Ravens closing in on Garrett

OWINGS MILLS -- Two weeks after the Baltimore Ravens fired Brian Billick, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett flew into Baltimore on Monday night to interview for the head-coaching vacancy as he met with high-ranking team officials for the second time. Garrett, 41, is regarded as the frontrunner, and he's the first candidate to meet twice with the Ravens' search committee.

All of this activity could lead to the Ravens attempting to strike quickly and hire Garrett as the third head coach in franchise history, possibly as soon as today depending on the outcome of discussions.

Garrett, who directed a traditionally high-scoring offense that skidded to a halt in the Cowboys' 21-17 NFC divisional playoff loss Sunday to the New York Giants, is also reportedly being sought for a second interview with the Atlanta Falcons. Garrett's agent, David Dunn, could attempt to use the possibility of also interviewing with the Falcons as leverage.

Dunn didn't return telephone calls and e-mails.

"To be honest, it hasn't been something in the forefront of my mind," Garrett told Dallas reporters when asked about his impending job-hunting prospects. "I'm still very much a part of what we do here and I'm excited to get with the players and talk about some of the things that went on this year and some things we can improve on."

The Ravens are also high on Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach John Harbaugh, and he's available as a fallback option if team officials are unsuccessful in trying to land Garrett. A finalist for the UCLA job that went to former Baltimore offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel, Harbaugh could also be brought to town for a second interview after impressing the Ravens with his upbeat attitude and football acumen last week.

Garrett was the second coach to interview with the Ravens, meeting with team owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and team president Dick Cass last Saturday for several hours.

Garrett and Cass share the same alma mater as fellow Princeton graduates. Garrett also has a connection to Ravens vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty, who was coached by Garrett's father, Jim Garrett, with the Cleveland Browns.

Garrett's initial meeting with Baltimore followed Indianapolis Colts assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, who received the first interview with the Ravens last Friday.

Then, the Ravens met with Cowboys assistant head coach Tony Sparano, who's likely earmarked for the Miami Dolphins' job, dismissed Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who's a strong candidate for the Falcons' job and is expected to garner a second interview with Falcons owner Arthur Blank as soon as today, New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Harbaugh.

Although several Ravens players have lobbied aggressively for Ryan to be hired, it doesn't appear that the front office will heed their wishes.

The Ravens have alsoo spoken to former San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Marty Schottenheimer, who asked that he involved toward the end of the search process.

Schottenheimer, who coached Newsome in Cleveland, has expressed reluctance to get back into coaching. His agent, Trace Armstrong, didn't return calls and e-mails Monday, but said over the weekend that "nothing was going on" with Schottenheimer when asked if the 64-year-old was headed to Baltimore for an interview.

Three candidates on the Ravens' original wish list have declined to meet with the team, including New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, University of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who wound up signing a contract extension with his current employer.

Garrett was a backup to Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, but has only been coaching for three seasons after playing in the NFL for a dozen seasons.

The Cowboys' offense was extremely productive this past season, scoring 455 points as quarterback Tony Romo set franchise records with 36 touchdown passes and 4,211 yards.

Wide receiver Terrell Owens caught 81 passes for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns, and tight end Jason Witten caught 96 passes for 1,145 yards and seven scores.

The Ravens' offense has been dormant for several years. In nine seasons under Billick, the Ravens never ranked higher than 14th in total offense and the quarterbacks have usually been erratic.

A former Ivy League Player of the Year, Garrett coached the Cowboys to the third-ranked offense this year as Dallas went 13-3 in the regular season and averaged 28.4 points and 365.7 yards per contest. However, the NFC East champions' offense slumped over the last month of the season and averaged just 10.5 points over the last four games, including the playoff defeat.

If Sparano is ultimately hired by the Dolphins, there are scenarios where Garrett could potentially remain with the Cowboys with a raise and a promotion from team owner Jerry Jones. It appears unlikely, though, that Garrett would continue to bide his time behind coach Wade Phillips based on his willingness to come to Baltimore for a second time.

Garrett was a quarterbacks coach for two seasons with the Miami Dolphins before Jones hired him as offensive coordinator even prior to hiring Phillips.

"I respect his abilities as a coach, I'm impressed with the success of his guidance relative to our offense," Jones told Dallas reporters prior to the Cowboys' playoff setback. "When you say I went to great lengths to get him, I did, but I didn't give up the Cowboys to get him.

"Everything is relative. What to do to keep him? I'd work hard, but there are some things I can't control."

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


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