Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis told The Sun yesterday that he has withdrawn his name from consideration for the vacant head coaching job at the University of California.
Lewis' decision came only hours before he was to board a cross-country flight for a two-day visit of the Berkeley campus. Since the Ravens are in the midst of their bye week, Lewis was free to explore this opportunity before canceling his plans.
Although he was never for mally offered the job, Lewis was considered the front-runner to take over the 1-10 Bears of the Pacific-10 Conference. Newly appointed California athletic director Steve Gladstone tried to persuade Lewis to reconsider in a one-hour phone conversation yesterday morning but failed to change Lewis' mind.
Lewis declined to get into specifics about his decision, but league sources indicated Lewis pulled out because his goal is to land a head coaching job in the NFL.
"It's the way I feel right now." Lewis said. "I'm not go ing away that easy."
Lewis, 43 , the only defensive coordinator in the Ravens' six-year history, engineered one of the best defenses in NFL history last season. In spearheading the Ravens' run to their first Super Bowl title, Lewis" defense shattered the single-season record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season and recorded four shutouts - the most by a team in 24 years.
This season, his defense ranks second in the NFL despite missing four starters at different points of the season. While not as dominant as last year, the Ravens remain tough to drive the length of the field against. When a team has had to march 70 or more yards, the Ravens have allowed only eight touchdowns.
Lewis is still regarded as one of the premier coordinators in the league, and many league pundits believe he will be on the wish lists of many NFL teams seeking new head coaches after the regular season. He was a finalist for the Buffalo Bills' top job 10 months ago, but the Bills chose Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
If Lewis would land a head-coaching job, Ravens coach Brian Billick has said he would turn over the coordinator's job to linebackers coach Jack Del Rio.
When asked about his chances of landing an NFL head-coaching job after this season, Lewis said, 'There's no way I can judge that. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing. Our goal is to get ourselves to the playoffs and see where we go from there. That's what is most im portant right now."
Lewis began his college coaching career at his alma mater, Idaho State, from 1981 to 1984. After years as a collegiate assistant at Long Beach State (1985-86), New Mexico (1987-89) and Pittsburgh (1990-91), he moved on to coach linebackers for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1992 to 1995.
Hired as the Ravens' defensive coordinator in 1996, he transformed the NFL's worst defense into one of the league's all-time stingiest groups.
California contacted Lewis about its top job three weeks ago. On Monday, Gladstone and associate athletic directors Mark Stephens and Dan Coonan conducted what was believed to be a favorable interview with Lewis.
But 48 hours later, Lewis decided to no longer pursue a job that appeared to have included a hefty raise. Gladstone has said he ideally wanted to select California's new coach by Christmas and speculated the school would pay up to $1 million per season on a five-year contract.
With Lewis out of the picture, the top candidates appear to be South Carolina defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, and Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. Others mentioned in the search include former Oakland Raiders coach Art Shell, former Arizona coach Dick Tomey, former Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder and former St. Louis Rams coach Rich Brooks.
"They did everything the right way." Lewis said. "It's a great opportunity. They want to build their program to the top of the Pac-10. I think they got a strong commitment to do that. But at this point, where we are in our season and my future, I think it's best for us to keep doing what we're doing."
For Lewis, his bye week went from business to pleasure with no regrets.
"I have spent the past three weeks not being at ease." Lewis said. "Now, I feel at ease."