Defensive coordinators in coaching on-deck circle

Posted: Friday, January 26, 2001

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The arithmetic fits: Two head coaching openings, one in Buffalo, the other in Cleveland, and two high-profile defensive coordinators preparing for Sunday's Super Bowl.

The only question seems to be which job will go to John Fox of the Giants and which will go to Marvin Lewis of the Ravens.

Both have received enthusiastic endorsements from their bosses and their players.

''I definitely believe John is ready to be a head coach,'' Giants coach Jim Fassel said of Fox. Brian Billick of the Ravens, who went through this ritual two years ago, helped produce a seven-minute video to promote Lewis.

Keith Hamilton of the Giants said Fox demands a lot of his players.

''Defensively, there's not a better mind,'' he said. ''He takes the other offense's strength and negates it. If a team runs, we make you throw.

''He makes you want to play hard for him. So much today for a head coach is motivating, getting players to play hard and getting the most out of guys. He's a great communicator, a players' coach. You don't want to lose for him. The things he's done with defense is the key to the success this team had this season.''

Michael McCrary of the Ravens called Lewis a student of the game. ''No, make that a professor of the game,'' he said. ''Marvin found a way to utilize everyone's talent, putting us in the right place at the right time. His defensive play calls are uncanny. He'll make a good head coach, no doubt.''

Sam Adams, another Ravens defensive lineman, admires Lewis' consistency.

''He's well prepared, technically sound,'' Adams said. ''He has the qualities you look for in a leader. He has the respect of the players. We play for him. Where leaders go, people follow them.''

The two candidates have tried to remain low key about their prospects.

'' I've prepared my whole career to have the opportunity some day to be a head coach in this league,'' Fox said. ''Right now, we're doing our best to prepare the team for Sunday. The other stuff will wait on the back burner until next week. I'm sure Marvin feels the same way.''

Lewis' candidacy carries increased importance to the league because he is black. The NFL has been anxious for teams to give minority coaches opportunities for top jobs but until the New York Jets hired Herman Edwards last week, only one of the last 41 openings had gone to a black. Edwards joined Tampa Bay's Tony Dungy and Minnesota's Dennis Green as the only ones in the league.

Lewis makes four -- maybe.

''There is a lot of speculation about what could happen for me,'' he said. ''But if it's not right, I have a great job. I love the guy I work with and that's what I would do. I would stay put.''

Concerns about management, commitment, length of contract and his own input are factors Lewis will weigh before taking a head coaching job. Fox, too, said if head coaching opportunities dissolve, he would be happy to remain as the Giants' defensive coordinator.

''Obviously, I have aspirations to be a head coach,'' he said. ''I once had aspirations to be an assistant coach in the NFL. I'd be happy as a coordinator.''

NFL rules prevent coaches on teams still alive in the playoffs to interview for other jobs until their seasons end. That kept Fox and Lewis off limits as head coaches were hired by Detroit, Washington, Kansas City, the Jets and the expansion Houston franchise.

Cleveland and Buffalo chose to wait and that seems to be a good sign for the two hot defensive coordinators.

Lewis said becoming a head coach has not been an obsession with him. Still, it is an obvious next step for a successful assistant.

''What I would hope would happen,'' Lewis said, ''is that the people who have done a great job, who are deserving and have prepared themselves, that they get to move on to that opportunity.''

Fox put the job derby in some perspective.

''Coaching is like musical chairs,'' he said. ''You hope you have a seat when the music stops.''

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