Panthers choose Fox over Lewis

Ravens' coordinator bypassed once again for head coaching job

Lewis: `I'm disappointed'

Del Rio leaves Ravens to become defensive coordinator in Carolina

January 26, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Marvin Lewis is staying put, and Jack Del Rio is now going to Carolina.

The Carolina Panthers named New York Giants defensive coordinator John Fox as their new head coach yesterday, bypassing Lewis, the Ravens' defensive coordinator.

In an unusual twist, Fox is taking Del Rio, the Ravens' linebackers coach for the past three years, as his defensive coordinator.

For Lewis, 43, it was the second time in 11 months that he was a finalist for a head coaching position, only to be turned away at the end.

"I'm disappointed," Lewis said, "but I have to be a better coach, I guess."

Lewis' defense led the Ravens' Super Bowl championship run last season. His defense finished second overall in the league for the third straight time.

Lewis interviewed in Carolina on Tuesday and Wednesday. A day later, the Panthers called in Fox for a second interview, prompting several reports that Fox would be offered the job. Lewis called Carolina officials Thursday about the rumors and was told "to be patient."

Later that night, it is believed the Panthers agreed in principle to a four-year, $4 million contract with Fox after he cleared up the circumstances surrounding his leaving as the Raiders' defensive coordinator in 1995. Fox had been the favorite for the vacancy since Tony Dungy rejected an offer from Carolina and became the Indianapolis Colts' head coach Wednesday.

Sources indicated that Fox's strong ties to Carolina director of football operations Marty Hurney, who headed the search along with team president Mark Richardson, weighed heavily in the decision. Fox and Hurney worked together with the San Diego Chargers in the early 1990s.

"I wasn't caught off-guard," Lewis said. "I heard all the talk about John getting the job before I went down there."

The Ravens anticipated losing either Lewis or Del Rio this off-season. Del Rio was considered second in command under Lewis and would have moved up to the Ravens' coordinator job if Lewis had been selected as a head coach.

But with Lewis missing out on the Carolina position, Del Rio's choice boiled down to becoming a coordinator with either the Panthers or the Detroit Lions. His connection to Fox was through Ravens secondary coach Steve Shafer, who worked under Fox with the Raiders in the mid-1990s.

"While I loved my time here with the Ravens, working with the group that I had, this is a great opportunity," Del Rio said. "I'm excited for the opportunity, yet I feel sad that I have to leave to take it."

In his three seasons with the Ravens, Del Rio played a major role in grooming one of the league's best linebacking corps. Under his tutelage, Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper developed into premier players.

"It's been a rewarding experience," Del Rio said. "A lot of people say it must be an easy job, but that can't be further from the truth. It's just more fun on Monday to watch the film when your guys are destroying somebody else. But preparing them and knowing you have talented players and excellence is expected, that's very satisfying."

Filling Del Rio's spot immediately, the Ravens promoted defensive assistant Mike Smith to linebackers coach. He spent 12 years coaching at Tennessee Tech, including the past three years as defensive coordinator, before joining the Ravens' staff in 1999.

"Mike has been a valued member of this staff since I got here," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I think he's highly respected by the players. It's a natural transition for him."

The chances of Lewis landing a head-coaching job this season are not promising.

The two remaining openings are with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Diego Chargers, neither of whom have requested permission to talk to Lewis. The Buccaneers are reportedly going after Raiders coach Jon Gruden, and the Chargers have been linked to former Washington Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer.

"I think his opportunity will come," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations. "The good thing about Marvin is that he likes his situation here."

And the Ravens feel fortunate to keep Lewis as they look to rebuild a defense that could be replacing half of their starters.

"I'm thrilled that Marvin is still with us," Billick said. "He is clearly head-coaching-caliber material, and at one point, that will happen for him. Unfortunately in this business, there's no quantifying the criteria that teams use in choosing one candidate over another."

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