Ryan in limbo after mass firing

OWINGS MILLS -- While the Baltimore Ravens launched their search for their next head coach by requesting permission to speak to candidates on NFL playoff teams Wednesday, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan remains in a holding pattern. Still working out of his second-floor office at the team's training complex, Ryan is expected to be granted interviews with the Ravens and the Atlanta Falcons.

His preference is to remain in Baltimore, and general manager Ozzie Newsome said Monday that Ryan is on the team's list. Ryan, who was fired Monday morning along with coach Brian Billick and the entire Baltimore staff, had yet to hear from the Ravens or the Falcons as of late Wednesday afternoon.

"I thought it was great that they would look at me in that light," Ryan said. "That was big. Having the opportunity to go to Atlanta and other places as well speaks volumes about what kind of organization this is.

"I look forward to getting an opportunity. I haven't spoken with Atlanta, but it's my understanding that it's going to happen. I would love to be here with the Ravens."

Ryan is expected to interview with Atlanta as soon as next week.

The son of former NFL head coach Buddy Ryan, Ryan has a strong track record that nearly landed him the San Diego Chargers' job that went to Norv Turner a year ago.

Named the NFL's assistant coach of the year in 2006 after engineering the NFL's top-ranked defense, Ryan now finds himself at least temporarily out of a job. Baltimore finished first in defense in 2006 for the first time, also leading the league in fewest points allowed.

The Ravens ranked fifth in total defense in 2005 during Ryan's first season as defensive coordinator. This season, Baltimore finished sixth overall despite being without defensive end Trevor Pryce and cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle for the majority of the season.

"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."

Ryan was flattered to receive several ringing endorsements from players in the wake of Billick's dismissal.

"You've been around nine years and a lot of these guys have grown up under me and with me," Ryan said. "I think they understand the kind of person I am. They understand that there's accountability and there's discipline.

Basically, you get the truth. I'm not going to speak out of both sides of my mouth, and I'm not saying that Brian did that ever.

"They know I'm a straight shooter. I think they appreciate that. They always know I was as prepared as I possibly could be as a coach. They know I care about them and respect them."

If Ryan is offered a head-coaching job, he said he hoped to be able to keep some of the assistants he worked with in Baltimore.

"A lot of them are going to be sought after," he said. "There are a lot of great coaches here."

Ryan hasn't ruled out returning to Baltimore as defensive coordinator under a new head coach, but he would want to consider his options depending on who the team hires.

Ryan is under contract to Baltimore for the next year and received a raise in salary during the offseason last year following his interview with San Diego.

If the Falcons' job is ultimately offered to Ryan, he'd likely be inclined to take it. That could set up a scenario where the Ravens might have to decide whether they want to commit to their defensive boss from the past three seasons or continue what's expected to be an exhaustive search.

As for the upheaval that just transpired in Baltimore, Ryan said he wasn't entirely surprised after a 5-11 campaign that began with Super Bowl ambitions following a franchise-record 13-3 season.

"That's always a tough deal," Ryan said. "You know our record, and the year wasn't up to anybody's standards around here. When that happens, this is what happens in those situations.

"It kind of reminded me of what happened at Oklahoma when I was there. We won four out of our last five games, but we lost to Texas and change needed to take place. Everybody said, 'No, we did this, we did that.' At the end of the day, this year never met expectations. I think that's what happened."

As of Monday morning, Ryan was looking forward to bouncing back with the Ravens under Billick's direction. Billick had even planned to tap his expertise in the search for a new offensive coordinator.

Ryan said he has stayed in contact with Billick this week.

"Brian is doing fine," Ryan said. "He was concerned about everybody else's family. Brian's a good person and he's a good football coach. These things happen to everybody. I think it caught him off-guard.

"I was looking forward to being involved in interviewing offensive coordinator candidates. I had my notepad ready. I said, 'Brian, can you bring in a guy from Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh?' We kind of laughed about that. I think he's doing well."

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

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