Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Little Prespective on a Steelers Coaching Candidate

The name of Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was included on the list of external candidates for the Steelers' head coaching position generated by Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic. Now comes this article by Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun in which Ray Lewis insinuates that Mr. Ryan is the best coordinator he has ever played for (and he has played for Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, and Mike Nolan). Mr. Lewis goes on to describe Mr. Ryan as "the ultimate players' coach."

"Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis concedes he has a fear for the next couple of months, and it has nothing to do with LaDainian Tomlinson or Peyton Manning.

It's the prospect of losing defensive coordinator Rex Ryan after the season.

When teams begin their search for a new head coach after this weekend's final regular-season games, Ryan could be the next in a line of Ravens defensive assistants to leave.

'I've lost Marvin [Lewis], I've lost Jack [Del Rio], I've lost Mike Nolan. ... I ain't losing Rex,' Lewis said while shaking his head.

Lewis might not have a choice.

In Ryan's second season as coordinator, the Ravens rank atop half of the NFL's 12 major defensive categories, including fewest yards per game (264.8) and fewest points (12.9).

This is the first Ravens defense to rival the team's historic 2000 group in dominance, which is why Ryan's name is beginning to circulate throughout the league as a potential head-coaching candidate.

'You know how long I thought about it? Not for five seconds,' Ryan said. 'I signed up to do the best job possible and my focus is on the next opponent. When it's all said and done, the teams that win, their coaches move on.'

After having 10 new hires last season, the NFL is expected to have more coaching upheaval this year.

The list of potential openings at the end of the season could include: the Cleveland Browns (Romeo Crennel has 10 wins in two seasons), Miami Dolphins (constant rumors of Nick Saban leaving), Oakland Raiders (team hasn't responded to Art Shell), New York Giants (late-season collapse could be costly for Tom Coughlin), Atlanta Falcons (continue to regress under Jim Mora) and Arizona Cardinals (Dennis Green has not lived up to expectations).

Under NFL rules, assistants on teams in the playoffs can interview once with each club interested in them for a head coaching job but cannot participate in a second interview or be hired until their season is over.

'I think Rex is as ready to be a head coach as anybody I've been around,' Ravens coach Brian Billick said. 'We'll do everything we can to help him through that process.'

In some ways, Billick has already helped Ryan by association.

Billick's first defensive coordinator, Marvin Lewis, has turned around the Cincinnati Bengals. His second one, Mike Nolan, has improved the San Francisco 49ers in his second season. And former Ravens linebackers coach Jack Del Rio has led the Jacksonville Jaguars to the playoffs.

Ryan, 44, is the last of the Ravens' defensive coaches left from the Super Bowl team.

'Obviously, you want that opportunity, especially if you believe in yourself,' Ryan said. 'And people want that Brian Billick tree. They know the organization part of it. The things you learn from him, it gives you an advantage over other possible candidates.'

Ryan could also draw interest for being the son of former NFL coach Buddy Ryan, although they are much different coaches.

Buddy Ryan had a brash, in-your-face approach that sometimes rubbed people the wrong way. Rex Ryan is the exact opposite, an affable coach who is considered one of the most popular people on the Ravens' staff.

'He's the ultimate players' coach,' Lewis said.

Ryan frequently laughs and jokes with players during practice. He even allows them to have input on game plans, discussing which calls work best with them throughout the week.

'He's on our side. He's not your typical coach,' defensive end Trevor Pryce said. 'When Rex starts talking, everyone is quiet because what's going to come out of his mouth is going to help you. And it's not going to come out as typical coachspeak. You want to hear what he has to say. It is a breath of fresh air.'

Asked whether he thought Ryan would make it as a head coach, Pryce said, 'If he becomes a head coach, I'm going to find out and I'm going with him.'

The defense also carries a chip on its shoulder, which Ryan has been known to do.

Early in the season, Ryan was quick to defend a defense that was allowing some big plays. Now, despite playing six games against top-10 offenses, the Ravens have separated themselves as the NFL's elite defense.

"I told everyone to wait until the end of the season before they make any judgments," Ryan said, "because I knew I wasn't going to be the one looking stupid.'
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