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Neuheisel Interviews For Ravens' Opening

Ex-Coach Seeks Offensive Coordinator Spot

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 2005; Page D04

OWINGS MILLS, Md., Jan. 6 -- The Baltimore Ravens have begun their search for an offensive coordinator, interviewing former University of Washington coach Rick Neuheisel on Thursday and scheduling an interview with New Orleans Saints quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard for Friday.

Former Illinois coach Ron Turner and Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan also have drawn interest from the Ravens.


The Ravens talked to former University Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel about Baltimore's vacant offensive coordinator job. (Elaine Thompson - AP)

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Coach Brian Billick said he plans on moving quickly to fill the vacancy created when the Ravens and Matt Cavanaugh reached what was described as a mutual decision to part ways on Monday. Cavanaugh, who spent the past six seasons with Baltimore, oversaw an offense that ranked second-to-last in the NFL, the worst showing in franchise history.

A decision could come by the middle of next week, since Billick would like to have his coordinator in place by the time the Ravens begin their personnel meetings on Jan. 17.

"Whoever I bring in is going to have a very strong say in how we rebuild the offensive room," Billick said during a news conference, with General Manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti seated beside him. "There's got to be a detailed analysis, beginning with personnel."

Billick acknowledged that the accelerated timetable essentially removes former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel from consideration. Fassel, who spent the past season as a senior consultant with Baltimore, is focused on becoming a head coach again.

Neuheisel compiled a 66-30 record in eight seasons at Colorado and Washington, but he was fired by Washington in June 2003 after participating in a high-stakes college basketball pool. Neuheisel was cleared of any wrongdoing by the NCAA. He has made no secret of his desire to return to coaching; however, he has struggled to get interviews.

"I'm thankful for Coach Billick providing me the opportunity to come and have a conversation," Neuheisel said. "Obviously, what's happened to me over the last couple of years, opportunities have been few and far between. . . . I am very happy to have spent the morning [with the Ravens], and who knows what the future holds? It's a very good start, in terms of trying to get back into what I want to do."

Sheppard is familiar with the Ravens, having served with them during their inaugural season in 1996 as wide receivers coach; he was given play-calling duties under then-coach Ted Marchibroda. Turner, who was fired by Illinois after going 35-57 in eight seasons, is considered to be the leading candidate to replace Terry Shea as the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator.

Billick said that he has had "extensive discussions" with University of Southern California offensive coordinator Norm Chow, a friend since their days together at Brigham Young University, but he left it at that.

"Norm's been a little preoccupied," Billick said. "I'm going to continue to talk to Norm to find out exactly what Norm wants to do right now, what his perspective is. He's got a job that he likes."

Bisciotti denied reports that he had influenced Cavanaugh's departure.

"I have an opinion about everything just like you all do. Unfortunately for [Newsome and Billick], they have to hear all of my opinions," Bisciotti said. "I said when I took control that all I can control is Brian and Ozzie; they control their staff. Their staff is the entire organization. I can control them. If I don't like their decisions over an extended period of time, I can fire them. . . . Was I frustrated [with the Ravens' offense]? Of course I was. When our offense finishes 31st, I know enough not to go in there and tell [Billick] that we should fire our defensive coordinator."

The Ravens are searching for ways to fix what went wrong in a 9-7 season that ended short of the playoffs. In the coming weeks, they will evaluate their personnel.

"We are in a healthy cap situation which allows us to do three things from my standpoint," Newsome said. "To retain our players and compensate them fairly, to be very active in the free agent market, and to, if need be, move up into the top 10 in the draft and pay the price that you have to pay there to get a quality player."

The Ravens will prepare for free agency and the draft without director of player personnel Phil Savage, who will be introduced on Friday as the Cleveland Browns' general manager. Newsome praised Savage for his work ethic and his ability to identify talent.

"Cleveland is better today because of Phil Savage," Newsome said.

Newsome said that he doesn't foresee bringing in a replacement for Savage, adding that he is confident in the abilities of director of college scouting Eric DeCosta and director of pro personnel George Kokinis.


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