Ravens retain Ryan

OWINGS MILLS -- Following an occasionally harrowing tour of the NFL job circuit that didn't generate a head-coaching offer, Rex Ryan still has his ambition and his sense of humor. Most importantly to Ryan, he ultimately kept his position as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator as he was retained by new coach John Harbaugh while being granted the additional title of assistant head coach

Ryan received a three-year contract extension that includes a raise to $1.3 million to $1.5 million per season.

"Man, it's great to be a Raven," said Ryan, who has coached the defense for the past three seasons and is entering his 10th season in Baltimore. "The head coaching stuff, I was just kidding about that.

"I took that approach, I think, two years in a row and it got me nothing. Quite honestly, though, when it was clear that I wasn't going to be a head coach, I wanted to stay here in Baltimore."

Ryan interviewed with team officials in a bid to become coach Brian Billick's replacement, but wasn't a finalist and finished second to Mike Smith for the Atlanta Falcons' opening.

Players lobbied heavily for Ryan, 45, to be their next head coach after Billick and the entire staff were dismissed Dec. 31. Once it became clear that wasn't going to happen, they just wanted him to keep coaching a defense that has finished fifth, first and sixth under his direction.

"This is such great news," Ravens linebacker Gary Stills said. "To know that Rex is going to be back, man, I'm just so happy that we're going to keep things rolling."

Keeping Ryan finalizes discussions that began nearly immediately after Harbaugh was hired, a deal that general manager Ozzie Newsome confirmed was in the works during a Friday interview with the Times.

"I couldn't be more proud, more excited, more fired up than to have Rex Ryan, my good friend, as our defensive coordinator," Harbaugh said. "He's built something here that's one of the best in the NFL, and that's the foundation for us to stand on.

"I feel like we're going to approach this thing, shoulder to shoulder, side by side. With all the things that come up as the head football coach, I'm going to be able to lean on Rex in a big way. To me, it's not a title. It's a responsibility."

It was practically a mutual admiration society Monday between Ryan and Harbaugh, who worked together in 1996 at the University of Cincinnati when Ryan was the defensive coordinator and Harbaugh was the assistant head coach.

Ryan acknowledged that he endorsed Harbaugh to Newsome during the later stages of the search process. Ryan added that he wasn't told by management why he wasn't their choice to be head coach.

"I went to Ozzie and said, 'Ozzie, if I'm not going to be the head coach, I see the other guys you have on the list, this would be the guy I would want to coach with the most,'" Ryan said. "He's exactly what our football team needs as a head football coach. I think they need a great leader, a guy that has that passion, that desire and the same goals that everybody has in this organization, and that's to put this team back on track and be competitive every single week.

"He's a guy that's all about winning. He's about his team going in the same direction and not having individual agendas."

One agenda Harbaugh didn't have reservations about was Ryan's. Harbaugh could have rejected the idea of keeping a coach that pursued the job he landed, but wasn't concerned about Ryan undermining his authority.

"Not for one second," Harbaugh said when asked about any potential concerns due to Ryan's popularity. "To me, that's why I wanted to do it more than anything. With some guys, maybe you would think that way.

"There are guys out there that you would have concerns, but not with Rex Ryan. We go too far back. I love the guy, always have."

For Ryan, his expanded duties could make him more marketable for future head-coaching vacancies.

Now, he'll be involved more heavily in big-picture decisions and consulted on every aspect of the team's preparation.

"It's not just a thing that is a title to make you feel good," Ryan said. "It's a huge opportunity for me to actually be there when the decisions are being made, when they're being thought about.

"I've been coaching for 11 years in the NFL, and I realize I have a lot of learning still to do. Maybe when I do get an opportunity down the road, I'll be more prepared for it."

After finishing second last year with the San Diego Chargers as they chose Norv Turner and interviewing with the Ravens, Falcons and Miami Dolphins this year, Ryan expressed confidence that he will eventually join an elite 32-member fraternity and ascend to the head-coaching ranks.

Ryan expressed surprise that he didn't get the Falcons' job.

While Ryan had other opportunities to be a defensive coordinator, including the Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets, the Ravens had the power to block any lateral move. Ryan said he was never formally contacted by the Redskins.

"Hey, I think eventually I will become a head coach, whether that's three, five, six or whatever years down the road or next year," Ryan said. "And that's fine. That will be the right time. I think every coach has a goal of becoming a head coach if you truly believe in yourself and your abilities."

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

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