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Architect of defense gets rave reviews
By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 18, 2001
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The football world has come before Marvin Lewis to pay him homage. Any day now, he will turn around and notice.
Lewis is the defensive coordinator of what may be the greatest defense of modern times. His is the hand that controls the mayhem.
He also is the hottest commodity in NFL coaching circles. Various reports have the Browns, the Lions and the Bills lining up to interview him for their head-coaching vacancies. The only problem is Lewis is being held hostage by the Super Bowl. Until the game is over, and Baltimore's season ends, Lewis is prohibited from meeting with other teams.
So, at the urging of Ravens coach Brian Billick, Lewis has done the next best thing. Like a new age dating service, he has made a video to send to prospective suitors.
"It gave Marvin a chance on camera to show how articulate he was and that he has a plan in mind," said Billick, who also appears on the video with Ravens personnel chief Ozzie Newsome. "It wasn't real detailed, but he showed he understood the scope of the job and that he understood he needs to do these certain things and that he's prepared to do it.
"He put that in front of ownership so they can pause and say, 'You know what, I need to talk to this guy.' That gave Marvin a sense that he was doing everything he could, and so then could keep his mind focused on his job and not worry about the peripheral things because he was being proactive."
There does not seem to be much chance that Lewis would lose focus. It was his vision, after all, that helped turn Baltimore's defense from a very good collection of players to a record-setting unit.
Lewis, 42, joined the Ravens their first season in Baltimore in 1996. Defensive end Rob Burnett said the Ravens resembled an expansion team in those first couple of seasons and the statistics reflected it. When Ted Marchibroda was fired in 1998, the Ravens had the 24th ranked defense in the NFL.
Yet Billick saw something in Lewis. He liked the structure of the defense and, better still, the integrity of the man. Lewis was the only coach from Ted Marchibroda's staff to be retained by Billick.
The next year, the Ravens had the No. 2 defense in the league. This season, the Ravens set a record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season.
"He made it very simple for us," linebacker Peter Boulware said. "He asked us if we wanted to be great. If we wanted to have a chance to play in the Super Bowl. It was hard to resist."
Of course, this is not all of Lewis' doing. The Ravens are as talented as any defense in the league. Three linemen, Sam Adams, Burnett and Michael McCrary; two linebackers, Boulware and Ray Lewis; and one defensive back, Rod Woodson, have been elected to the Pro Bowl at some point in their careers.
What Marvin Lewis did was help make this group so cohesive that mistakes are virtually non-existent. He convinced players to sacrifice personal goals and statistics to play within the framework of the team. Basically, he taught them to do their jobs and not showboat.
"Our guys were very hungry to win. They knew what we did last year, that we kind of scratched the surface. We had an opportunity to go out and be special," Lewis said. "As few touchdowns as we gave up two years ago, we gave up some unnecessary plays ... because of our zest to do more than we needed to do within our responsibilities. Not maliciously, but just in trying to do too much. We tried to teach them to be patient and let things happen."
So after 20 years of coaching -- including toiling most of the 1980s in low profile college posts such as Idaho State, Long Beach State and New Mexico -- Lewis finds himself at the center of attention.
His situation is not unlike Billick's two years ago, when he was coordinator of Minnesota's record-setting offense. Hours after Minnesota lost in the NFC Championship Game, Billick was weighing offers from the Ravens and the Browns.
Lewis, who interviewed to be New England's coach last season, will not speculate about his chances. He jokes that Billick was fortunate he got a job quickly and did not have to try to duplicate his success with Minnesota's offense the next season.
Asked if he is ready to be an NFL head coach, Lewis does not hesitate.
"Yes, I'm ready. Very ready," Lewis said.
As he sits in his windowless office at the Ravens training camp, Lewis considers whether a window of opportunity is opening before him.
"God only knows," Lewis said. "But if it happens, I'm ready for it."
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