Garrett conflicted, Harbaugh ready to pounce

OWINGS MILLS -- Jason Garrett returned to Texas to weigh his options Wednesday night after a second interview with the Atlanta Falcons, a soul-searching time for the conflicted coach that simultaneously leaves the Baltimore Ravens, the Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys in a waiting mode.

As the Dallas Cowboys' highly-regarded offensive coordinator considered competing offers to become the Ravens or Falcons' head coach or accept a hefty raise from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who has vowed to match any contract proposal with a counteroffer, high-ranking Baltimore team officials were pondering whether to move forward with Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach John Harbaugh as the third head coach in franchise history.

Initially regarded as the frontrunner for the Ravens' vacancy, Garrett, 41, could rapidly lose that status as his agent, David Dunn, haggles over money. There were even unconfirmed reports that Garrett is leaning toward remaining in Dallas.

Garrett was huddling Wednesday night with Jones, who has a history of convincing assistants to turn down head coaching positions, including Sean Payton (Oakland Raiders) and Mike Zimmer (Nebraska).

Harbaugh could be invited back for a second-round interview as soon as today even though nothing had been finalized with him by Wednesday night. Unlike Garrett, there's no doubt that Harbaugh wouldn't hesitate to jump at the opportunity if he's offered the job.

Harbaugh was contacted by the Ravens over the weekend and informed that they wanted him back for a second interview, but nothing was scheduled.

The brother of Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh -- a former Ravens quarterback -- Harbaugh made a strong impression on the Ravens' search committee last week with his enthusiastic style and football knowledge. In NFL circles, Harbaugh is described as having a forceful enough personality to command respect in the Ravens' occasionally volatile locker room.

Harbaugh, 45, is a career assistant with an extensive background in the kicking game, and was named NFL Special Teams Coach of the Year by his peers in 2001. The former Miami (Ohio) defensive back coached multiple positions in the college ranks with stops at Indiana, Cincinnati, Morehead State (Ky.), Pittsburgh and Western Michigan, working with running backs, outside linebackers, tight ends, special teams, secondary and strength and conditioning.

He was named the Eagles' secondary coach last year after nine seasons as a special-teams coach, but has never been a head coach or a coordinator. He would meet team owner Steve Bisciotti's criteria of being young and energetic.

"I don't think there's any one way to prepare to be a head coach," Harbaugh said Jan. 8 following his first meeting with the Ravens. "I don't think you're a head coach until you become a head coach and you find out what your style is.

"Everybody applies their experiences, their talents, their efforts and then you see what happens. Andy Reid was never a coordinator before being a head coach and he's one of the best in the league."

There was little visible activity at the Ravens' headquarters Wednesday one day after Garrett's interview drew a large crowd of reporters and created buzz in the hallways that he was about to be named fired coach Brian Billick's replacement. The Ravens were described as quiet by executives and agents close to the process. Garrett's agent didn't return telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Meanwhile, former Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was at his second-floor office for a few hours and remains in career limbo.

Until Garrett either decides to take the Ravens or Falcons' top coaching spot, respectively, Ryan can't move onto his next stop. If Garrett doesn't go to Atlanta, then Ryan is likely to be Falcons owner Arthur Blank's next choice.

Although Ryan interviewed with the Ravens last week, he's extremely unlikely to get the job as the team is resolute on shaking things up after firing Billick and his entire staff following a 5-11 campaign that included a franchise-record nine-game losing streak.

Besides Ryan, Garrett and Harbaugh, the Ravens have interviewed Indianapolis Colts assistant head coach Jim Caldwell, Tony Sparano, who ultimately landed the Miami Dolphins' job and New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Former San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer spoke with the Ravens during the process, but is considered to be out of the running and never interviewed for the position.

Garrett was endorsed heavily Wednesday by Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, who has lobbied for his former backup to land a job all year during his NFL broadcasts for FOX.

"Jerry Jones wanted to hire Jason as offensive coordinator my last season," Aikman said during a conference call. "He would have been offensive coordinator/backup quarterback. I think he's ready to be a head coach."

During his first year as offensive coordinator, Garrett engineered a high-scoring attack that lost its momentum in the final month of the season. After finishing third overall in total offense with an average of 365.1 yards per contest the Cowboys averaged 28.6 points, the Cowboys averaged just 10.5 points over the final four games as they were booted out of the playoffs by the New York Giants.

One potential concern with Garrett is whether he's merely a one-hit wonder after coaching in the NFL for just three seasons after a dozen years as a player. Although he's regarded as an innovative play-caller, the Cowboys had the advantage of seven Pro Bowl selections on offense.

Prior to joining the Cowboys as offensive coordinator even before coach Wade Phillips was hired, Garrett was the Miami Dolphins' quarterbacks coach for two seasons.

If Garrett comes to Baltimore, it's possible that he could bring former Dolphins coach Cam Cameron in as offensive coordinator and former Dolphins defensive coordinator Dom Capers to run the Ravens' defense.

Aikman said that Garrett will be cautious as he weighs whether to make the career jump to head coach.

"It's whether he views this situation as an opportunity to be successful," Aikman said. "I know he loves Dallas. He likes the team, the players and his situation. It will be hard for him to leave.

"But most coaches do this because they want to be a head coach. Given an opportunity to do that in a situation where you think you can win is hard to turn down."

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


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