Rex in High Demand

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Last year at this time, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was jetting to Atlanta and Miami to interview for their vacant head coaching positions.

He also interviewed for the job in Baltimore.

But after he remained on staff when the Ravens tabbed John Harbaugh to resurrect their 5-11 team, Ryan is leading one of the NFL's stingiest defenses into Nashville for a playoff showdown with the Titans Saturday at LP Field.

Even though Ryan's name has been linked to several of this year's open positions, he likes where he is currently standing.

"I'd much rather be in our situation," he said behind his trademark wide smile. "I was in the other situation last year and never had a lot of momentum going."

Ryan is carrying heavy momentum into coaching searches across the league, however.

According to published reports, he is a prime candidate to be hired by the New York Jets, Detroit Lions and St. Louis Rams.

And rightfully so. In 10 years with Ryan on staff, the Ravens' defense has been nothing less than stellar. Ryan began as the defensive line coach in 1999, where he was key in utilizing Michael McCrary, Rob Burnett, Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams.

In 2005, he was promoted to defensive coordinator and has since become known as a mad scientist for his innovative schemes that continually confound offenses.

Dating back to 1999, Baltimore is first in points allowed per game (17.11), rushing yards allowed per game (87.3), takeaways (337) and third-down conversion percentage (33.9 percent).

"Rex is a great coach," Harbaugh said. "Rex is a great coach across the board. He's a tremendous motivator. I think he does a great job of including every single player in the defensive room in the game plan. That's a gift. Plus, he's got a great mind for football, and he's a fundamentally sound coach."

Harbaugh's relationship with Ryan has grown since he came to Baltimore in January and added "assistant head coach" to the coordinator's title.

All year, Ryan has been involved with many of the decisions Harbaugh made, both on and off the field.

Coupled with going through the interview process for the past two years, meeting with the Dolphins, Falcons, San Diego Chargers and even the Ravens, Ryan feels amply equipped to take over a team in the near future.

"I think I'm twice as prepared this year for the opportunity to become a head coach than I was last year, I really do," Ryan said. "I think being under John and really working with him, John has really allowed me to experience what he's experienced.

"And really, he's made me part of the process of how we're dealing with things, whether it's a discipline issue, whether it's how we set up practice, all that kind of stuff. It's been great, because I think he's an outstanding leader, and I've been fortunate to be in the spot this year that I've been in."

Ryan won't make any excuses for being overlooked for jobs in the past.

The son of intense longtime NFL coach Buddy Ryan, Rex Ryan is brutally honest and never one to lob a softball answer to a question. More likely to don a sweatshirt and cap than a suit and tie, Ryan is a coach's coach, a football man to the core.

"I'm not blessed with a silver tongue like some of these guys," he admitted. "What you see is what you get. I think, I know I'm a great football coach. I know I'm a leader of men, especially guys that play this game, and I think that's probably my edge over other people."

A solid outing against the Titans would sharpen that edge even more. The Ravens absolutely shut down Miami last week, collecting five takeaways against a team that surrendered the least turnovers in 2008.

Ryan is working hard to make sure that success continues this weekend, even as other coaches are interviewing for vacancies around the league.

"My future is right now, and that's to get this team ready to play the Titans and do all we can to beat the Titans," Ryan said. "That's it."

Should Ryan land a spot, he would follow the lead of Mike Nolan and Marvin Lewis, the two Ravens defensive coordinators that preceded him. Jack Del Rio and Mike Smith are also two former Baltimore defensive coaching assistants that are now head coaches.

"I've worked all my life to get ready for opportunities to become a head coach, and I'm not going to be a phony," Ryan commented. "I'm going to be myself, and hopefully it's good enough for somebody. If it's not, then I'll stay here and coach this defense like I've been doing."

If it is, in fact, Ryan's turn to move up the ladder, it would be a fitting move in the eyes of his players.

"He's put the work in, and everybody that's been a D-coordinator here has gone on to be a head coach," said cornerback Samari Rolle. "He's next in line, I believe."

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