A Return To Past Glories??

By Mike Preston
Updated: January 9, 2008

BALTIMORE — Only a little more than a week into the search, the Ravens have confirmed what they already knew: Few of the candidates for the team’s vacant coaching job have previous head-coaching experience. But what if the Ravens could get an established head coach in exchange for draft picks? Would they be willing to make the swap? “No, we’re not at that point, not yet,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said Tuesday. But they could be soon, and one name that keeps popping up is Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, the Ravens defensive coordinator from 1996 through 2001. Lewis is still revered in Baltimore because he was the architect of the Ravens’ 2000 Super Bowl-winning defense, one of the best in league history. He has had decent success in Cincinnati the past five years (only one losing season), given the Bengals’ recent history before he arrived. The Bengals, like the Ravens, had big expectations for the 2007 season, but they finished 7-9, putting Lewis on the hot seat. Lewis has long coveted the Ravens’ coaching job, and there’s no question he would come to Baltimore in a heartbeat. But he has three years left on his contract, so the Bengals would demand compensation. If I were Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti or Newsome, I would at least explore the opportunity to bring Lewis to Baltimore. He’s only 49 and has one of the brightest football minds in the league. He knows this area and understands the pulse of the city. He’s a galvanizing force, able to pacify the old-guard workers from the Art Modell administration as well as the newer ones under Bisciotti. There are still enough players on the roster who adore, and would play hard for, Lewis, and he knows the AFC North well. Lewis understands the inner dynamics of how the Ravens work. What might it cost the Ravens? It’s not as if this would be an unprecedented move. The Kansas City Chiefs gave up a fourth-round pick to get coach Herm Edwards from the New York Jets in 2006. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers pried Jon Gruden away from the Oakland Raiders in 2002 by paying $8 million in compensation and giving up four draft picks (two first-rounders, two second-rounders). But if the Ravens can trade a first-round pick to draft quarterback Kyle Boller, they can at least take a look at Lewis’ situation in Cincinnati. Like all coaches, Lewis has drawbacks. The Bengals have had only one big, successful season during his time in Cincinnati. Despite his reputation for putting together the Ravens’ great defenses, he has struggled to put together similar defenses in Cincinnati. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer didn’t exactly give Lewis a ringing endorsement when he recently said the team didn’t have the coaching staff in place to take the team to the next level. And the Bengals have had episode after episode of off-the-field problems, enough to start their own Cops series. But that might be different in Baltimore. The Ravens do a good job of providing their players with numerous programs to work through their problems. In Cincinnati, Lewis organized and controlled the draft. In Baltimore, it will continue to be Newsome’s show. There are a lot of pluses and minuses with Lewis, but the pluses outweigh the minuses. The early word leaking out of the Ravens complex is team president Dick Cass likes Dallas Cowboys assistant head coach Tony Sparano, Bisciotti likes Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and Newsome prefers Marty Schottenheimer. All three like Indianapolis Colts assistant coach Jim Caldwell, but no one has him as his No. 1. So, because there is no consensus and there is still time, why not take a serious look at Lewis, who has more head-coaching experience than three of the four aforementioned candidates? It might be a good investment for the Ravens because of Lewis’ familiarity with the team and his past success here and in Pittsburgh as an assistant. It might be a good investment for the Bengals, because Lewis is going to eventually walk away from that franchise. No one stays in Cincinnati long. The Bengals might as well get something for Lewis before he leaves. Lewis is an option that could pay off big.