Cavanaugh among Pittsburgh's options


Ravens coordinator in mix to coach at alma mater

decision likely to be soon

Pro Football

December 21, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh met with University of Pittsburgh athletic director Jeff Long before Sunday night's game about the school's coaching vacancy, a conversation insiders say went well.

Cavanaugh is among a handful of candidates Pittsburgh has interest in. Ravens coach Brian Billick said the organization would be supportive of any decision Cavanaugh makes if he is offered the job.

"We're excited for Matt," Billick said. "When you have an opportunity to go home, and that's home for Matt in a very special way, you have to support that all you can. And we do, obviously."

Cavanaugh is held in high esteem around the campus, after he led the Panthers to the 1976 national championship, where he was named Most Valuable Player of the Sugar Bowl.

A source close to the situation told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Cavanaugh likely will accept the job, if offered.

If Cavanaugh accepts it, he likely would be introduced tomorrow because Long wants to have a new coach in place before the players go home for winter break, the newspaper reported.

Cavanaugh began coaching tight ends at Pittsburgh in 1993 after a 14-year NFL career. Cavanaugh went back to the NFL the next season, coaching quarterbacks in Arizona the next two years.

Cavanaugh has been the Ravens' offensive coordinator the past six seasons, when the positives - which include a Super Bowl win in the 2000 season, producing the NFL's leading rusher last year and the development of Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap and quarterback Kyle Boller - are often overshadowed by the negatives.

The Ravens have struggled to put together a consistent passing game during much of Cavanaugh's tenure and are 31st in the league in passing offense this year.

"Matt has been a huge part of the success we've had through a number of circumstances," Billick said. "I've had the good fortune of being around a lot of first-time head coaches from my days in Minnesota with Tony Dungy, Ty Willingham, Mike Tice and here with Marvin Lewis and Jack Del Rio. Those are outstanding coaches. But I've never been around a coach more ready to be a head coach than Matt Cavanaugh."

Cavanaugh, who has declined to discuss the Pittsburgh opening, is thought to be behind current Panthers defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads. New York Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, another former Pittsburgh star, and Carolina Panthers assistant Sal Sunseri, along with Oklahoma assistant coach Bo Pelini are also in the running.

More, more, more

Billick explained his rationale for taking a made field goal off the board and going for it on a fourth-and-four trailing by 17 in the fourth quarter (after an offside penalty). It worked out as Boller completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Heap.

"We needed more," Billick said. "We were OK with that if the penalty had not happened with the field goal because third-and-[nine] would have been long."

The Ravens converted three of five fourth-down attempts but failed on their final one trailing by 10 with just more than a minute left. They could have tried a 46-yard field goal and pulled within a touchdown.

"I thought we've got to make something happen because if we have to get an onside kick in the time remaining and what we needed to do, I'd rather try to [tie] with a field goal at the end of the game rather than force ourselves," Billick said.

A painful knee

Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter may not have been booing like many of the fans at the RCA Dome, but he was equally upset to see Colts quarterback Peyton Manning take a knee 4 yards away from the end zone with 59 seconds left. His anger, however, stemmed from a different reason.

"The fact that they were even taking a knee, I wish we weren't even in that situation because if they are taking a knee, they are winning the game," Baxter said.

No mistrust of motives

Billick was more diplomatic in questioning the four illegal-contact penalties called on the Ravens on one Indianapolis drive in the fourth quarter than his players were.

A couple of the Ravens implied the officials may have been looking to set up Manning to tie Dan Marino's single-season touchdown record, but Billick dismissed that theory.

"They all of a sudden seemed to come," Billick said. "We looked at it, and we'll turn them in. I don't know if there is any agenda involved."

End zone

Sunday night's game was among the most watched in ESPN's history, drawing a 9.2 rating. The number was 80 percent higher than the featured game during the 15th week last season. ... Ravens return specialist B.J. Sams' 1,641 combined punt and kickoff return yards has eclipsed Jermaine Lewis' 1,558 yards in 2001, which was a franchise record. ... Jamal Lewis, Alan Ricard and a number of Ravens will help distribute gifts at the ESPN Zone as part of the seventh annual holiday party today that will benefit the Police Athletic League. The event will be from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

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