Future uncertain as Ravens change direction

After surprisingly firing coach Brian Billick, the Ravens are confident that they'll land one of the top coaching prospects in the NFL. "I think that any potential head coach that looks at Ozzie Newsome's history of drafting Pro Bowl players and sees the Pro Bowlers (already on the team) ... will put us on top of their list," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said.

The Ravens formally sent out requests to interview potential candidates Wednesday, focusing on assistants with teams in the playoffs.

Team officials wouldn't reveal any names or the number of candidates.

It is believed that list would include Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

According to NFL rules, teams can only interview assistant coaches on playoff teams during their bye week, which ends Saturday. If those coaches make it to the Super Bowl, teams can interview them again between the week of the conference championship game and the Super Bowl.

"I have one job here, and that's to have a leader that I think gives us the best chance to win," Bisciotti said. "I said to my wife (Sunday) night that there's a Hall of Fame coach out there, and it's our job to find him."

Another candidate expected to be high on the Ravens' list is Rex Ryan, their defensive coordinator for the past three seasons.

If the Ravens decide to go after a veteran coach, the two most prominent names are Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer.

Recently, Schottenheimer said he would probably not return to coaching unless there was an intriguing situation.

Schottenheimer was fired by the San Diego Chargers in February after he failed to win a playoff game with a 14-2 team.

Cowher said last month that he wasn't interested in the Falcons' vacancy and didn't want to coach next season. But there were rumors throughout the season that Bisciotti met with Cowher.

Without being asked about Cowher, Bisciotti addressed the speculation concerning the former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach.

"I have never met Bill Cowher," he said. "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 that I'm qualified to do without Ozzie's lead. So, that process starts now."

Selecting a new head coach might be the Ravens' biggest change this offseason.

They have 21 of 22 starters under contract and aren't expected to let linebacker Terrell Suggs hit the free-agent market (the sides could be getting close to a long-term deal).

But Newsome said the Ravens' new coach will have a say in the look of next season's team, including the future of quarterback Steve McNair.

"First of all, it's going to be important that we get the new coach, we get the new staff, and we let them evaluate the football team," Newsome said. "That's going to be first and foremost before we start to make any decisions about who is going to be on our team in 2008."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The career of former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan is in limbo.

He hasn't heard from the Ravens when he will be interviewed for Brian Billick's former job, although general manager Ozzie Newsome said this week that Ryan is on the team's list.

And Ryan expects to meet with officials from the Atlanta Falcons about their opening at some point. Ryan said he didn't know when an interview would occur, but there's a strong chance it could happen next week.

"I have no idea for sure about the future," Ryan said. "There's speculation that I could get a couple of head coaching interviews. Obviously, I'm looking forward to those. If not, we'll see what happens from there."

--Billick's firing -- or more importantly, his successor's hiring -- could determine whether offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden returns for a 13th season.

Ogden, the Ravens' first draft pick in 1996, has contemplated retiring because of injuries but acknowledged that the team's decision on a new coach will play a large role in his future.

"Oh yeah, it will," Ogden said, laughing heartily. "A new system, a new coach, a double-edged sword. Some things we needed to change about the offense, but a whole change -- I don't know. I have no idea what they're going to do, who they're going to get. But I'll definitely wait and see. I'll probably try to come in and talk to whoever the new coach is and see what the situation is and kind of go from there."

--There has been speculation that the Ravens are only obligated to pay $5 million to Billick. He has three years left on his contract that will pay him a total of $15 million, but only $5 million is guaranteed, the Web site said. The other $10 million is a club option.

Owner Steve Bisciotti addressed Billick's contract by saying, "His contract will be paid. He's building that farm on the eastern shore, and he told me that he is wealthy enough to treat me to dinner over there when the house is done."

--When the Ravens fired Billick, they dismissed his entire coaching staff. But every assistant has one year left on his contract, which will be honored by the team.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I believed that it was time for a change. I believe we have the nucleus of a team that can get back to the Super Bowl. We felt that in the next five years that we had a better chance with a new coach than leaving Brian in that position." -- Owner Steve Bisciotti, on firing Brian Billick, the team's only Super Bowl winning head coach.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Unlike their coaching staff, the roster seems to be set.

The Ravens have 21 of 22 starters under contract and aren't expected to let linebacker Terrell Suggs hit the free agent market.

The Ravens could lose two long-time starters on the offensive line. Left tackle Jonathan Ogden seems to be leaning toward retirement, and center Mike Flynn could get pushed out by former second-round pick Chris Chester.

COACHING CAROUSEL: The Ravens fired Brian Billick after nine seasons, as well as his entire coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan will be interviewed by the team for the opening.

Besides Ryan, the Ravens could be looking at Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.

FREE AGENT UPDATE: The only starter scheduled to be a free agent is linebacker Terrell Suggs. If the Ravens can't reach a long-term deal with him, they will use the franchise tag to keep him. The other free agents are all backups: receiver Devard Darling, running back Musa Smith and safety Gerome Sapp. They are all uncertain whether they'll return.

FEELING A DRAFT: The Ravens will have the No. 8 pick in the NFL draft. The biggest need is quarterback, but the Ravens have never selected a quarterback that high. The best bet is an offensive tackle or linebacker.

TEAM NEEDS

Cornerback: The Ravens played without their top two cornerbacks (Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle) for a majority of the season. They struggled with Corey Ivy, David Pittman, Derrick Martin and Willie Gaston. None are considered starting cover men in this league. The Ravens need to find solid, young talent.

Inside linebacker: Ray Lewis and Bart Scott are entering the final years of their contract. The Ravens need to start grooming a replacement for one of them this season.

Quarterback: Although Steve McNair could be brought back as the starter, he doesn't look like a legitimate NFL quarterback anymore. Backups Kyle Boller and Troy Smith aren't starters either.

MEDICAL WATCH: McNair had surgery on his non-throwing shoulder and is scheduled to get checked out by the team at the end of January.

McAlister went on injured reserve with a knee injury and might need surgery.

Tight end Todd Heap missed most of the season with a hamstring injury but he isn't expected to have surgery.


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