Ravens magic

They don't seem to have coach up their sleeve

On the hiring front

January 18, 2008|By RICK MAESE

Because we peddle in the business of words, the metaphors have been especially plentiful these past couple of weeks. As the Ravens have searched far and wide for a new football coach, we've fooled ourselves into thinking that we've been observing a horse race, dueling political campaigns, a spirited hunting expedition and a heated footrace, among other things. But they're all wrong.

Instead, we're sitting front and center at the most ridiculous of circus acts, as a string of amateur magicians and illusionists takes the stage and pulls lame tricks out of their respective hats. Amazingly, each seems to fool us.

We staked our rods firmly into the pinnacle of absurdity yesterday, when, in just a couple of hours, all of the cryptic language and masked information from the past couple of weeks was decoded in just a couple of hours, to wit:

Jason Garrett, that fresh-faced, hotly advertised offensive coordinator, was merely leveraging an offer from the Ravens to better his situation in Dallas;

And meanwhile, the Ravens were pretending they had a backup plan ready to go in John Harbaugh, the Philadelphia Eagles assistant, but that was merely a ruse to pressure Garrett into accepting the Ravens' offer.

Today, after everyone has had a chance to sleep on yesterday's revelations, we're left with two realities that feel equally troubling: The Ravens failed to get their guy, and they didn't really have a Plan B ready to go. It's apparently back to the drawing board, which will remain an unsettling feeling until someone is ultimately crowned with the Ravens' golden headset.

The entire turn of events speaks not just to the nature of coaching searches, but also to the essence of the league itself. Just about everything that happens in the NFL is built around the idea of misdirection, from the play-action pass to the pre-draft scouting summaries to the weekly injury reports.

The NFL thrives on subterfuge and smoke screens. The league went out of its way this season to illustrate that truth. It had a coach busted for cheating at the beginning of the season, and it slapped his hand. At season's end, he was named the league's Coach of the Year.

It's not difficult to decipher the modus operandi and understand what's prized most in this league. Which brings us back to the Ravens and their coaching search.

Initial appearances seem to indicate the Ravens were duped, a bad thing only if the Ravens piled every last egg in the Garrett basket. Early in the week, that didn't seem to be true. Harbaugh had emerged as a great fallback plan, according to several different sources and news accounts. That proved to be a ploy, though, not a plan.

When Harbaugh wasn't trotted out for reporters later yesterday afternoon and introduced as the new head coach, we were forced to confront the very nature of coaching-search leaks. Whether it's a front office member, league official, agent, family member or friend, everyone has an agenda. Harbaugh's name was planted to twist Garrett's arm. And Garrett was touring the East Coast to twist the arm of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The result was thousands of twisted stomachs in Baltimore.

There's no one to specifically blame. The Ravens are trying to remain tight-lipped - leaking news out of the Castle is a punishable offense right now - and reporters are left to milk peripheral sources.

Where the Ravens go from here is anybody's guess. Harbaugh was on high alert earlier this week for a second interview, but there was no beeline drive down Interstate 95 from Philadelphia to Baltimore yesterday. The search feels wide open again.

Or, of course, maybe it's not. Because so much information is in circulation - from Owings Mills, from Dallas, from Atlanta ... to the Internet, to newspapers, to sports bars - it's easy to get confused. The discourse and second-guessing is public; the actual search for a coach, though, is private. The little bits that manage to leap from tightly sealed to freely available are carefully coded.

The search continues on a pair of fronts, each crafted just as meticulously as the other. Backstage, no doubt there's tireless plotting that will someday produce results. What we've been made privy to these past couple of weeks has been a series of bad acts and lame tricks.

Fortunately, it's the grand finale that matters most, and success hinges on one more giant smoke screen. Pulling the right coach out of the hat would negate everything that precedes the final curtain.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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