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Monday, January 14, 2008
Ryan emerges as front-runner for Falcons head coach job

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- Former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan has emerged as one of the favorites to win the Atlanta Falcons' head coaching job and was en route here Monday night for a second interview with club officials and with new general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

As reported earlier Monday evening by ESPN.com, Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was also asked to meet with the Falcons for a second time and is set to arrive here sometime Tuesday for the session. But there is a suspicion in NFL circles that Garrett, in Baltimore on Monday for a second interview there, could be offered and possibly accept the Ravens' job in the next 24 hours.

Ryan, 45, is said to have made a very favorable impression in his first meeting with Atlanta owner Arthur Blank and team president Rich McKay. But Dimitroff was hired by Blank on Saturday to oversee the football operation, and he will have considerable input into the coaching decision, so he now represents a wild card in the search process.

In addition to Ryan and Garrett, the Falcons have interviewed four other NFL assistant coaches: Dallas assistant head coach Tony Sparano, Indianapolis assistant head coach Jim Caldwell, Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz of Tennessee. Blank also sought interviews with former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher and Southern California coach Pete Carroll, but he was rebuffed by both men.

The vacancy in Atlanta was created when Bobby Petrino resigned with three games remaining in his first NFL season.

Ryan has been an assistant coach in the league for 11 seasons, the last nine of them with the Ravens. After several stints as a college assistant, he joined the staff of the Arizona Cardinals, coached by his father, Buddy Ryan, in 1994. He returned to the college ranks after two years, and then joined Brian Billick's staff in Baltimore in 1999. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2005.

In his three seasons as coordinator, Ryan's defense has statistically ranked among the top six in the league each year. Baltimore was No. 1 in the NFL in 2006 and also surrendered the fewest points in the league.

Ryan's twin brother, Rob Ryan, is the Oakland Raiders' defensive coordinator.

The indications are that the Falcons are close to a choice on Petrino's successor and that a new coach could be in place by the end of the week. Practices for the annual Senior Bowl college all-star game in Mobile, Ala., which typically features the country's top senior prospects for the draft, begin next Monday morning. It is believed that Blank would prefer to have a new coach by the start of Senior Bowl week.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.