Ravens promote Zach Orr to defensive coordinator, 7 years after his forced retirement due to spinal condition

The Baltimore Ravens replaced defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald with a feel-good story.

One day after Macdonald was announced as the new head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, the Ravens announced they were promoting inside linebackers coach Zach Orr, a former player under John Harbaugh, as their next defensive coordinator.

At only 31 years old, Orr will be one of the youngest coordinators in the NFL.

Orr's story is one of the most interesting in the NFL's coaching ranks. He joined the Ravens as undrafted free agent out of North Texas in 2014 and, after two years of backup duty, rocketed to second-team All-Pro honors with one of the best seasons from a linebacker in the team's post-Ray Lewis era.

Orr posted 130 total tackles, six tackles for loss, five passes defended, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble in 2016. As a pending free agent, Orr was supposed to see the kind of payday only a few undrafted free agents ever get.

Instead, he got nothing.

That offseason, a Ravens spine specialist diagnosed Orr with an underdeveloped C-1 vertebrae that put him at risk of dying if he got hit the wrong way. He retired, got a second opinion that was less frightening, tried to find a new team, failed and retired a second time. Few careers end off the field that brutally.

FILE - Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker coach Zach Orr answers questions during a news conference after the NFL football teams practice, Wednesday, June 8, 2022, in Owings Mills, Md. The Baltimore Ravens hired Zach Orr as their defensive coordinator after Mike Macdonald left to become the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks earlier this week. The Ravens announced the 31-year-old Orr's promotion Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.(AP Photo/Gail Burton, File)
Zach Orr turned a rough end for his playing career into the start of a promising coaching career. (AP Photo/Gail Burton, File)

After finding no takers as a player, Orr joined the Ravens as a defensive analyst in 2017 and got his first real coaching job in 2021 as the Jacksonville Jaguars' outside linebackers coach under Urban Meyer. After that went famously south, Orr landed back with the Ravens as inside linebackers coach in 2022.

Under Orr, inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen were both named Pro Bowlers this season, with Smith also getting first-team All-Pro honors and Queen making the second team.

Ravens defensive staff could see four different promotions to HC/DC

Orr contributed to a defense that became the first in NFL history to lead the league in points allowed per game, sacks and takeaways.

As it turns out, other NFL teams will be very interested in hiring from your staff when you do that. In addition to Macdonald getting hired by Seattle and Orr's promotion, the Tennessee Titans hired Ravens defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson as their defensive coordinator.

That might not be all, as associate head coach/defensive line coach Anthony Weaver, who interviewed for head-coaching jobs this season, is also seen as a candidate to become the Miami Dolphins' defensive coordinator. Weaver coached with Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel when they were both on the Cleveland Browns' staff in 2014.