Trying times enough to spare coach

November 03, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

The Ravens are still playing hard. That's why owner Art Modell won't fire Ted Marchibroda, even though he has dismissed two coaches in similar circumstances before.

The Cleveland Browns quit on Sam Rutigliano in 1984. They quit on Bud Carson in 1990. But the Ravens haven't quit on Marchibroda, and that apparently is enough for Modell.

Those close to the owner say he asks two questions when pondering a coaching change:

Have the fans lost hope? The answer there would be yes.

But has the team stopped trying? Certainly not.

Thus, Marchibroda is safe for now, even after Sunday's 45-19 loss to Jacksonville. But he isn't necessarily safe for the rest of the season, not if the Ravens roll over and play dead.

They could go either way now that they've hit rock bottom. They could respond with a strong effort against Oakland. Or they could start dogging it and embarrass themselves further.

Their history suggests that they'll do the former -- for all their troubles the past three seasons, they've never quit. But all this talk about effort ultimately is so much bunk.

If Modell truly was behind Marchibroda, he would have issued a statement yesterday saying that the coach would finish the season.

And if Modell believed that one of the Ravens' assistants deserved to be the future coach, Marchibroda might already be gone.

Firing Ted is pointless. Keeping him is pointless.

Do the Ravens have Catch-22 in their playbook?

Modell wouldn't commit to fulfilling the rest of Marchibroda's contract, apparently fearing that the players might lay down and put him in an even worse bind.

But he wouldn't fire Marchibroda either, apparently fearing that the change would make little or no difference.

Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis would seem the most logical replacement, but the Ravens appear willing to lose him at the end of the season rather than name him interim coach.

Lewis or offensive line coach Kirk Ferentz still might get a chance at the top job before this nightmare is over. But not now. Not yet.

Not when Modell experienced the difference between elevating a clear heir apparent like Marty Schottenheimer in '84 and an overmatched assistant like Jim Shofner in '90.

Someone should pay for 45-19, and all the Ravens did yesterday was cut little-used receiver Ryan Yarborough. Still, this isn't baseball, where teams frequently change managers in-season.

Appealing as it might be to fire Marchibroda, it's highly doubtful that replacing him with Lewis or Ferentz would help a 2-6 team reverse the course of its season.

Rather than satisfy the blood-thirsty masses, Modell showed that he might actually have learned from past sins -- at least for now.

In 1990, Modell fired Carson in a fit of anger after a 42-0 loss at home to Buffalo. Oops! Shofner was even worse.

The Browns went 2-7 before the change, 1-6 after it. Modell then dumped Shofner and hired Bill Belichick over the 33-year-old Bill Cowher -- prompted, as always, by his desire to win now.

That move cursed the franchise even more than his move from Cleveland to Baltimore.

Belichick deserved to be fired in '95, even before the news of the relocation broke and the Browns crumbled. Modell had little choice but to hire Marchibroda for the Ravens -- it was the right move at the time.

But now, with Marchibroda in the third and final year of his contract, Modell doesn't have a former NFL coach like June Jones to pluck from the Ravens' staff to serve as an interim replacement.

Schottenheimer, like Marvin Lewis, was a defensive coordinator and former linebackers coach when he replaced Rutigliano after the Browns fell to 1-7 in '84.

But Modell was so convinced of Schottenheimer's ability, he gave the assistant a long-term contract. Starting the next season, the Browns made five straight playoff appearances and appeared in back-to-back AFC title games before Schottenheimer left over philosophical differences.

For whatever reasons, the Ravens don't hold the same high opinion of Lewis, 40, who is just one year younger than Schottenheimer was when he took over in '84.

Lewis still hasn't figured out how to stop Jacksonville, that's for sure.

It's possible that he would be retained by the next head coach, but probably not. Thus, the emerging defense would be forced to learn a new system, a process that sometimes takes a full season.

A step backward? Of course.

But the Ravens own the worst record in the NFL since arriving in Baltimore (12-27-1). They can't sink much lower.

They're going to get a new coach, ideally a proven winner like George Seifert or Mike Holmgren, possibly a college hotshot like Florida's Steve Spurrier or UCLA's Bob Toledo, most likely a hot assistant like Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak or Jacksonville offensive coordinator Chris Palmer.

The only reason Marchibroda survived 45-19 is because his players haven't quit, and his assistants aren't appealing enough to the owner.

Pub Date: 11/03/98

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