By Joe Platania
The other 31 NFL teams might take great pride in attempting to beat the Ravens, but they also respect the kinds of coaches the team employs.
Former coach Brian Billick once tried to fend off criticism of his team by saying, "If we're (so bad), how come other teams back up the moving truck to take away our coaches?"
Right on cue, things have been no different this offseason. Come fall, the Ravens' coaching staff will again have a different look, and in two of the team's most-discussed areas: quarterback and defense.
Baltimore's sterling defensive reputation has not stemmed the tide of coordinators leaving for allegedly greener pastures; indeed, it may have accelerated it.
Former New England defensive coordinator Dean Pees, 62, the team's linebackers coach the past two seasons, became the sixth coordinator in team history, following in the large footsteps of Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan, Greg Mattison and Chuck Pagano. The latter left to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
A former Navy secondary coach, Pees is likely to continue the defensive schemes Pagano installed. During Pees' four-year tenure as New England's defensive coordinator -- a stint that included the team's perfect 2007 regular season and 18-game winning streak, which ended in Super Bowl XLII -- the Patriots were the only team in the NFL to finish in the top 10 in scoring defense each season.
New England allowed fewer than 20 points per game on average every year during Pees' four years in charge of coach Bill Belichick's defense. Pees replaced Eric Mangini -- a former Ravens quality control coach in 1996 -- when the latter left to become coach of the New York Jets.
Pees' linebacker vacancy was filled with another ex-defensive coordinator, Denver's Don "Wink" Martindale, 48, who oversaw the Broncos' transformation into a young, aggressive unit, which kept the team in games long enough for quarterback Tim Tebow to lead several winning rallies.
Martindale -- whose nickname refers to a legendary game-show host of the same name -- will work mainly with the team's inside linebackers, such as Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Jameel McClain. Ted Monachino will continue to tutor the outside players (Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, et al).
But even with the changes, the Ravens still aren't immune to having their linebackers coaches raided during the future.
Around the league today, people coaching the position that have passed through Baltimore include Mike Singletary (Minnesota), Jeff FitzGerald (Cincinnati), ex-Ravens linebacker Mike Caldwell (Philadelphia), former Towson State assistant Joe Vitt (New Orleans) and former Maryland coach Mark Duffner (Jacksonville).
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The Ravens have had 17 different quarterbacks throw at least one pass in team history, and they've gone through at least six different assistant coaches who have had quarterback-tutoring duties in their job titles, along with several other contributors.
In 2011, Baltimore was one of the few teams that did not employ a full-time quarterbacks coach at all, instead getting input from offensive assistant Craig VerSteeg as the team tried to foster a rapport between quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who was retained this year after his contract expired.
All that changed earlier this month with the appointment of former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell as the team's new quarterbacks coach.
Conspiracy theorists have already opined that Caldwell's acquisition could be the forerunner to either an attempt to sign future Hall of Fame signal-caller Peyton Manning or for Caldwell to succeed Cameron in the coordinator post. Because of Flacco's durability and win totals -- not to mention Caldwell's play-calling inexperience -- neither theory seems plausible.
During 34 years of coaching, the 57-year-old Caldwell has been a quarterbacking mentor at the University of Colorado and Penn State at the college level, and in the NFL with both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Colts.
Caldwell was in the fortunate position of coaching Manning from 2002-08, a seven-season span during which the future Hall of Fame signal-caller posted NFL highs in completion percentage (66.5) and passer rating (100.5).
During Caldwell's time in Indianapolis, the Colts advanced to a pair of Super Bowls (XLI vs. Chicago, XLIV vs. New Orleans), winning the former contest in a driving rainstorm in Miami.
The 2004 campaign is seen as the Colts' -- and, for that matter, Manning's -- high-water mark for passing efficiency and explosiveness.
That year, Manning set what was then an NFL record with 49 touchdown passes, a mark New England's Tom Brady eclipsed three years later, when he heaved 50 scoring throws. Manning was also picked off just 10 times that year.
Not only that, but Manning's passer rating that year was a gaudy 121.1, which was also a league record at the time. In 2011, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers surpassed that with a 122.5. A perfect rating is 158.3.
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Even though the Ravens eliminated the quarterbacks coach position last year in order to get Flacco working more directly with Cameron, the team changed its mind this year and apparently decided such a hire was necessary again in order for the offense -- which jumped seven notches in 2011, going from 22nd to 15th in yards produced -- to function even more smoothly.
"After spending considerable time with Jim (just before hiring him)," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, "we think he will be an excellent fit with our team, coaching the quarterbacks and helping with our offense.
"We believe he enhances our staff. Jim has a tremendous history coaching at the college and pro level, especially working with quarterbacks and providing help with offenses. The timing is right to add a quarterbacks coach after Cam and Joe worked so closely and well together this year. It's the right step for us now."
As an illustration of how internecine the coaching profession can be, Caldwell had reportedly interviewed to be the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator, replacing Bruce Arians, who had decided to retire before joining the new staff Pagano is building in Indianapolis.
"I am really excited to work with coach Harbaugh, Cam and the rest of the coaching staff," Caldwell said. "It's a great fit for me, and I'm happy they saw it that way. I can't wait to get started with the Ravens, an organization that from top to bottom is one of the NFL's best.
"I'm looking forward to coming to Baltimore."
As for Cameron's return -- despite howls of protest from the fan base -- he will come back to coordinate an offense that, like the Ravens' defense, rose seven notches in the NFL's yardage rankings, from 22nd to 15th.
Harbaugh termed Cameron's return a foregone conclusion, just as many fans and broadcast media types were opining it was a fait accompli that Cameron could be dismissed.
Cameron and the Harbaugh family forged their ties when they were both associated with Michigan. Harbaugh family patriarch Jack Harbaugh coached under legendary Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler and Cameron was a graduate assistant there before becoming quarterbacks coach and a receivers coach as well.
Despite all the recent changes, the coaching makeover is not yet done.
Special teams assistant Marwan Maalouf resigned his post to join Pagano in Indianapolis, as did secondary assistant Roy Anderson, a four-year veteran of the Ravens' personnel department, who will now be the Colts' safeties coach.
Issue 170: February 2012