Ravens coach John Harbaugh on the sidelines as the Ravens faced… (Andrew Weber, USA Today…)
Head coach John Harbaugh and other Ravens officials have been mostly mum about the process of finding a replacement for offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, and the characteristics the organization is looking for in its next hire.
However, one thing has become abundantly clear: The Ravens are operating from a position of strength with a desirable job to offer and plenty of interested and qualified candidates.
"I think it's an excellent position," said NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly, a former general manager of the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans. "There's work to be done, but they've got a stable head coach, a stable general manager in Ozzie Newsome who's outstanding at finding players along with his assistant, Eric DeCosta. It's a premier job. You've got a quarterback in place and you can win there. It's a job that good coaches want and will pursue aggressively."
When Caldwell became the head coach of the Detroit Lions this week, he left the Ravens to search for their third offensive coordinator in a little more than 13 months.Since Caldwell officially joined the Lions, Harbaugh and other team officials have gotten a deluge of calls and emails expressing interest in the position. Harbaugh has communicated with numerous candidates already, though the only formal interview that has become public was Wednesday's sitdown with former Redskins and Texans offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
"I have a profile in mind, and we are excited about the coaches who have shown interest in the job," Harbaugh said Wednesday in a statement released by the team. "One of the positives with the change is that we're reminded that this franchise — and team — is attractive to many in the profession."
Shanahan joins a group of available candidates, some carrying both NFL head coaching and offensive coordinator experience. The list includes Gary Kubiak and Rob Chudzinski, who were both fired as head coaches over the past two months, current Ravens wide receivers coach Jim Hostler and other assistants elsewhere, like New Orleans Saints quarterback coach Joe Lombardi and Kansas City Chiefs spread game analyst Brad Childress.
Casserly called Kubiak "an excellent candidate," and praised his play-calling and play-designing ability. Despite all the turmoil with the Redskins this past season, Casserly said that he felt Kyle Shanahan did "a lot of good things."
Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner, once believed to be a Ravens target, is reportedly close to being hired by the Minnesota Vikings, which will leave only a handful of teams with offensive coordinator vacancies.
Analysts say what the Ravens have to offer stands out among the few remaining vacancies. Steve Bisciotti is known as a loyal and supportive owner who preaches stability. Newsome consistently brings in talent via trades, free agency and the draft, and he's already pledged this offseason to fix the offensive line and get another target for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Despite an 8-8 season that left him out of the playoffs for the first time in his six-year tenure, Harbaugh is less than a year removed from winning a Super Bowl and getting a four-year contract extension that made him one of the game's highest-paid coaches. His standing in Baltimore is extremely secure, which is important to prospective candidates who don't want to make a commitment to another organization and be unemployed a year later.
"It's a place with great stability, great ownership and a great general manager," said former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon, now an analyst for CBS Sports. "It's a winning organization. It's a very attractive place. It's a stepping stone. Go coach in Baltimore and become a head coach down the road if you excel and the offense takes off. … It's a very attractive place. There are a lot of people who want to come to Baltimore."
Since Harbaugh was hired before the 2008 seasons, three of his assistants — Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Caldwell — have left the organization for head-coaching jobs. But even before Harbaugh's arrival, the Ravens' organization helped launch several head-coaching careers at either the college or pro levels.
Winning consistently and playing so many high-profile games has led to both attention and opportunities for Ravens' assistants, as has the organization's habit of promoting from within when key positions open. Harbaugh has filled his past three primary coordinator openings with internal promotions and that trend will continue if the Ravens tab Hostler as their next offensive coordinator.
While the Ravens' offense has important pieces in place, and many, like Flacco, running back Ray Rice and wide receiver Torrey Smith (Maryland), should be in the prime of their careers, the team's new offensive coordinator will still face several challenges. Flacco is coming off a franchise-record 22 interception season and Rice had the worst season of his NFL career. The offensive line also needs to be overhauled this offseason.
"They've got to make the right decision for what's in the best interest of their team. They have to find someone who can get the offensive line and running game straightened out and get Joe Flacco playing like he did the year before," Gannon said. "They need stability at offensive coordinator. Look at Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. They've been playing in one system for their entire careers. That familiarity and comfort level is huge. This is a critical move for the Ravens organization."
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