Billick looks to hire Cavanaugh

Ex-Bears coordinator to be offered offense

January 22, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

MOBILE, Ala. -- Former Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh is expected to come to Baltimore by the middle of next week, and Ravens head coach Brian Billick is confident he will become the team's offensive coordinator.

Billick also has been in contact with former Carolina Panthers secondary coach Steve Shafer, and the team will most likely announce him as the defensive backs coach as early as Wednesday when Billick hopes to name his entire staff.

The Bears had the No. 21-ranked offense in the league last season, 17th rushing and No. 23 passing as Chicago averaged 107.1 rushing and 190.8 passing yards a game. But there is mild speculation the Ravens are in competition with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who lost their offensive coordinator when the Cleveland Browns named Chris Palmer their head coach yesterday.

Cavanaugh, 42, has been with the Bears since Jan. 21, 1997. Before joining the Bears, he spent 14 years as an NFL quarterback and four years coaching on both the collegiate and professional level.

"We're still working on it," said Billick of hiring Cavanaugh. "He is the No. 1 guy that I've talked to. He has to go home and meet with his wife. Hopefully, they'll be in town by midweek, and I believe he'll be with us."

Shafer, 58, has an extensive background, having spent the past 15 years in the NFL. He has worked on the staffs of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders before joining the Panthers in February 1998.

The Ravens' secondary has been the worst unit on the team the past three seasons. The pass defense was ranked No. 23 in the league, allowing 224.5 yards per game as the Ravens juggled inexperienced players like rookie cornerback Duane Starks and second-year safeties Ralph Staten and Kim Herring in and out of the lineup.

"I've known him for 25 years," Billick said of Shafer. "He is an excellent coach and excellent teacher."

The Ravens have been put on hold for two Kansas City coaches, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and offensive line coach Mike Solari, both still under contract even though their former boss, head coach Marty Schottenheimer, has retired. Kansas City's defense was ranked No. 9 in the league last year compared with No. 22 for the Ravens.

Solari coached with the San Francisco 49ers from 1992 through 1996 before joining the Chiefs. Once Kansas City choses its new coach, the Ravens would be free, if Cunningham and Solari are willing, to pursue them.

"I've had to stay an arm's length away from several coaches. I think the league needs to become a little more sensitive about assistant coaches and the availability of jobs," Billick said. "I know I might already be a little sore about it because I had to wait for my season to end to get interviewed for a job. I support the supervisory system that is already in place, the way coaches were throwing around titles and stealing guys [other coaches].

"But if a head coach is fired, and if the process for finding a new one drags on for two or three weeks, then all the viable jobs are gone," Billick said. "The coach may get paid through that year for his contract, but everyone prefers to be out in the profession working."

Billick said yesterday afternoon that he had not heard back from former defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis or former defensive line coach Jacob Burney. Both were interviewed by Billick on Wednesday. Lewis was offered a position as linebackers coach with a slight possibility of returning as defensive coordinator, and Burney was offered his old job back.

"I really like Jacob, and he flew back home to talk over things with his family," Billick said. "I hope Marvin understands the process and my desire to still talk with other candidates. I think he did a great job as a coordinator last season, and his defense was one of the reasons that drove me to this job."

Lewis, who has been interviewed by Carolina, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, did not return phone calls yesterday. Steelers coach Bill Cowher said yesterday that Lewis would not he hired in Pittsburgh unless Steelers defensive coordinator Jim Haslett received a head coaching job.

NOTE: Billick signed a six-year contract worth $9 million, but if he has a string of playoff appearances early in the contract, it would drive his base salary to $2 million per season.

Pub Date: 1/22/99

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