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There's No Defense if Lewis Is Denied Shot at Coaching Job

January 12, 2001|J.A. ADANDE

What will the excuse be this time?

Marvin Lewis is the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, the team that is doing for defense what the St. Louis Rams did for offense last season.

But Lewis is African American and this is the NFL, so there goes his shot at a head-coaching job.

The facts are abysmal. It's not merely that there are only two African American head coaches--Minnesota's Dennis Green and Tampa Bay's Tony Dungy--it's the paucity of minority hires amid the rapid turnover of coaches over the years.

It's a situation that makes NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue wince, and he'd love to do something about it so he doesn't have to hear the subject brought up once again when he gives his annual state-of-the-league address during Super Bowl week.

In a twisted way, it would be better for Tagliabue--and even Lewis--if the Ravens lost their AFC championship game to the Oakland Raiders this weekend. That would clear Lewis to interview for the vacant jobs with the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns--provided Cleveland could stomach the thought of bringing back someone from their stolen franchise.

Lewis' name should already be at the top of any list.

"Whatever respect, whatever credit that a coach deserves, Marvin deserves it," said Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore's vice president of player personnel. "The players like him, he does a good job of scheming them. He gets them to play. He's built this thing. We were bad our first year, and he built this thing."

It appeared that Bill Parcells' protege, Maurice Carthon, had the inside track to the Jets' vacant job, but then Parcells vacated his post as president. So it's up for grabs--and up for debate to see whether the Jets make a choice as unimaginative as their last two, Bill Belichick and Al Groh.

Proven winners--by that we mean a Super Bowl championship--should always get the first crack at new jobs. But that's a small group, even smaller if Parcells is serious about this retirement thing.

Some of the more suspect picks--the relatively inexperienced Jon Gruden by Oakland and Andy Reid by Philadelphia--have proven to be great hires. Both the Eagles and Raiders won playoff games this year, and the Raiders are one victory away from the Super Bowl.

African Americans deserve the same chance. When they have gotten it, it's paid dividends for the teams who made the jump: The Vikings and Buccaneers are among the more successful teams in the league.

Lewis has been coaching for 20 years, the last 10 in the NFL. Now he runs a unit that Raven owner Art Modell has called, "The best defense I've ever seen in football. And I've seen an awful lot of 'em. In 40 years in this league and 25 years as a spectator, this is the best defensive team I've seen."

The Ravens held opponents to 60 yards rushing a game during the regular season. They gave up only 165 points, an NFL record.

Something Lewis did was right.

Of course, strategy only works if the players buy into it.

"When I first got here, every time Marvin put our defensive package together for game day those [younger] guys would complain like, 'Oh, it's too much,' " said defensive back Rod Woodson, who also spent four seasons with Lewis in Pittsburgh, where Lewis coached the linebackers from 1992-1995. "I said, 'That's nothing. We used to have way more in Pittsburgh.'

"But Marvin, he would just keep putting that same defensive package in and it would turn things around. They'd start saying, 'OK, if I can focus and understand it, then we can play well.'

"Last year was the evolving of people understanding it, people believing in it, guys playing fast within the defense and Marvin making some good calls also.

"This year, we all had the belief and the confidence that we could play well, and it just flowed."

Ray Lewis did most of the flowing. The front line of Rob Burnett, Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa and Mike McCrary controlled the line of scrimmage.

Raven defenders were rarely caught out of position, and were usually around to gang-tackle those unfortunate ballcarriers.

"We'd pride ourselves on not just making the tackle, but having two or three guys here hitting somebody all the time," Woodson said. "Over the course of 60 minutes, that's going to take a toll on running backs and the offense."

Having a good scheme is only half of the battle. The other is recognizing offensive tendencies through the course of the game and coming up with the necessary adjustments. The Ravens got with it after the New York Jets had jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the final game of the regular season, enabling Baltimore to come back for a 34-20 victory.

In the divisional playoff at Tennessee last Sunday, the Titans came out and attacked the middle of the Raven defense, moving 68 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive.

That would be their only touchdown.

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