Firing coach nothing to get fired up about

October 27, 1998|By John Eisenberg

Art Modell is going to fire Ted Marchibroda sooner or later if the Ravens keep losing, so criticizing the move probably is irrelevant. But here goes, anyway.

Modell and the Ravens are kidding themselves if they think Marchibroda is their biggest problem.

He isn't even close to their biggest problem.

In fact, he's so far down on the list that firing him would be a minor-league move, a classic example of hollow finger-pointing.

No, Marchibroda hasn't helped his cause with his overly conservative play-calling, several debatable personnel moves and constant waffling on quarterbacks, running backs and offensive schemes. And his 12-26-1 record is indefensible. Coaches with that kind of record always get fired.

But is Marchibroda really what's wrong with the Ravens? Is a coaching change really a cure for what ails them?

Get serious.

The coach is a major factor in any team's success or failure, but his players' talent is a bigger determinant, the biggest of all. And the Ravens just aren't that talented, particularly on offense.

Where are the All-Pros other than Jonathan Ogden and Rod Woodson? Where are the players with national reputations? That's right, there aren't many.

Sure, there are talented, young players such as Peter Boulware, Ray Lewis and Jermaine Lewis, and underrated veterans such as Michael McCrary. But overall, anyone who said this was a hugely talented team was way off.

This team went 6-9-1 last year and undertook only a minor (and inexpensive) off-season face lift involving six new contributors, of whom just one, Woodson, is having a major impact.

Of the other additions, running back Errict Rhett and quarterback Jim Harbaugh have played little, fullback Roosevelt Potts is barely holding onto his job, cornerback Duane Starks has struggled and wide receiver Patrick Johnson has watched.

In other words, the Ravens aren't much different from the team that went 6-9-1 last season. So it's no surprise they're 2-5 now, particularly because they were underdogs in five of the seven games. You just can't penalize them for not beating Pittsburgh, Green Bay or Jacksonville. They're the Ravens. They aren't that good.

The one game they shouldn't have lost was against Tennessee. If they'd won that, they'd be 3-4 and no one would be discussing Marchibroda's future.

"I think 3-4, maybe that's where we should be," Marchibroda said yesterday. "But we're 2-5, so we're a game off."

And they're 2-5 without a healthy, winning quarterback. Eric Zeier is a capable relief pitcher who hasn't shown he can win as a No. 1. He is playing worse as he plays more. And Harbaugh has elbow tendinitis, usually curable only with rest.

So they're short at quarterback. And at running back, too. Priest Holmes, who was undrafted, has had one good game. Rhett has hardly played since 1996. Jay Graham has disappeared.

How can you blame Marchibroda when he's lacking ammunition at the game's two most important positions, quarterback and running back?

What if he had, say, the Patriots' Drew Bledsoe and Robert Edwards? Would he be any smarter, or would he just have more to work with and a better chance of winning? The latter, of course.

And how can you blame him when his offensive line has up and fallen apart on him? He designed a running game around his jumbo linemen, but they're not playing quality football. Not even close.

Modell can blame Marchibroda if he wants, but it's a crock.

Only in Baltimore were there great expectations for this team. Only Modell set the bar too high by calling for a winning record and/or "considerable progress." No one else in the NFL expected nearly that from the Ravens. Sports Illustrated picked them to go 4-12, for crying out loud. That was too pessimistic, but there was a lesson: The Ravens have bigger problems than their coach.

The organization itself, for instance. It's badly flawed. And that's a debit on Modell's ledger.

The Ravens have no general manager, no chain of command and no accountability for any moves other than Ozzie Newsome's drafts. We don't know who is making the decisions or whose input matters.

Also, their payroll is the second-lowest in the league. So they aren't putting out the big bucks. Their idea of a backfield makeover? Two guys (Potts and Rhett) who hardly played last season.

Sure, Marchibroda deserves his share of the blame. He wanted Potts and several other former Indianapolis Colts -- not a team anyone else wants to raid. His play-calling needs to get much more daring.

But to serve him up as the excuse for the Ravens' failings is ridiculous.

They play hard every week, even now, so this talk about hiring a younger coach to motivate the players is ill-conceived. So is the notion that Marchibroda doesn't know what he's doing. That's idiotic. He's in his 30th year of NFL coaching. He's learned a few things.

Let's see how he fares when the schedule gets easier in the second half of the season. This first-half disaster was almost predictable, given the tough opposition. A second-half rally is almost predictable, too.

Bottom line, Marchibroda has the Ravens closer to a quality team than two years ago. They have a relatively solid defense, the key component of any winning team. Yes, the offense has problems that will take time to fix. But will another coach fix them any faster?

Remember, this is an organization that picked Bill Belichick over Bill Cowher as a head coach in Cleveland.

Be careful what you wish for.

Pub Date: 10/27/98

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