Defense again rests with Lewis

Coordinator rehired by Ravens as Chiefs promote Billick's pal

4 new assistants named

Boulware lauds move `in same direction'

January 23, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

MOBILE, Ala. -- Ravens coach Brian Billick hired four assistants yesterday, and declared Marvin Lewis his defensive coordinator for the 1999 season last night after his top candidate, Gunther Cunningham, was promoted to head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Billick said he had spoken with Lewis last night and made him aware of the decision.

"Marvin knew I was waiting for Gunther, so I've established him as the defensive coordinator," said Billick, who arrived in Minnesota last night after spending the past three days at the Senior Bowl here.

According to a team source, several of the Ravens' front office staff would have been happy with either Cunningham or Lewis. Cunningham, a longtime friend of Billick's who once coached with the Baltimore Colts, is more established, but there are several officials within the organization who felt the team was only two to three players away from being a dominating defense under Lewis.

"I think it's a good move," said linebacker Peter Boulware, one of three Ravens defenders going to the Pro Bowl. "It took me almost 1 1/2 to two years to understand this system, and now to start over again would be really rough. I don't think another coach can add too much more to what we already have. We need to keep moving in the same direction."

The Ravens were ranked No. 22 in the league in total defense last season, 16th against the rush and 23rd against the pass. Billick has previously stated he was particularly impressed with the defensive front seven. The Ravens allowed 106.6 rushing yards per game but 224.5 passing. The biggest improvement will have to come in the secondary.

"The thing that is separating us from being a great defense is experience," said Boulware. "Last year we had inexperienced linebackers and a rookie like Duane Starks in the secondary. But once we get some experience, and keep the same defensive coordinator, we're really going to be dominant."

Lewis had little to say about his rehiring. "I'm happy everything worked out the way it did," he said from his home last night.

Both Carolina and Philadelphia had expressed interest in hiring him as defensive coordinator.

The hiring of Cunningham could affect another candidate for an assistant's job with the Ravens.

Billick also could lose Mike Solari, the Chiefs' offensive line coach, who, like Cunningham, also still had a year left on his contract when Marty Schottenheimer resigned as head coach.

"I'll give Gunther a day to get his feet under him and we'll see what happens," said Billick.

Billick also is waiting to hear from Ravens former defensive line coach Jacob Burney, who is not only drawing interest from his old team and the Tennessee Titans, but Carolina has now entered the picture. Burney is regarded as one of the better defensive line coaches in the league.

Billick formally announced the hiring of Steve Shafer as his secondary coach, Milt Jackson as his receivers coach, Matt Simon as the running backs coach and Mike Smith as a defensive assistant.

Shafer, 58, brings 31 years of coaching experience to the Ravens. Last season he was with the Carolina Panthers, who tied for fourth in the NFL with 19 interceptions. Shafer has also worked with the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the then-Los Angeles Rams.

Jackson, 56, has coached with eight teams in the NFL, most recently with Seattle last season. He spent 1994-1996 with the Atlanta Falcons working with receivers Eric Metcalf, Terance Mathis and Bert Emanuel.

"Milt is one of the most experienced receiving coaches in the NFL," said Billick. "I've had a working relationship with him for more than 20 years. He brings a wealth of knowledge, both schematically and fundamentally to us."

Neither Simon, 45, nor Smith, 40, have NFL experience. Simon spent four seasons as head coach at the University of North Texas (1994-97) and Smith will join the Ravens after 12 years at Tennessee Tech, the last three as defensive coordinator/linebackers coach.

Billick said he expected former Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh to visit Baltimore Tuesday and he is still on schedule to have his staff completed Wednesday. Billick is looking at former Dallas Cowboys tight end Doug Cosbie as a possible tight ends coach.

Pub Date: 1/23/99

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