Lewis word on job is due

Panthers expected to announce decision on new coach today

Fox seen as having edge

Ravens' coordinator admits his nerves jangled in drama

January 25, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Within the next 24 hours, Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis should either learn he's a head coach or that rumors about his rival getting the job were true.

According to league sources, the Carolina Panthers expect to name their new coach today by picking either Lewis or New York Giants defensive coordinator John Fox, the perceived front-runner.

Fox made his second visit to Charlotte, N.C., yesterday, sparking numerous reports that the Panthers were ready to offer him the job barring unforeseen circumstances.

Lewis, who had returned from Carolina just a day earlier, called Panthers management yesterday to find out if he was out of the running for his much-anticipated shot at becoming a head coach.

"I was told to be patient and that's what I'm trying to do," Lewis said. "But I'm not very good at being a patient person."

Carolina officials told Lewis that they had follow-up questions for Fox since he last met with them nine days ago. Lewis was the final candidate to interview for the vacancy, and sources said Panthers management was impressed with him.

But Fox has been touted as the favorite since Tony Dungy was hired by the Indianapolis Colts. Reports yesterday indicated Fox would be selected by the Panthers if there are no hitches in contract negotiations.

"I'm very fortunate to be back again and it's a great opportunity and hopefully we can get something worked out," Fox told reporters after arriving at the Charlotte airport.

"I don't know that I'm nervous. It's a great opportunity and I want to make sure everything is right for me and they want to make sure everything is right for them. It's a big decision for everyone involved."

It marks the second time in a year that Lewis and Fox have vied for the same job. After competing against each other as coaches in last year's Super Bowl, both were finalists for the opening with the Buffalo Bills, who eventually selected Tennessee defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

"Marvin and I have competed against each other for a long time in this league," Fox said. "I have high respect for him. May the best man win."

Lewis, 43, has been the Ravens' only defensive coordinator, building them from the last-ranked unit in 1996 to the No. 2 defense in the NFL for the past three seasons.

In 2000, his defense carried the Ravens to the Super Bowl title and set the NFL record for fewest points allowed (165) in a 16-game regular season. This past season, Lewis' defense topped the league in fewest yards allowed per play despite numerous injuries.

Fox, 46, has spent the past five seasons as the Giants' defensive coordinator and coached defensive end Michael Strahan as he broke the league sack record this season.

But his defense fell from No. 5 in 2000 to No. 14 this past season, and the Giants surrendered 20.1 points per game in 2001.

According to sources, the Panthers recently conducted a background check on Fox because they were concerned over the circumstances surrounding his leaving as Raiders defensive coordinator after the 1995 season.

The Panthers' choice will inherit a challenge. Carolina lost an NFL-record 15 straight games to end its season and fired coach George Seifert a day after the regular-season finale.

Lewis, though, believes he could turn Carolina around. If he's hired by the Panthers, the Ravens will turn over the coordinator's job to linebackers coach Jack Del Rio.

"I enjoyed it and I really liked Jerry Richardson," Lewis said. "I think he's Art [Modell] 20 years ago. He just wants to win. He's very passionate how that team is looked upon, the image that they have and the product that he puts out there on that field."

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