Plot thickens in Ravens' search

OWINGS MILLS -- The path is clear for the Baltimore Ravens to hire their third head coach in franchise history, especially if they're inclined to tab Jason Garrett, Tony Sparano or Jim Caldwell.

As the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts were expelled from the playoffs Sunday, three of the Ravens' top candidates to replace fired coach Brian Billick became eligible for a second round of interviews or to accept an offer. All three coaches interviewed with the Ravens' search committee during the bye week prior to the divisional round.

Garrett is regarded as the frontrunner for the job.

The twist on the pursuit of a new coach is the Ravens could face competition for all three assistants, including potential counteroffers from their current employers. Four teams -- the Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins -- are seeking a new head coach.

As the offensive coordinator for the explosive Cowboys' offense, Garrett is regarded as the top candidate available. The New Jersey native met with Ravens team officials a week ago and he has a connection to the front office through his father, former Cleveland Browns assistant Jim Garrett, who coached Baltimore vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty in Cleveland in 1979.

Garrett has also interviewed for the Falcons' job. There's also a scenario where he could remain in Dallas with a raise and potential promotion to assistant head coach if Sparano was to leave.

As the Cowboys' assistant head coach and offensive line coach, Sparano is considered the front runner for Miami, where he would work for former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. There are signs that Sparano already is earmarked for the Dolphins, including one unsubstantiated report from his hometown newspaper in New Haven, Conn., that he has already accepted an offer, an article denied by Sparano and Dolphins executives.

Caldwell, the Colts' assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach, was the first candidate to interview with the Ravens, a meeting followed by Garrett, Sparano, recently-dismissed Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who's expected to be a finalist for the Atlanta job, New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach John Harbaugh.

Colts coach Tony Dungy's status could affect Caldwell's future. Caldwell could be in line to replace Dungy, who's expected to ponder retirement. Or the former Wake Forest coach could emerge as a possibility in either Baltimore or Atlanta. Colts owner Jim Irsay told reporters Sunday that he's willing to accommodate Dungy's desire to spend more time with his family in Tampa, Fla., during the offseason.

Meanwhile, the Ravens were impressed by Harbaugh's energy and self-assured nature during his interview last week.

Former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski, an ESPN analyst, described Harbaugh as highly-organized and efficient.

"He's a future NFL head coach," Jaworski said of Harbaugh, who was a finalist for the UCLA job that went to former Ravens offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel.

The most established coach that remains on the Ravens' radar is former San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, who has spoken recently with the team. Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said he'll abide by Schottenheimer's stance that he prefers to not be involved until later on in the Ravens' search process.

As the playoff games unfolded this weekend, silence continued to reign at the Ravens' headquarters. Their training complex was relatively empty Sunday as the team didn't hold any interviews for the fifth consecutive day with team owner Steve Bisciotti, Newsome and team president Dick Cass away from the facility.

It's unclear how quickly the Ravens might opt to move now having interviewed six candidates after beginning their search with a list of 30. Now that some of the top candidates are eligible for second interviews or to consider offers, there's definitely an increased chance of something happening this week.

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

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