Ryan to interview for Ravens' vacancy

OWINGS MILLS -- In the wake of Brian Billick being fired Monday, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan is expected to emerge as a strong candidate to become the Baltimore Ravens' next head coach. Ryan received several ringing endorsements from players following Billick's dismissal, but there are no guarantees he will land the job because team officials plan to conduct an extensive search.

Other names circulating around NFL circles that could possibly be considered for the Baltimore vacancy: former San Diego Chargers and Cleveland Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer, who has multiple ties to the Ravens' front office including former majority owner Art Modell, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, San Francisco 49ers assistant head coach Mike Singletary, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and New England Patriots offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels.

"We just started the process. Is Rex someone that we will interview to be our head coach? Yes," Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "But we're going to be very thorough. "We want to select the best guy. If Rex is the best guy, then he will be the third coach in the history of the Baltimore Ravens. But we're going to be calling and talking to a lot of people so that we can get the best coach."

Ryan has produced one of the NFL's top defenses since taking over for Mike Nolan three years ago, including finishing first in total defense and fewest points allowed when Baltimore went 13-3 a year ago.

Despite suffering season-ending injuries to key players this season, including defensive end Trevor Pryce and cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, the Ravens remained a formidable defense overall, particularly against the run.

However, a shorthanded secondary faltered in pass defense by allowing 27 touchdown passes. If Ryan follows in the footsteps of his legendary father, Buddy Ryan, as an NFL head coach, it would be a popular move with the Ravens' players.

"I'd love it," Rolle said. "Not to disrespect coach Billick or anything, but I'm sure everybody around here would love that." However, the Ravens could face competition for Ryan's services. He's expected to be considered for the Atlanta Falcons' vacancy, although no interview had been formally scheduled as of Monday with Dallas Cowboys assistant head coach Tony Sparano, Schottenheimer and Singletary in the running for the position as well.

"He's a top coach, and he's going to have every option," nose guard Kelly Gregg said of Ryan's job prospects. "I would definitely like to see Rex get his shot."

Added offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden: "He's familiar with us. I think he would be an excellent head coach."

Pro Bowl alternate outside linebacker Terrell Suggs credited Ryan for his development as a player.

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, Suggs has 45 sacks in five seasons since being drafted in the first round in 2003. "Before Rex Ryan took over full-time working with me, I was a certified bust," Suggs said. "Everything that I've achieved and that I've accomplished has solely been because of Rex Ryan and his defensive staff.

"Rex is an amazing coach, and the coaches on that side of the ball are amazing coaches. I think he's just as big a candidate as anybody out there."

Team owner Steve Bisciotti said that Newsome would lead the coaching search and that he will seek advice from team president Dick Cass and fellow owners.

Bisciotti denied a rumor that he had already interviewed former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.

"It was all over the place," Bisciotti said. "I have never met Bill Cowher. If I shook his hand one time five years ago at an NFL meeting, I don't remember it. But I did not talk with him, and I did not look for candidates.

"I have not spent one minute thinking about Brian's replacement. That's not something I'm qualified to do without Ozzie's lead. So, that process starts now."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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