Ravens' brass has one eye on Iowa

On the Ravens

December 31, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

Keep an eye on University of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. The Ravens will. If his children weren't committed to certain schools and he was willing to move, there's a good chance he would have been the Ravens' new coach for 2006.

That situation will eventually change, and if Brian Billick falters, Ferentz will be on the Ravens' list, possibly at the top again. But the Ravens have to be careful, because other NFL teams are planning to make a run at Ferentz in two years. The Ravens made third-party contact with Ferentz during their "thorough" evaluation of Billick.

There is nothing to dislike about Ferentz.

About to finish his seventh season at Iowa, Ferentz has led the Hawkeyes to the best four-year stretch in their history with a 38-11 record. He has NFL experience, having spent six years with the Cleveland Browns/Ravens franchise. That included a stint as the Ravens' assistant head coach/offense from 1996 to 1998, which was the last time the Ravens had a real offense.

Ferentz knows about discipline because he learned under New England coach Bill Belichick. He was on Belichick's Cleveland staff that included three future general managers - Scott Pioli (Patriots), Ozzie Newsome (Ravens) and Phil Savage (Cleveland) - and future head coaches Nick Saban (Miami Dolphins) and Pat Hill (Fresno State).

With Ferentz, there's a lot of substance, very little flash.

And, that's what the Ravens want more and less of from Billick, who didn't exactly get a ringing endorsement from owner Steve Bisciotti earlier this week. You can read between the lines of Bisciotti's statement about Billick returning next season: The coaching market is bare, but if we could have found someone else better, there would have been a change.

The Ravens have basically told Billick to improve his offense and relationship with the players, provide more discipline and cut out all the condescending talk and arrogance.

Hmmmm. Where have we've seen those suggestions numerous times in the past two years?

The Ravens' public relations staff sent out a lot of mixed messages during Billick's evaluation, which lasted weeks, maybe months.

They told the national media that Billick was never on the hot seat, which of course, most of the national correspondents believed. But if Billick was never on the hot seat, then why did the team, in the words of Bisciotti, conduct a "thorough" evaluation, and why had they already screened potential candidates? If Billick wasn't on the hot seat, then why did the team have to announce that Billick was coming back one week before the season ended despite the fact that he has two years remaining on his contract?

In retrospect, it wasn't hot. It was sizzling. Privately, Billick's temper flared from not being able to speak about the internal criticism, and he was hot from being kicked around so much while having to grovel for his job.

Maybe I'm missing something, or maybe running backs coach Matt Simon doesn't want the job. But if Jim Fassel gets the head coaching job in Minnesota or Oakland, shouldn't Simon have a shot at replacing Fassel as the Ravens' offensive coordinator? But according to early indications from Billick, it appears the job would go to Rick Neuheisel, who is about to complete his first season as the Ravens' quarterback coach.

Simon's resume has been pretty impressive in seven years with the Ravens. He has coached Priest Holmes and Jamal Lewis and developed running backs Chester Taylor and Alan Ricard. He has two more young, talented fullbacks on the roster in Justin Green and Ovie Mughelli. Simon helped get the Ravens to the playoffs in 2001 with halfbacks Terry Allen and Jason Brookins.

It would be a shame for Simon to leave because he didn't get an opportunity. Former Ravens offensive line coach Jim Colletto left partly for the same reason after last season when the Ravens were about to bring in Fassel, and his absence hurt the Ravens in 2005.

There was probably some premature celebration among the scouts and in the personnel department about reports that special teams coach Gary Zauner may not return next season.

Zauner's special teams performed consistently well during the season, but he has been intrusive and meddlesome when it comes to drafting players and signing free agents during his time in Baltimore. Billick has been aware of Zauner's reputation but has overlooked it because of their friendship, and Zauner's success.

But that may not be enough to save Zauner this time around. Other assistants who may be on the hot seat (oops, there goes that phrase again) are receivers coach David Shaw and secondary coach Johnnie Lynn, who might end up in Minnesota if Fassel gets the Vikings job.

There are reports, which Cleveland has denied, that Phil Savage, the Ravens' former director of scouting, may be out as general manager of the Browns. According to league sources, Savage is having a squabble with ownership about being able to construct contracts and controlling the team's salary cap situation.

Savage has been with the Browns less than a year. As a matter of fact, a year ago Monday was the first day he began interviewing with the Browns. The Ravens and Dolphins might have interest in Savage, but neither team can comment at this time.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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