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Ravens promote Zach Orr to replace Mike Macdonald as defensive coordinator

BALTIMORE -- The Ravens didn’t wait long to find their replacement for Mike Macdonald. They didn’t have to go very far, either.

Coach John Harbaugh promoted inside linebackers coach Zach Orr to defensive coordinator, filling the void after Macdonald left to become the Seattle Seahawks head coach earlier this week.

“Zach is a homegrown Raven in every way,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a statement Thursday. “His energy, intelligence, work ethic and strong communication skills have been on display since the day he joined our organization as a player in 2014.”

Like Macdonald before him, Orr, 31, has been on the fast track in his coaching career.

A former linebacker who played in Baltimore from 2014 through 2016, Orr had his career cut short by a congenital neck/spine condition before he moved into coaching in 2017, beginning with Baltimore as a defensive coaching analyst and then as a coaching and personnel assistant. In 2021, he left to become the Jacksonville Jaguars’ outside linebackers coach but returned to the Ravens the following year, taking over as inside linebackers coach.

During his time in that role, the Ravens’ defense ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed per game (312.8), rushing yards allowed per game (100.8), passing yards allowed per game (212.1), points allowed per game (17.5), opponent third-down conversion rate (35.7%), opponent red zone efficiency (43.8%) and takeaways (56).

This season, All-Pro inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen had career years and became the only linebacker duo in the league to post at least 130 tackles during the regular season. The Ravens also became the first team to lead the league in sacks (60), takeaways (31) and points allowed per game (16.5).

“Just having ‘Z.O.’ in the room — former player, All-Pro player, as well, and all the great things he’s done throughout the league — just having that constant reminder, as well, I think is great,” Smith said earlier this season.

While Orr might seem a surprising choice, there were signs that he could be the top candidate. He is close to Macdonald, impressed fellow coaches and is a hard worker who brings high energy and has a dynamic personality that resonated.

“I coached Zach Orr in college, so I knew exactly what we were going to get out of him with the linebackers,” associate head coach/defensive line coach Anthony Weaver said earlier this season, “and you see how they play.”

The Ravens also had to move quickly or risk potentially watching Orr follow Macdonald to Seattle.

Already, they lost defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson to the Tennessee Titans for their defensive coordinator job, while Weaver and secondary coach and passing game coordinator Chris Hewitt have also interviewed elsewhere. Orr’s promotion also raises questions about Weaver’s future in Baltimore after he was again passed over the job.

Weaver, 43, interviewed twice with the Washington Commanders for their head coach opening before that was filled by Dan Quinn, and he met with the Miami Dolphins for their defensive coordinator opening. Hewitt, meanwhile, also interviewed for the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator vacancy.

With Orr taking over, he becomes the first former Ravens player to be named as a coordinator in franchise history.

“From making our team as an undrafted rookie, to becoming an All-Pro linebacker, then later transitioning to an assistant coach who helped mentor multiple Pro Bowl defenders, Zach has excelled at every level of his football journey,” Harbaugh said. “He knows our players and understands our standard as well as anyone. I’m confident that he is prepared to take on the challenge of continuing to develop our players and scheme as our next defensive coordinator.”

As a player, Orr signed with the Ravens as an undrafted rookie free agent from North Texas in 2014 and played in 46 games over three seasons, racking up 163 tackles, one sack, eight tackles for loss, six passes defensed, three interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

In 2016, he became a starter and was a burgeoning star alongside middle linebacker C.J. Mosley with the two forming one of the best inside linebacker units in the NFL. Orr finished with a team-high 133 tackles as well as three interceptions, six tackles for loss, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries and was named second-team All-Pro.

After the discovery of his congenital spinal condition following the season, though, he was forced to retire. Orr attempted to make a comeback in 2017, but no team signed him.

A native of DeSoto, Texas, Orr comes from a football family. His father, Terry, was a tight end for Washington (from 1986 to 1993), while his younger brother, Chris, is a former linebacker who played for the Carolina Panthers in 2020. His older brother, Terrance, is the offensive coordinator at Hebron High School in Carrollton, Texas, and his younger brother, Nick, played college football at TCU and spent time with the Chicago Bears in 2018.