LOMBARDI’S WAY: Who is the Ravens’ best defensive coordinator of all time?

Lombardi's Way LOMBARDI’S WAY: Who is the Ravens’ best defensive coordinator of all time?

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In our poll which you can find on the home page and throughout this site, we ask your opinion on the best defensive coordinator in Ravens history.  At the risk of swaying the voting (in either direction) I’m going on record to say that Marvin Lewis is very overrated.
 
When Brian Billick came along back in 1999 and assembled his coaching staff, Lewis was not his first choice.  In fact if Gunther Cunningham had not been offered the Kansas City Chiefs’ head coaching position, Marvin Lewis would have had two feet in the unemployment line.
 
Let’s give Lewis credit for this – he recognized the talents of his Super Bowl winning defense, particularly their superior speed and then just let them play without any unnecessary gadgetry.  Lewis’ scheme was basic and it was successful because his unit was fast to the ball, they tackled extremely well and each player understood their role.  The whole of Lewis’ unit was greater than the sum of the parts.
 
But since his departure from Baltimore, Lewis has failed to assemble even a decent defense.  When he left the Ravens for greener pastures 45 minutes to the south, Lewis struggled as the Redskins defensive coordinator despite ample talent in DC.  As the head coach for the Bengals, Lewis’ defenses have consistently been among the league’s worst throughout his five years in Cincinnati.
 
It’s interesting that Lewis went to Cincinnati with a reputation for being a defensive guru while Brian Billick came to Baltimore with a reputation for possessing a brilliant offensive mind. Neither lived up to their billing and in a way both are frauds.  But Lewis is clearly the bigger fraud. At least Billick kept his team together during adverse times, save his final season.  We’ve all seen and heard about the horror stories in Lewis’ locker room.
 
Lewis left Baltimore in ’02 knowing that the team was about to purge its roster and lose an abundance of talent.  As a sure-fire head coaching candidate particularly in a league screaming for minority candidates, Lewis probably didn’t want to risk a blossoming resume with an unproven roster marked by unprecedented youthfulness.
 
And so he bailed…
 
It’s hard to blame him.
 
In comes Mike Nolan to take over as defensive coordinator for the departing Marvelous Marvin.  Give Billick credit for parking Nolan on the coaching staff as a Receivers Coach knowing that Lewis’ tenure in B’more would be short-lived.
 
Nolan’s efforts here in Baltimore earned him the head coaching position in San Francisco.  What he did with the talent available to him in 2002 particularly with Ray Lewis missing 11 games that season was remarkable.
 
In 2003 and 2004 despite little productivity on offense from any skill position players not named Jamal Lewis, Nolan’s defenses competed and for the most part carried the team.  His three year stint as defensive coordinator was impressive – one that his predecessor would not have matched.
 
The coming season will be challenging and interesting for both Lewis and Nolan.  Each sits firmly atop the proverbial hot seat and both could be looking for jobs elsewhere by the end of the 2008 campaign.  And if that happens, how interesting would it be if Rex Ryan finally lands that coveted head coaching position and the Ravens are left searching for Rex’ replacement.
 
Would you turn to Lewis or Nolan if you sat in John Harbaugh’s chair?
 
From my vantage point Nolan would be the better choice – a coach who arguably has been the team’s best defensive coordinator in their relatively short history.
 
Far fetched you say? Rex Ryan and Marvin Lewis are superior?
 
Maybe, maybe not…
 
But ask yourself these questions:
 
Who got more productivity out of Ed Reed in their three seasons as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan or Mike Nolan?
 
What did Marvin Lewis do as defensive coordinator prior to 1999? Could he have matched wits with Nolan in 2002 with that inexperienced roster and without Ray Lewis?
 
Let the debate begin but no matter how I slice it, ring or no ring, Lewis is the weakest of the Ravens 3 defensive coordinators.  And if you want the brutal truth Marvin might be one great guy, a wonderful neighbor and friend, but as a coach in the NFL he’s also one big fraud.
 
Just ask Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson.
 
Photo by Sabina Moran

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts "The Fanimal" also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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