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Ravens Part With Offensive Coordinator Cavanaugh

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 4, 2005; Page D03

OWINGS MILLS, Md., Jan. 3 -- Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh will not be back for a seventh season, a decision that was mutually agreed upon by Cavanaugh and Coach Brian Billick.

Billick and Cavanaugh met on Monday morning, the day after the Ravens concluded a 9-7 season with a 30-23 victory over the Miami Dolphins. Baltimore just missed making the playoffs, a deeply disappointing end to a season that began with talk of a Super Bowl run. The offense took much of the blame for the team falling short.

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"We had a very frank conversation about where we needed to go, what we needed to do to move forward, what changes we needed to make in order to be more productive -- particularly on the offensive side of the ball -- to live up to the potential of what this team can be, and be substantially better," Billick said. "Matt and I both agreed that part of that change would be at the offensive coordinator position."

Cavanaugh, who was not available to comment, is the only offensive coordinator that Billick has had in his six years as head coach. The former NFL quarterback was part of Baltimore's Super Bowl XXXV triumph following the 2000 season, but he also oversaw an offense that never finished ranked higher than 14th in the NFL.

This season, the Ravens managed 273.4 yards of offense per game, which put them 31st in the league -- their lowest finish. Baltimore scored 24 touchdowns on offense (the fewest in the AFC), and set franchise lows in total net yards (4,375) and passing touchdowns (13). Injuries to tight end Todd Heap (missed 10 games), left tackle Jonathan Ogden (missed four games) and running back Jamal Lewis (missed two games to injury and two games to suspension) -- Pro Bowlers all -- didn't help.

"He's done a great job, under a lot of adverse circumstances," Billick said of Cavanaugh. "He recognizes what it is we need to do going forward: our ability to throw the ball, the development of [quarterback] Kyle Boller, the synchronization of the running game and the commitment to the running game and the talents of a Jamal Lewis and how that has to balance in the passing game."

Billick did not rule out further changes to his coaching staff, though he refuted speculation that he fired quarterbacks and wide receivers coach David Shaw. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who oversaw the NFL's sixth-ranked defense, could be a candidate for head coaching vacancies, and defensive line coach Rex Ryan could be in line to become a defensive coordinator, either with the Ravens (should Nolan leave) or elsewhere.

Seven veterans will be unrestricted free agents, most notably linebacker Ed Hartwell, cornerback Gary Baxter and wide receiver (and former first-round pick) Travis Taylor. Billick and General Manager Ozzie Newsome will discuss the Ravens' personnel decisions at a news conference Thursday.

Billick said that he does not have a candidate in mind to replace Cavanaugh; ideally, he would like to find someone who has NFL experience, and preferably experience as a coordinator. He will not promote from within, saying that "in this circumstance that's not the prudent thing to do. . . . We need a change of focus, a change of energy, and I don't think that can be accomplished on staff -- notwithstanding Jim Fassel."

Fassel, the former New York Giants coach, spent the season as a senior consultant with the Ravens; his contract expired on Dec. 31. Fassel, however, has said throughout the past year that his goal is to be a head coach again. Cleveland is the only team that has a head coaching vacancy, though others may arise.

"Jim is going to be a candidate for a head coaching position and deservedly so," Billick said. "The time frame of that has to play into this equation, and what Jim's intentions are, going down the way. It's hard for me to imagine Jim Fassel not getting an opportunity to be a head coach in the National Football League."

Several other offensive coordinators could be available; Minnesota's Scott Linehan's contract is up at the end of the season, and the New York Jets' Paul Hackett and Jacksonville's Bill Musgrave could be relieved of their duties.

There was an afternoon team meeting, and many players drifted through the locker room afterward. Linebacker Ray Lewis, who missed the season finale with a fractured wrist, Boller and Jamal Lewis were noticeably absent.

Those who did talk to reporters reflected on a season of missed opportunities.

"It's very disappointing," Baxter said. "Our expectations were high, were very realistic. . . . You've got to put everything in perspective. Things happen for a reason, and guys should take this feeling right here and remember what it feels like next year."

Cornerback Deion Sanders, who ended his three-year retirement to join the Ravens in early September, started cleaning out his locker, pausing every so often to sign autographs for his younger teammates. Sanders was limited by injuries -- first it was his hamstring, then it was his foot -- and played in only nine games, though he said he had no regrets about his return. He also said that he will have surgery on his foot, and then will determine whether to return for what would be his 14th season.

"It's really sad to walk around and players get your autograph as if they're not going to see you again," he said. "That's new for me."

Ravens Notes: Baltimore holds the 22nd selection of the 2005 draft, the lowest pick among teams that did not qualify for the playoffs. . . .

The NFL released the nondivision opponents for the 2005 season. The Ravens will host Houston, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Minnesota and the New York Jets, and will visit Jacksonville, Tennessee, Chicago, Detroit and Denver.

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