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Coaching Connectivity Key For Ravens And Orioles

February 17, 2014

Normally, any discussion comparing the Ravens and Orioles begins and ends at the ownership level. We know the deal. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is a young, dynamic billionaire, and Peter Angelos, the aging owner of the Orioles, is slow and views the world of public relations skeptically.

Below the head men is that next level of corporate leadership, and again, there is a stark difference between the two franchises. 

Ravens president Dick Cass has been a trusted and powerful front man for Bisciotti. Angelos started with Joe Foss, his trusted banker, as team president, but since Foss left, there have been mostly figureheads focused on stadium operations.

Then there is the next level of leadership, on the personnel side. Bisciotti inherited general manager Ozzie Newsome, who has been consistently successful at building the on-field gridiron product. Angelos has felt his way through a myriad of regimes and found consecutive winning builders in former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail and current executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette.

As far as the on-field leadership goes, Bisciotti inherited Super Bowl-winning coach Brian Billick, and after a couple of bumps in the road, he tasked Cass and the folks on the football side with finding a long-term answer -- which led to the 2008 hire of John Harbaugh as head coach. Harbaugh has been a great first coaching hire for Bisciotti. 

Angelos has gone through managers at a frenetic pace. Phil Regan, Davey Johnson, Ray Miller, Mike Hargrove, Lee Mazzilli, Sam Perlozzo and Dave Trembley all had stops in Baltimore before Angelos got to current manager Buck Showalter, who could be a long-term answer.

With these differences, it has been curious to see a subtle similarity between recent key coaching hires the Orioles and Ravens have made. The Orioles needed a new pitching coach after making the decision to not bring back Rick Adair. The O's also chose to look past Bill Castro, who was an interim pitching coach in 2013 when Adair took a leave of absence for personal reasons. After conducting a round of interviews with candidates such as Carl Willis, Andy Hawkins, Rich Dubee and Dave Wallace, the Orioles opted for the well respected Wallace.

Orioles: Dave Wallace pitching coach

Although we don't know what could have happened with a Willis, Hawkins or Dubee regime, we do know that in hiring Wallace, the Orioles ended up signing a tandem. Wallace pushed to be able to hire his own assistant pitching coach, and the man he wanted to bring along was Dom Chiti, who had coached for the Texas Rangers during Showalter's time as their manager. Chiti, whose technical title is bullpen coach, worked with Wallace for the past few years in the Atlanta Braves' system.

At the MLB winter meetings in Florida in December, Wallace and Chiti talked about their working relationship. They discussed how they had developed a shorthand in communicating, and how much that would help the Orioles pitchers they would be working with. 

But there are differences between the two -- Wallace kiddingly described Chiti's temperament as being akin to a microwave, while saying he was more slow to boil, like a Crock-Pot.

In the Ravens' coaching department, there is no clear consensus as to whether offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell would have returned to Baltimore in 2014. The fact that the Detroit Lions hired him as their head coach rendered the debate moot, and the Ravens had to find a new offensive coordinator. 

They had initially hired Caldwell before the 2012 season as quarterbacks coach, to work with Joe Flacco under then-offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. When Cameron was dismissed in December 2012, Caldwell ascended to the offensive coordinator position, and the team didn't have a quarterbacks coach in 2013.

When the Ravens set about looking for a new offensive coordinator, the notion of needing to hire a new quarterbacks coach didn't seem to be a primary concern.

As with the Orioles' pitching coach search, Harbaugh's approach to finding an offensive coordinator moved along in a serious, yet expeditious, fashion. The initial round of interviews included candidates such as then-Ravens wide receivers coach Jim Hostler, Pittsburgh Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson, former NFL head man Scott Linehan and former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

During the last few days of the interview process, the Dallas Cowboys hired Linehan, and there were reports that Wilson had been told he was not going to get the job. By process of elimination, that indicated the job would go to either Hostler or Kyle Shanahan.

Yet, when the Ravens held a press conference to announce the hiring Jan. 27, many people were in for a surprising development. The Ravens had opted to pair two coaches with a long history of working together. Former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak would be the new Ravens offensive coordinator, while Rick Dennison would come in as the new quarterbacks coach. Dennison was a longtime assistant both with Kubiak in Denver and under Kubiak in Houston.

Ravens 2014: Gary Kubiak
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox

Kubiak, who had been the offensive coordinator in Denver under Mike Shanahan, took over as head coach of the Texans in January 2006. When Kubiak left, Mike Shanahan tabbed Dennison to take over as offensive coordinator in Denver. Kubiak named Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator in Houston in 2008.

This case of musical chairs continued when Mike Shanahan got fired in Denver after the 2009 season. When Mike Shanahan was hired as Washington's head coach, Kyle Shanahan resigned his post in Houston to become offensive coordinator of the Redskins in 2010. Meanwhile, Dennison got a reunion with Kubiak, to replace Kyle Shanahan in Houston.

In both baseball and football, a lot goes into winning games. But nothing is more important than the men who control the ball game, the pitchers and the quarterbacks. It's interesting that the Orioles and the Ravens, who do so many things so differently when confronted with decisions regarding tossing the ball, have both used coaching connectivity to get the message across more seamlessly.

Issue 194: February 2014