It's 2-week warning for Marchibroda

October 26, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You could make the case for firing Te Marchibroda right now, before the Ravens begin a two-game homestand, before the crowd turns ugly at Camden Yards.

You could even make the case for elevating defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to head coach, because the Ravens likely will lose him at the end of the season if they replace Marchibroda.

The failure to show the "considerable improvement" demanded by owner Art Modell, the dismissal of a coach who can't get his offense together, the loss of the one assistant who seems to know what he's doing -- it all figures to happen, anyway.

But firing Marchibroda at 2-5?

It's too soon.

If there was a positive sign from yesterday's 28-10 loss to Green Bay, it was the performance of quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who replaced Eric Zeier at halftime and led the Ravens to their first touchdown since the Paleozoic Era.

Harbaugh almost certainly will start Sunday against Jacksonville, and tight end Eric Green also is expected to return after missing the past two games with a ruptured air sac.

If they lose -- and the chances seem excellent considering that the Browns/Ravens are 0-7 against the Jaguars -- then Marchibroda's job could be on the line the following week against Oakland.

Could be, and should be.

Back-to-back losses to Jacksonville and Oakland would leave the Ravens 2-7 with a five-game losing streak. At that point, Modell would be justified in making a change.

He fired Sam Rutigliano with a 1-7 record in 1984. He fired Bud Carson with a 2-7 record in 1990. It's not as if he's unfamiliar with such decisions, however difficult they might be.

But let's not get carried away -- yet.

Let's go back to Plan A.

Let's see Harbaugh.

"I know it's here. I feel it," the 12-year veteran kept saying yesterday, referring to the Ravens' talent. "I feel there's greatness in this team. I believe that we're going to get it turned around."

Greatness? Now there's a Lambeau Leap. Still, Harbaugh offers far greater presence than Zeier, not to mention more savvy and )) mobility. He was not sacked yesterday. In his last 10 quarters, Zeier has been sacked 12 times.

Now, no one should get too excited about a 34-year-old #i quarterback who appears at the end of his career, especially not when his receivers are dropping passes and his linemen are playing erratically.

Still, at least Harbaugh's elbow and finger problems appear behind him. He threw two interceptions yesterday, but he also completed a 53-yard pass to Michael Jackson and 46-yard touchdown to Jermaine Lewis.

His breakthrough came with a caveat -- he threw for his 174 yards after the Ravens fell behind 21-0. But after scoring eight, six and 10 points the past three weeks, the offense can't do much worse.

"You think Ted likes having to decide who's the quarterback every week?" Harbaugh said. "The first three games, I'm in, I'm out. I put him in a tough position. If I was him and I was the coach, I can't ask for a worse position."

Fair enough, but Marchibroda is running out of excuses -- Harbaugh is his guy, and he cost the Ravens a third-round pick. Frankly, the play-calling remains as much of an issue as the quarterback. How is it that the Ravens failed to attack Green Bay's weakness at cornerback in the first half, failed to throw downfield?

Maybe Zeier wasn't reading coverages properly. Maybe his receivers weren't getting open. Or maybe the three-headed, play-calling monster -- Marchibroda, quarterbacks coach Don Strock and offensive line coach Kirk Ferentz -- was too conservative again.

Two more losses, and the Three Musketeers could be broken up for good. The problem with firing Marchibroda is identifying a replacement. None of the Ravens' assistants has NFL head coaching experience.

Ferentz was the head man at Maine from 1990 to '92. Lewis has never held that position at any level. Would any other NFL team consider them leading candidates to be their head coach?

The answer is no, and Modell almost certainly would prefer a big name like George Seifert. Of course, there's no guarantee he could land such a coach. And if the Ravens fall to 2-7, he might not have time to wait.

In that case, then the proper choice would be Lewis, whose defense has shown steady improvement in his three years, reducing its points allowed from 27.6 to 21.6 to 19.1 per game.

Maybe the new coach would retain Lewis, but more likely he would hire his own coordinator. So, if all hope is lost, and Marchibroda must go, the Ravens would have nothing to lose by promoting Lewis. Who knows? Maybe they'd find the NFL's next great coach.

Again, we're getting ahead of ourselves. The Ravens haven't quit on Marchibroda. They botch assignments and take stupid penalties, but they're still playing hard.

"This team hangs together as a team," Marchibroda said. "You haven't seen them complain, holler or point fingers. I could understand if that was to happen. But morale-wise, the team is fighting, they really are."

"Laying down on Ted?" Harbaugh asked, repeating a question. "No. Absolutely not. Is the defense laying down on Ted? We believe in what we're doing here. A couple of ballgames, if we would have had any offense, we would have won 'em."

Well, now it's Harbaugh's turn to run the offense.

His turn to save Marchibroda's job.

Month to month

Yesterday's loss dropped the Ravens to 2-8 overall in the month of October, and November looms ominously. It's the Ravens' worst month so far, with an 0-8-1 mark. The Ravens' monthly records:

Month ...... '96 ... '97 .... '98 .. Tot.

Aug.-Sep. .. 2-2 ... 3-2 .... 2-2 .. 7-6

Oct. ....... 1-3 ... 1-2 .... 0-3 .. 2-8

Nov. ....... 0-4 ... 0-4-1 ... -- .. 0-8-1

Dec. ....... 1-3 ... 2-1 ..... -- .. 3-4

Totals ..... 4-12 .. 6-9-1 .. 2-5 .. 12-26-1

Pub Date: 10/26/98

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