Ravens hire Fassel and Neuheisel

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens' beleaguered offense was revamped Tuesday with the hiring of Jim Fassel as offensive coordinator and Rick Neuheisel as quarterbacks coach.

The Ravens plummeted to a franchise-worst 31st in total offense last season as Baltimore missed the playoffs and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh resigned under pressure. Now, Ravens coach Brian Billick is banking on Fassel and Neuheisel injecting some creative ideas into a stagnant offense.

"There's a lot of energy in the building right now," Billick said. "There's a lot of energy in my coaching staff, and we're excited about the direction we're going."

Fassel is a former New York Giants head coach who acted as a senior consultant last season who specialized in tutoring quarterback Kyle Boller.

Last season, the Ravens ranked 31st in passing, moving up only one notch from 2003 when they were first in rushing and last in passing.
Bruising runner Jamal Lewis remains the focal point, but Fassel sounds like he's in a rush to oversee changes to a one-dimensional, bland attack.

"I don't think this is going to be a real slow process, it'd better not be," Fassel said. "I expect us to make dramatic strides. I think it has to come a lot through the pass game and make some big plays.

"That's how you put points up on the board. We want to be a little more balanced and a lot more explosive."

Fassel, 55, had hoped to obtain an NFL head coaching job, but was passed over for interviews with the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns. Once Fassel realized he was going to be shut out of the hiring season, he worked out a deal with Billick, a friend for the past 26 years.

"Although things didn't work out the way I wanted it to this year, the last thing I thought I was going to do was go back to being a coordinator," Fassel said. "There was only one place I even considered, and that was right here. I'll wake up in the morning excited about what I'm doing. This was the right thing to do."

Fassel coached the Giants from 1997 to 2003, going 58-53-1 and leading New York to Super Bowl XXXV, where he lost to the Ravens. He is known for his work with quarterbacks, including John Elway, Kerry Collins and Phil Simms. Fassel was an offensive coordinator previously with the Giants, Broncos and Cardinals.

In seven years under Fassel, New York only turned the ball over 1.72 times per contest. The Giants had four seasons with at least 5,000 net yards and ranked 11th or higher in passing in all but one season.

"He's just the man to take on the task of creating that new direction and that new energy offensively that we're seeking," Billick said.
In his second season, Boller improved his quarterback rating to 70.2 along with his completion percentage, passing yards per game, touchdowns per contest and interception percentage.

"I told him, 'We can do whatever we want with you now, and I trust you,'" Fassel said. "Going into this year as young as he was, I said, 'You've got to prove some things to us, so I can trust you.' We trust him."

Hiring Fassel might not grant the Ravens the continuity they were seeking. If the offense improves dramatically, he could be a hot commodity next season.

"I've always lived by this: You take a job, and you don't worry about the next one," Fassel said. "Bill Belichick got fired from his first head job. It took him five years as a coordinator to get back. I hope it doesn't take five years, but if it does, I love what I do."

The Ravens are reportedly $20 million underneath the salary cap and searching for a go-to receiver to complement Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap. With free agency starting in March, Billick is focused on his staff.

"I sit here as a guy that, although exhausted, gets his cake and eats it too in getting Jim Fassel as my new offensive coordinator and Rick Neuheisel as our new quarterback coach," Billick said.

By adding Neuheisel, the Ravens have begun a potential line of succession should Fassel move on, after interviewing him for coordinator.

Neuheisel, 43, has been out of coaching other than volunteering at a Seattle high school since being fired by the University of Washington in 2003 for participating in a high-stakes NCAA basketball pool. He was absolved by the NCAA of wrongdoing, and his wrongful termination suit against the university begins Monday. Billick is allowing him to remain on the West Coast while he pursues legal action.

"I'm thrilled to be back into coaching," said Neuheisel, who went 66-30 at Colorado and Washington, but hasn't coached in the NFL. "I don't pretend to have a wealth of experience and that I can just snap my fingers. I'm going to follow the direction of Jim Fassel, who has a great track record."

NOTES: With Neuheisel's hiring, receivers coach David Shaw will no longer work with the quarterbacks.

"I am asking a lot of David Shaw," Billick said. "I have had to ask him from a personal standpoint to step back in terms of a professional progression to say, 'David, I need you be what I know you can be, which is the best receivers coach in the NFL.' He has embraced that." ...
Billick said that running backs coach Matt Simon remains in discussions with Washington coach Ty Willingham about the Huskies' offensive coordinator job. ... Ravens assistants Mike Singletary and Mike Pettine are reportedly candidates for new San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan's staff.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times and Ravens Insider.

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