2002. He broke into the NFL in 2004 as an inside linebackers coach for the Oakland Raiders before ultimately getting a shot in 2010 to run the Broncos defense as coordinator under head coach Josh McDaniels. That Broncos team finished 4-12 and the defense ranked last in the NFL.
However, the Ravens value Martindale’s teaching ability and have made sure in recent seasons that other teams didn’t poach him off Harbaugh’s staff. Martindale has been viewed as the heir apparent to Pees for the past couple of seasons.
Harbaugh is expected to conduct his customary end-of-season news conference Thursday morning. Up to this point, there’s been silence from the Ravens’ top decision-makers, who will have plenty of key calls to make in the days ahead.
Even for the defensive coordinator position, the Ravens have several enticing options if they can’t lure Pagano or don’t hire Martindale. Some of the other potential candidates could include:
Teryl Austin: Austin, a former Ravens secondary coach and a member of the 2012 Super Bowl-winning staff, has been the Detroit Lions defensive coordinator the past four seasons. He interviewed Tuesday for the Lions’ head coaching job, which is vacant after Monday’s firing of Jim Caldwell, and could be a candidate for a few other head-coaching openings as well. Austin’s defense in Detroit ranked second overall in 2014 but has had some struggles since.
Jack Del Rio: The longtime NFL head coach was let go by the Raiders after their disappointing 6-10 season. Del Rio was the Ravens’ linebackers coach from 1999 to 2001, and Harbaugh has expressed his respect for him on numerous occasions over the years. Del Rio will still be paid by Oakland for three more years, so he might be in no hurry to take a defensive coordinator job elsewhere. However, his resume speaks for itself.
Vic Fangio: With head coach John Fox having been fired by the Chicago Bears this week, Fangio could be free to pursue other opportunities. He’d almost certainly jump to the top of the list of the available defensive coordinators. Despite being undermanned at times, his Bears defense has finished in the top 15 in each of the past three seasons. Fangio worked on Brian Billick and Harbaugh’s Ravens staffs earlier in his career, and coached under Harbaugh’s brother Jim at Stanford and with the San Francisco 49ers.
Ted Monachino: Monachino, a Ravens linebacker coach from 2010 to 2015, was also once considered a potential successor to Pees before he left to become the Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator. In two seasons in that role, Monachino’s defense ranked 30th in the NFL each year. However, he has a lot of support within the Ravens organization, including from Suggs, who played under Monachino at Arizona State.
Steve Spagnuolo: He was on Harbaugh’s defensive staff in Baltimore in 2013 and 2014 before leaving for his second stint as the New York Giants defensive coordinator. Spagnuolo’s unit had a strong season in 2016 but was a disaster this season. He was named the interim head coach when the Giants fired Ben McAdoo last month and is expected to be interviewed for the permanent job. However, he doesn’t appear to be a primary candidate.