OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — As the new caretaker of the Baltimore Ravens’ defense, Chuck Pagano doesn’t intend to implement many changes in a unit known for its ferocity and effectiveness.
The way Pagano looks at it, why mess with a good thing?
Promoted from secondary coach to defensive coordinator, Pagano replaces Greg Mattison, who accepted the job as defensive coordinator at Michigan after holding the same post in Baltimore for the past two seasons.
Pagano, 50, takes over a unit that has been ranked in the top 10 in each of the past eight seasons.
“They’ve been playing great defense here long before any of us got here, and they’ll be playing great defense long after I’m gone,” Pagano said at his formal introduction Wednesday.
“They’ve always been an attacking, swarming, tough, physical, hard-nosed group of men that has great passion,” he said. “And so, my philosophy is their philosophy. Let’s go out and wreak havoc and play Ravens defense, just the way they’ve played for many, many years around here.”
Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan and Rex Ryan all held the position before becoming head coaches in the NFL, and now it’s up to Pagano maintain a defense that enabled Baltimore win a Super Bowl in 2001 and, more recently, was a key part in getting the Ravens to the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.
“With the title and the guys that have done this before me, the expectations are really, really high,” Pagano said. “It’s a challenge I can’t wait to get started on. I’ve waited a long time for this opportunity.”
Pagano began his coaching career in 1984 as a graduate assistant at the University of Southern California. He joined the Ravens when John Harbaugh became head coach three years ago, and his promotion this week came because he’s familiar with the players and the defensive system.
“To me, I think continuity is critical,” Harbaugh said. “It was an easy choice.”
Because there is the possibility of a work stoppage in the months ahead, hiring a coach from within should make things easier if there are no minicamps or offseason get-togethers.
“If you had to go in and implement a whole new scheme, I’d be scared to death,” Pagano said. “That’s the beauty of the Ravens defense and being in the situation that I’m in. … They’ve been very good over the years here because of continuity.”
Harbaugh is certain that Pagano has enough experience, skill and knowledge of the players to make the transition a smooth one.
“He’s been instrumental in building this defense. The job he’s done with the secondary speaks for itself,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a great defensive mind. … He’s more than ready to be really successful at this job. It’s obviously a great challenge and big shoes to fill and all that stuff, but we’re going to get even better on defense under Chuck’s guidance.”
Pagano worked mostly with the secondary, but made enough of an impression on the rest of the defense that several players were in attendance at his introductory conference.
“Even though he didn’t coach me, I have known what kind of man and coach he is for a while now,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “He has an extreme knowledge of the game, and the way he communicates that with his players and fellow coaches is amazing.”
Pagano is a fiery competitor, the kind of coach who will animatedly yell on the sideline at his players, whether it be to show his approval or straighten out a mistake. And that’s just fine with Harbaugh, who has come to expect it.
“Chuck is an emotional, enthusiastic guy,” Harbaugh said. “These guys love and respect him.”
Pagano spoke with respect and admiration about Mattison, but when asked how this defense could improve he didn’t hesitate before firing off an answer that addressed the biggest weakness of a team that went 12-4 during the regular season but was outscored 119-80 in the fourth quarter.
In addition, the Ravens blew a 14-point lead in the second half of a season-ending 31-24 loss to Pittsburgh last weekend.
“We’ve got to get better in crunch time as a defensive unit,” Pagano said. “It doesn’t matter what the situation is, we have to learn how to finish games as a football team.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)