OWINGS MILLS – It was three years ago that Rex Ryan parked his red pickup truck in the spot designated for the Baltimore Ravens’ head coach when he showed up for his job interview.
The Ravens wound up hiring former Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator John Harbaugh instead of Ryan, their swaggering, popular defensive coordinator.
Three years later, Ryan has led the Jets to consecutive AFC title game appearances while Harbaugh has coached Baltimore to three consecutive playoff appearances with one trip to the AFC championship
Why did owner Steve Bisciotti and the rest of the hiring committee opt for Harbaugh?
"From a chemistry standpoint, we really liked John and we thought it was going to be tougher for Rex to bring the whole team together after him spending 10 years on one side of the ball that was the dominant side of the ball," Bisciotti said during a conference call with personal-seat license holders. "I’ve known Rex for an awful long time. We had struggled for so long on the offensive side of the ball, and we were so dominant on the defensive side of the ball. Through no fault of Rex’s, I think it created a little bit of the haves and have-nots, kind of a big brother-little brother syndrome here."
The personalities of Harbaugh and Ryan, an outspoken coach prone to bravado, are vastly different. Plus, Ryan wasn’t completely accountable during his interview about how some of his defensive players were disrespectful to former coach Brian Billick.
Harbaugh has won 32 of 48 games and four of seven playoff games.
"I will always be second-guessed," Bisciotti said. "Some people will agree with me and some people won’t. I just had to make a gut decision, and so far it’s worked out pretty well. I hope it gets us to the Super Bowl and brings back a couple of trophies to Baltimore."
Bisciotti remains upbeat about the prospects of the team brokering a long-term contract extension with franchise defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
"I have no doubt in my mind that Haloti is going to be with us," Bisciotti said. "We’re just trying to work out the details. I’m having a hard time giving away $60 million. That whole hometown discount with Ray Lewis didn’t work out so well for me. I don’t know if that’s going to happen with Haloti."
Although no deal is imminent as talks continue between Ravens vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty and Ngata’s agents, Bisciotti doesn’t ask general manager Ozzie Newsome for constant updates.
Under NFL rules governing franchise players, the Ravens have until Sept. 20 to sign the Pro Bowl defensive lineman. It’s going to be a very expensive undertaking to lock up Ngata, one of the top defensive players in the game regardless of position.
"I don’t ask Oz if they are close or not," Bisciotti said. "I just have a feeling that things are going to work out."
The Ravens are roughly $2.8 million under the NFL salary cap limit of $120.375 million.
Signing Ngata would create several million dollars of salary-cap space since he’s currently taking up $12.476 million on a one-year franchise tender.
Bisciotti said he doesn’t get involved in contract talks.
"The players are real nice to me on the sidelines," Bisciotti said. "When I talk to them about signing, they tell me to talk to their agents."
The Ravens need depth on the offensive line and a backup quarterback, not to mention an emergency fund in case starters get hurt and need to be replaced.
"I sure wish we could get a little more cap room," Bisciotti said. "We are up against it, and there’s still some good players out there and I think there is going to be more. I think there are going to a lot of veterans that get released.
"And a lot of veterans are going to want to play for a team like the Ravens for the minimum or a little more than that with some incentives. We still have a little room. We are still in the hunt for some offensive linemen and anything else that drops in our laps."
The Ravens prefer to not have to move offensive guard Marshal Yanda to right tackle.
"We know the best spot for Marshal Yanda is guard," Bisciotti said.
Although six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk has been sidelined since undergoing surgery on his left knee, Steve Bisciotti anticipates that he’ll be ready for the first game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Birk is expected to miss the majority of the preseason while recovering from having a bursa sac injury repaired.
"Every indication is that he’s going to play, we’re counting on him," Bisciotti said. "The original prognosis was three or four weeks, which would put us right up against the season opener. I haven’t heard anything different.
"We are hoping to have him, and we were planning on limiting his snaps like we do with a lot of the veterans anyway. After his exceptional career, I don’t know that a lack of snaps is going to be important at a position like that. Say your prayers, I think he’s going to be starting against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11."
Bisciotti expressed support for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron whose offense didn’t perform as expected last season. The Ravens wound up firing offensive line coach John Matsko and quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn rather than dismiss Cameron.
"I have faith in Cam," Bisciotti said. "We fire coaches around here and we will continue to fire coaches. He’s a good guy, a brilliant mind. I understand all the pressure that was put on Cam in the offseason. I like a Cam Cameron under pressure."
Bisciotti said he’s an advocate of warm-weather sites for Super Bowls. What about Baltimore hosting a Super Bowl since New York is getting one?
"We got to get through this New York one first," Bisciotti said. "If it works, we’ll be in line like everyone else. If they have bad weather, it might never come again. I’m not thrilled to have it in New York."
Bisciotti wants the Ravens to be competitive on an annual basis.
"My goal is to never have a 4-12 team out on the field," Bisciotti said. "I’m going to work my butt off to make sure that doesn’t happen.’
And he predicted that the Ravens will make the playoffs and defended quarterback Joe Flacco.
"I believe in our team," he said. "I believe in Joe. I believe in our coaches."
Bisciotti said he’s aware that he’s not a trained football expert, but said: "I’ve got a little bit of a feel."
The Anne Arundel County businessman said he tries to play devil’s advocate when it comes to personnel decisions and reminds the football people about the financial ramifications.
Although the Ravens haven’t been contacted by the NFL about playing a game in London, he’s all for it.
"I would love to get some more Ravens fans across the pond," Bisciotti said. "They haven’t come to me. My time is going to come up and I’m going to accept it when it does."
Bisciotti closed the call by expressing his appreciation for the fans.
"Baltimore fans, Ravens fans, I love you," Bisciotti said. "You’re the best. Everything I do is trying to bring you a winner. I appreciate your support. We’re not perfect here, but Lord knows we try. Hopefully, we’ll be setting up a parade in the near future. I certainly hope so."