OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) – Rex Ryan would have preferred to be a head coach. Instead, he got the second-best thing: His old job, a new title and more responsibility.

Ryan was hired as the assistant head coach/defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens on Monday. The hire was made by new head coach John Harbaugh, who prevailed over Ryan in the team’s quest to find a replacement for Brian Billick.

The 45-year-old Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff were fired with Billick after the season. Ryan was one of six people to be interviewed for the head coaching vacancy in Baltimore, and he interviewed with the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins. No one offered him a job, so Ryan returned for a 10th season with the Ravens, the fourth as defensive coordinator.

“Man, it’s great to be a Raven. That head coaching stuff, I was just kidding about that,” Ryan said with a grin. “Quite honestly though, when it was clear that I wasn’t going to be a head coach, I wanted to stay here in Baltimore.”

Ryan and Harbaugh have a positive rapport after working together in 1996 at the University of Cincinnati, where Harbaugh was the assistant head coach and Ryan was the defensive coordinator. Ryan said that when he interviewed with the Ravens for the head coaching job, he told them that if he didn’t get picked, the team should go with Harbaugh.

Harbaugh, in turn, decided to make Ryan part of his staff.

“I couldn’t be more proud, more excited, more fired up, than to have Rex Ryan, my good friend, as defensive coordinator,” Harbaugh said. “He’s built (a defense) here that is one of the best in the (NFL).”

and that’s a foundation for us to stand on.”

Harbaugh has never been a head coach before, so he plans to have Ryan help him along in his first season.

“I feel like we’re going to approach this thing shoulder to shoulder, side by side. I’m going to lean on Rex in a big way,” he said. “To me, it’s not a title, it’s a responsibility.”

Ryan likes the idea of expanding his role with the team, in part because it will make him more attractive to a prospective employer looking for a new head coach.

“It’s a huge opportunity for me to actually be there when the decisions are being made, when they’re being thought about,” Ryan said. “I’ve been coaching 11 years in the NFL, and I realize I have a lot of learning still to do. Maybe when I do get an opportunity down the road, I’ll be more prepared for it.”

Ryan is pleased with his title and the raise he received, but his ultimate quest is to have a team to call his own.

“I think eventually I will become a head coach,” he said. “Whether that’s three, five, six years down the road, or next year, that’s fine. It will be the right time.”

The son of former NFL coach Buddy Ryan, Rex Ryan has established himself as one of the best defensive coaches in the game. In 2005, his first season as defensive coordinator, Baltimore finished second in the AFC in total defense. In 2006, Baltimore had the league’s top-ranked defense in yardage and points.

Last season, Baltimore ranked sixth despite playing several games without injured defensive end Trevor Pryce and cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister.

The hiring of Ryan, along with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, gives Harbaugh two experienced assistants in his quest to improve on the team’s 5-11 record in 2007.

“They are arguably the two best coordinators in the NFL,” said Harbaugh, who also announced that Clarence Brooks will return as defensive line coach.

AP-ES-01-28-08 1624EST

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