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Behind the Scenes with Dick Cass

Ravens president Dick Cass offers his insight on the Ravens' coaching search in this exclulsive column.

When the Ravens decided to release Brian Billick as our head coach on December 31, we immediately began the process of finding a new head coach for the team.

Steve Bisciotti appointed a selection committee headed by Ozzie Newsome. The other members of the committee were Dick Cass, Kevin Byrne, Pat Moriarity, George Kokinis, Eric DeCosta and Vince Newsome. At our first meeting late in the day on December 31, we agreed that we would meet on Jan. 1 to consider the character traits of an ideal head coach and review a preliminary list of candidates identified by Ozzie and his staff.

On New Year's Day, we met for approximately six hours. The initial part of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of what traits we were looking for in a head coach. Ozzie and his staff developed a long list, focusing on character, leadership, communication skills, football experience, teaching skills, self-confidence, humility, judgment and intelligence. It struck me that in terms of character traits, the "ideal" head coach should have the same qualities that most successful organizations are seeking when selecting a new leader. When Steve posed a question to the committee, it also became clear that applying these character traits to particular candidates would not be easy. Steve identified two current head coaches in the League and then asked each committee member to select one of them assuming that both were available to become our new head coach. The vote was evenly split. We all decided that like so many things in life, we would know the ideal coach when we saw him. There was also consensus about another issue: we were not looking for a coach of the offense or a coach of the defense; we were looking for a head coach of the team. We also agreed that the ideal candidate would have the potential to be our head coach for a number of years. Again, there was consensus that continuity and stability in the head coaching position were important in today's NFL and that we would prefer a head coach who could be with the team well beyond his first, four-year contract.

Before the meeting of the entire committee, Ozzie and his staff had discussed over 30 potential candidates. Many were current assistant coaches in the NFL, although some were former NFL head coaches and some were college head coaches. Ozzie presented a list of approximately 30 candidates to the committee, along with biographical information with respect to each candidate. The committee discussed each of the candidates, focusing on their character traits, their coaching experience and the head coaches for whom they had worked. By the end of the day, with Ozzie leading the discussion, we had narrowed the list to approximately 20 candidates. We agreed to collect more information about the candidates by calling coaches, scouts, front office personnel and former players. We also decided to request from the NFL copies of the interview tapes made by the NFL for many of the 20 candidates. In these interviews, which last approximately one hour, the coaching candidate talks about his family, his background, his playing career, and coaches and others who were influential in both his life and coaching style.

The committee met again on Wednesday, Jan. 2. Before the meeting, committee members had been making phone calls and collecting information about the candidates. At the meeting, we continued to discuss the candidates in an effort to narrow the list. We also discussed NFL rules applicable to our head coach search. Under those rules, if we wanted to interview an assistant coach with an NFL team whose team was in the playoffs and had a first-round bye, we had to have the consent of the coach's team and the interview had to be completed before the end of the wildcard games (Sunday, Jan. 6). For that reason, we decided to focus first on those coaches who were currently with any of the four teams enjoying a first-round bye. Ultimately, we decided that there were four such candidates and that we should interview these candidates on Friday and Saturday. The teams employing these coaches all agreed to permit an interview, but one of the candidates declined the interview. The owners of these teams also agreed to Steve's request that the coaches be permitted to come to our facility at Owings Mills for the interview.

On Thursday, Jan. 3, we continued to collect information about the candidates and watch the interview tapes. Based on our discussions and the information collected, the committee decided to interview initially nine candidates and identified several backup candidates if the committee did not select one of the nine as our head coach. Of these nine candidates, three, including the coach with one of the playoff teams identified above, decided not to leave their current coaching positions. At the Thursday meeting, we discussed how to structure the interviews and decided on a structure that we followed with each of the six interviews. We would fly in the candidate on a leased plane, and I would drive him to our facility. The drive would give me about 30 minutes to meet the candidate and talk about our organization and identify the people he was going to meet during the interview process. When he first arrived at the building, Steve, Ozzie and I would spend 30 minutes with him. The candidate would then meet for about an hour alone with Steve, an hour alone with Ozzie, 45 minutes with me and Kevin Byrne and an hour or more with George Kokinis, Eric DeCosta, Pat Moriarity and Vince Newsome. We then had Bill Tessendorf, who is our head trainer and has been with the organization for over 30 years, drive the candidate to the airport so that we could gain the benefit of Bill's perspective on the candidate. After the candidate had left the building, the committee reconvened to discuss the interviews and our collective impressions of the candidate.

We interviewed one candidate on Friday, Jan. 4, two candidates on Saturday, Jan. 5, one candidate on Sunday, Jan. 6, one candidate on Monday, Jan. 7 and the sixth candidate on Tuesday, Jan. 8. During these days, when we were not busy interviewing or participating in committee meetings, committee members were continuing to make phone calls to collect additional information about each of the candidates. We also requested NFL security to do background checks on the candidates.

The interviews and the information-collection process confirmed for us that Ozzie and his staff had selected well. We were all convinced that each of the six candidates could one day be an outstanding NFL head coach. That made the process of narrowing the six to a smaller number extremely difficult. At the same time, because of the strength of the six candidates, we concluded that there was no need to consider any additional candidates beyond the six we had interviewed. After much discussion, the committee decided to invite two candidates for second interviews: Jason Garrett and John Harbaugh.

Initially, there was not total agreement on the committee as to whether we should first invite Jason or John for the second interview. After a lengthy discussion, we decided to invite Jason first. Since the Dallas Cowboys were still in the playoffs, we could not contact Jason until the Cowboys either were eliminated from the playoffs or had won the NFC Championship Game. In the meantime, we continued the process of collecting information about Jason, John and the four other candidates and continued to meet to discuss this information. We also collected information about what NFL teams were paying first-time head coaches being elevated to head coach from the position of NFL assistant coach.

On Sunday night, Jan. 13, after the Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs, Steve called Jason to invite him for a second interview. Jason flew into Baltimore Monday evening and had dinner with Steve, Ozzie and me. On Tuesday, Jason spent most of the day at our facility, meeting with members of the committee. At the end of the day, Jason advised us that he was going to Atlanta that evening and returning to Dallas Wednesday evening and that he would call Steve when he was back in Dallas. Jason called Steve Wednesday evening indicating he wanted to become head coach of the Ravens if we could work out a deal. Up to that point, we had not indicated to Jason what salary we would offer to our new head coach. After Jason indicated he wanted to be our head coach, we began negotiations with his agent Wednesday night and, after several hours of discussion, thought we had an agreement on compensation. However, Jason decided later that night that he wanted to stay in Dallas as offensive coordinator.

The committee met on Thursday, Jan. 17, to discuss our next move. We reviewed the additional information we had collected on John Harbaugh and decided unanimously to proceed with our plan to offer a second interview to John. During that meeting, Steve told the committee that he had received a phone call from a current NFL head coach who had never been on a coaching staff with John. The head coach gave John a very strong recommendation. Everyone on the committee assumed that John must have called the coach and asked him to call Steve. We found out after we had offered John the head coaching position that John in fact had not called this current head coach. Instead, this head coach called on his own initiative to endorse John. This phone call gave us an additional assurance that we were not alone in seeing John's strengths and potential as a head coach in the NFL.

John spent about eight hours with us at the facility on Friday. During the course of the day, each member of the committee had an opportunity to meet with John, either individually or as part of a group. He and Ozzie talked a lot about what coaches John would hire if he were head coach of the Ravens. Pat, George, Vince and Eric peppered him with questions about such issues as summer training camp, his practices, his dealings with difficult players, his approach to discipline and player participation in the offseason training program. During the course of the day, we decided that we were close enough to making him an offer that we should contact his agent and start talking about financial terms. We wanted to know that the financial terms would be already agreed when and if we made him an offer. We described the financial terms to John's agent, and, after a brief discussion with John, his agent asked for an increase from our initial offer. We readily agreed, and the financial terms were completed by four in the afternoon. The committee then met and agreed that we should make an offer to John. The second round of interviews simply confirmed not only the great, initial impression that John had made on all of us, but also the glowing recommendations we had been receiving from so many coaches, scouts and players around the League. We asked John to join us in the room, and after a couple of additional questions, Steve offered John the opportunity to be the head coach of the Ravens, and John accepted.

In the end, each member of the committee believes strongly that we made the right choice in selecting John as our new head coach. We all have confidence in the process that we followed. In selecting a head coach of an NFL team, there is always a leap of faith and a risk. But we minimized the risk through a process that was thorough and involved people with varied backgrounds and experiences who listen carefully to each other and respect each other. We also all recognize that our respective jobs did not end with John's selection. John will not be a successful head coach without the support of the entire organization, including, perhaps most importantly, the members of our search committee.

As we congratulated John, we also pledged our support. Steve and George then lit up victory cigars as Steve and Ozzie called Art Modell to let him know that we had selected a new head coach and to give Art an opportunity to talk to John.

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