No fairy-tale atmosphere at Castle

January 20, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

Maybe in a week or so, owner Steve Bisciotti will huddle with his top officials and make sure the Ravens' front office is headed in the same direction again.

There has been a lot of stress at the Castle recently. The Ravens had a losing season in 2007. They fired their head coach. They hired a new one in John Harbaugh, and in the process a lot of feelings might have gotten hurt.

The front office might be a little divided right now.

It was apparent that the consensus No. 1 choice of the organization was Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. But after Garrett turned down the Ravens, I think general manager Ozzie Newsome and a few others wanted Marty Schottenheimer, and Bisciotti, president Dick Cass and a few others wanted Harbaugh.

Newsome made it a point to say at Harbaugh's news conference yesterday that Schottenheimer would not have gotten involved in the Ravens' search until the longtime coach's son, Brian, had been eliminated from contention. Unfortunately, that never happened.

Newsome had to immediately catch a flight to the site of the Senior Bowl yesterday, so he was not available for a follow-up question. But I wanted to ask him who has Bisciotti's ear these days - Newsome or Cass?

You wondered the same thing when the Ravens fired Brian Billick. Without hesitation, Cass said at that news conference that he recommended to Bisciotti that Billick be fired, but Newsome was hesitant to discuss his role, almost as if to say he opposed the firing but just went along with the group.

A lot of people at the Castle seem to feel left out these days. Few of them knew that Bisciotti had changed his mind about firing Billick, even some of those who thought they were in Bisciotti's inner circle.

There's a stressful atmosphere in the Ravens' house that needs to be addressed, but a cool-down period is needed.

The Ravens seem to be in the process of patching up their relationship with former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. Ryan wasn't happy with the way the Ravens treated him during this job search. They just dragged him along, but he could become their defensive coordinator again. He'll demand big money, or he'll walk.

What will be interesting is if Ryan returns and the Ravens start to lose. Just about every defensive player on the team wanted Ryan to become head coach. If the losing starts, these veterans could turn on their new coach just as they turned on Billick, because they campaigned for Ryan.

One player we have yet to hear from is Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, the team's leader and lightning rod.

There are many who believe Lewis led the revolt against Billick, especially after the linebacker publicly criticized the coach for his poor play-calling and time management midway through last season.

How to handle Lewis and several other key veterans is an issue Harbaugh will have to address for the 2008 season. An unprompted Bisciotti went out of his way yesterday to defend Lewis for nearly a minute as if he was obsessed with portraying him as the ultimate team leader.

Clearly, Bisciotti has a major decision to face after next season when Lewis' contract expires. Most of the Ravens' pro personnel people believe that Lewis plays at a high level, but he's not the dominant player he used to be.

Lewis is going to demand a contract that will continue to make him one of the highest-paid players in the league. Newsome will say no to the deal, but what will Bisciotti do? Will he side with Newsome or Lewis, who has become his friend?

It's another possible divide that the Ravens have to be concerned about. But after yesterday, the healing can begin, and the team can start moving in the right direction again.

No one really knows whether Harbaugh is the answer, just as no one knew about Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh or Don Shula.

According to two other special teams coaches, Harbaugh was one of the best in the NFL. So good, in fact, he stayed a special teams coach for nine years.

Ravens officials said Harbaugh received endorsements from former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes and current coach Andy Reid. Some of his former players say he is tough and disciplined, but fair.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The Ravens could have gotten Marty Schottenheimer but went the younger, cheaper route. They saved about $2 million a season hiring Harbaugh over Schottenheimer, and that helps the club, which has to pay Billick $15 million over the next three years.

A disturbing fact is that before Harbaugh drove from Philadelphia to Baltimore for the second interview Friday, he didn't have a coaching staff organized.

That's alarming, but Newsome will help him find a staff. More importantly, the Ravens have to work out problems in Bisciotti's inner circle. There are hard feelings there that need to be addressed.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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