Asked for a funny story about Wink Martindale, Ravens linebacker Albert McClellan smiled. He recalled watching Martindale handle himself on the dance floor at McClellan's wedding.
"My coach can dance. My coach can get down," said McClellan, laughing at the memory. "He loves music. He might be able to sing you a couple of 'Frankie Beverly & Maze' songs."
Martindale has once again found a comfortable rhythm in his first season as Ravens defensive coordinator, succeeding Dean Pees, who is now the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator. The Ravens are ranked third in the NFL in total defense, and they are the only team that has not allowed a second-half touchdown.
The 55-year-old Martindale has deftly danced around a popular storyline this week – how he feels about facing the Titans on Sunday with Pees calling defensive signals on the opposite side. It's a matchup between Ravens defensive coordinators past and present, but ask Martindale, and it's simply another game the Ravens need to win.
"This game is about the players," Martindale said. "Always has been, always will be. I don't sit and reflect on things like that.
"What we're concerned with is [Marcus] Mariota and the Titans' offense right now. We haven't even brought it up. I think that anytime I reflect on something like that, I'm taking away from getting prepared for this game."
Preparation has always been huge with Martindale, according to Rex Ryan, another former Ravens coordinator. Ryan and Martindale coached together at the University of Cincinnati for two seasons (1996-97) and became close friends, sharing a love of football and motorsports. They have attended the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 together, and when asked about Martindale, it was not hard to get Ryan's motor running.
"He's a hell of a coach because he's a dedicated guy," said Ryan, the Ravens' coordinator for four seasons (2005-08) and now an analyst for ESPN. "He's going to put the time in. He's passionate about it. He came to Cincinnati as a graduate assistant, or whatever the hell he was, and he was head and shoulders the best coach I had. It wasn't even close. When we had a chance to hire him full-time, we did. That was my right-hand guy. We might not be going home until three in the morning, but he'd be right beside me.
"He's a loyal guy, which is huge in football. You don't want guys who are always trying to advance themselves. And believe me, there's a ton of them, a lot of phonies like that. Wink isn't like that. Players love him because he's a real guy. He can laugh at himself, make fun of himself. They want to play well for him."
Ryan isn't buying the narrative that Sunday will be just another game for the coaches and players on both sides. Pees was on the Ravens staff for eight seasons (2010-17), the final six as defensive coordinator.
"There's always the human side of this," Ryan said. "Wink and Dean will both be chomping at the bit. You know me. When I was there, I thought I was the best defensive coach in the building. I thought I was the best defensive coach in the league. I couldn't wait to unleash it. That's me.
"Look, Dean Pees is a damn good coach. But if you're Wink, on Sunday, you want to be better than that dude."
Martindale was the Denver Broncos' coordinator for one season (2010) under Josh McDaniel, in which his defense ranked last in the league. That staff was fired following a 4-12 season and Martindale joined the Ravens staff in 2012 as linebackers coach under Head Coach John Harbaugh. He was elevated to coordinator in January after Pees announced his retirement. A few weeks later, Pees had a change of heart and joined the staff of Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel, a former player that Pees had coached with the Patriots.
The change has worked out for Pees and Martindale. The Titans (3-2) are also playing well defensively, while getting a second chance as a coordinator means a great deal to Martindale, especially because of the Ravens' stellar defensive history. Under Martindale, the Ravens have given up the fewest points per game in the league (15.4) and are third in total defense.
"It's the responsibility," Martindale said. "It's nothing special you get crowned with, but it's a responsibility, because this city loves great defense. There's two ways to go about it. You can be pressured up about it, or you can embrace it. We're embracing it."
As linebackers coach, Martindale had already built strong relationships with veterans like Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle. Mosley has every goal for his season taped to his locker, taking the suggestion from Martindale.
"I think in life, people don't mean to, but sometimes they go through the motions," Martindale said. "If you can see your goals, it gives you a purpose for the day. I have my goals up, professional and family. My wife will get mad, but I had them up in the bathroom. But I'm checking them off. Some of them, I've had for a long time."
Mosley said Martindale's style has not changed at all since becoming coordinator. He remains approachable and open to taking suggestions from players, sharing a common goal of helping the Ravens play their best football every week.
"He was always great in the linebacker room, but now the whole defense can see how hard he works, the type of mentality he brings to work every day," Mosley said. "If you're struggling, or if you're doing well, he'll keep it real with you. He's not going to sugarcoat anything.
"This team, and this defense, we want to win every week. It would be great to win this game Sunday, but no offense to Dean. He did a great job here. It'll be two teams battling. We just want to come out on top."
Ryan said he expected the Ravens to improve defensively as the year progressed, and that Martindale would be one of the reasons.
"It was a great hire, and I praise Harbs for giving Wink the opportunity," Ryan said. "Wink's a guy who's been with the Ravens forever, a guy who understands what it means to play like a Raven. That's how I felt about being part of that organization. Some players might be able to play in the league, but they can't play for them. To me, playing like a Raven meant giving everything you had. You loved playing. You loved preparing to play. Some organizations get that, some don't. With [General Manager] Ozzie [Newsome] there, that organization always understood that."
The Ravens (3-2) are coming off a disappointing 12-9 overtime loss in Cleveland and need a victory Sunday to avoid their first two-game losing streak. In the NFL, players and coaches changing jobs is all part of the business, so despite the Martindale-Pees dynamic, McClellan sensed no change in Martindale's demeanor this week. The focus has remained on just one topic – winning.
"Wink's a communicator, a guy who understands what's going on, regardless of the situation," McClellan said. "You can see the jokester in him, but when it's time for business, it's time for business. Sunday, it's all about business."