Ravens' moves are following league trends

Cards' Kruczek is 17th new coordinator

Billick will be 11th coach to call his plays

October 18, 2006|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN REPORTER

As fate would have it, Jim Fassel was not alone in his ouster as Ravens offensive coordinator yesterday.

Just hours after the Arizona Cardinals collapsed in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears, coach Dennis Green fired offensive coordinator Keith Rowen.

By virtue of their high-profile position, offensive coordinators have increasingly become subject to in-season scrutiny. When the Houston Texans lost their first two games a year ago, then-coach Dom Capers bounced offensive coordinator Chris Palmer.

It was the beginning of the end for Capers, dumped at the conclusion of the season. Not surprisingly, Ravens coach Brian Billick and Green, his former mentor with the Minnesota Vikings, face uncertain futures with their teams.

Desperate times for desperate teams?

Actually, bringing in a new coordinator is becoming more the norm.

There were 16 new offensive coordinators in the NFL at the start of this season - exactly half the teams changed coordinators. Mike Kruczek, who replaces Rowen in Arizona, becomes No. 17.

While Billick becomes the 11th head coach to call his own plays this year, the Ravens joined a small minority of clubs operating without an offensive coordinator. Only the Dallas Cowboys, under Bill Parcells, do not have one.

Palmer landed in Dallas as quarterbacks coach for Parcells, and Tony Sparano holds the title of assistant head coach in charge of the offensive line and running game.

Obviously, the departure of Fassel means extra work for Billick and his offensive staff. But some of the league's top coaches call their own plays, among them the Philadelphia Eagles' Andy Reid, the Seattle Seahawks' Mike Holmgren, the Denver Broncos' Mike Shanahan and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jon Gruden.

Here's something even more curious: In an offseason that produced 10 head coaching changes, five first-time coaches decided to call plays.

Brad Childress of the Minnesota Vikings followed Reid's lead after working under him. Gary Kubiak, late of Denver, did the same with the Houston Texans. Sean Payton, who was assistant head coach in charge of the passing game under Parcells, calls his own plays with the New Orleans Saints.

Scott Linehan of the St. Louis Rams and Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers are also first-time head coaches but not first-time play-callers.

So it's hardly novel that Billick takes over the play calling in Baltimore. Or even surprising to Ron Wolf, a former general manager who competed against Billick when he was the offensive coordinator for Green in Minnesota from 1993-1998.

"If you have a real skill, you should take advantage of that real skill," Wolf said. "Brian had a real skill in Minnesota. It didn't matter who the quarterback was, they won.

"You can't take that away from him. When he became head coach, he relinquished a key part of what made him a good coach."

With the Vikings, Wolf said Billick "had no fear. He'd call anything at anytime, anywhere on the field. It helps [that] he had players who could do that."

Three of the 10 head coaches who have been calling plays rank among the top 19 coaches in all-time victories in the NFL -- Parcells, Holmgren and Shanahan. Until this season, Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs also called plays for the Washington Redskins.

Of those 10:

Seven have winning records.

Five have gone to the Super Bowl as a head coach.

Five have top 10 ranked offenses this season.

Four have quarterbacks ranked among the top 10 passers in the league.

At the news conference in which Green announced his change, he said it wasn't entirely Rowen's fault that the Cardinals' offense has sputtered.

"There's nothing easy about that [firing him]," Green said. "He's an outstanding assistant coach. [But] I don't hesitate to make changes. That's just who I am. I like things to go a certain way and if they don't, I normally do something about it."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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