Ravens get raves from Billick

Still on hold, Viking was `blown away by Baltimore' fans, talent

Waiting wears on candidate

Retaining M. Lewis would be among goals

January 13, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

As the Ravens were interviewing one of their top head coaching candidates in Jacksonville offensive coordinator Chris Palmer yesterday, the team's other top choice was back home in Minnesota preparing a game plan for Sunday's NFC championship against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Ravens can't interview Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick, 48, until after Minnesota is knocked out of the playoffs, but yesterday he expressed interest in the Baltimore vacancy and the possibility of retaining former Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis if he is hired. According to a team source, Lewis recently apologized to members of the Ravens' front office for remarks made about the organization when coach Ted Marchibroda was fired two weeks ago.

Ravens vice president David Modell would not reveal last night if the club would wait for Billick, but said the club's original time frame of hiring a coach by late January had not changed.

"I've said from day one that we want this to be done correctly rather than expediently," Modell said, "but that does not mean we're not attempting to accomplish the process as quickly as we can."

Billick said yesterday that the Ravens defense and some of their young stars such as linebackers Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper and defensive end Michael McCrary are what makes the Baltimore offer so at tractive, as well as the new stadium and a rejuvenated fan base.

"Baltimore is an excellent opportunity," said Billick. "I hadn't been to Baltimore in 20 years, but when we played there this season, it was an exciting place. They have revitalized the downtown area, and those two stadiums in Camden Yards are impressive. The fans really got behind that football team. By the time we played them, the team was pretty much out of the playoff picture and there was a perception that the coaching staff would not be around. But the fans were really into the game."

According to a league source, three of the coaches the Ravens have interviewed -- Philadelphia's Emmitt Thomas, Pittsburgh's Jim Haslett and Palmer -- would want to retain Lewis in some capacity, possibly as a linebackers coach. Lewis has interviewed with Carolina, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Former Ravens receivers coach Richard Mann has interviewed with Pittsburgh, special teams coach Scott O'Brien has been in Carolina, and quarterback coach Don Strock is involved in talks with San Diego.

Of Lewis, Billick said, "I'm aware of Marvin. I was very impressed with their defense, the scheme that he used. We played the AFC Central teams last year, and they played us better than any other team. We were ineffective in the red zone, and it wasn't because we didn't make plays as much as what they did to stop us."

Few teams have even come close to stopping the Vikings (16-1). They have the most productive offense in the history of the NFL, averaging 34.8 points and 401.8 yards per game during the regular season. If hired, the Ravens would like for Billick to pump some life into their offense, which was ranked No. 26 in the league.

Billick has receivers Cris Carter, Randy Moss, quarterback Randall Cunningham, running backs Leroy Hoard and Robert Smith and All-Pro offensive linemen Jeff Christy, Randall McDaniel and Todd Steussie to work with in Minnesota. The Ravens lack a proven quarterback or running back, have one All-Pro offensive lineman in Jonathan Ogden and have as their big-play receiver 5-7 smurf Jermaine Lewis.

"When we played them, they were banged up offensively," said Billick, who had been rumored to be a candidate to replace Steve Mariucci in San Francisco before the 49ers coach signed a five-year, $10 million contract extension yesterday. "Being on the offensive side of the ball, I really didn't have a chance to look at their offense.

"But Priest Holmes [running back] showed some good signs and they have a good solid offensive line. They have some broad-based talent and with the enthusiasm of the fans in that new stadium, I was blown away by Baltimore."

During the last five seasons as the Vikings' offensive coordinator, Billick has guided his team into the top five of almost every offensive category.

Because the Cleveland Browns are starting a new franchise, Billick was allowed to meet with their team officials, an interview he thought went well. Billick, though, denied he had any deal with the Browns.

As far as the openings in Chicago, Baltimore and Kansas City, Billick can't meet with any of those teams until the season is over. He's a victim of his own success. He knew Palmer was in Baltimore yesterday.

"This has been very frustrating for me," said Billick. "I've waited my entire life for this opportunity, and the opportunities are being eliminated."

"I would say the Ravens recognize Brian Billick as a prime candidate and Brian Billick recognizes the Ravens as a prime candidate as well," said Billick's agent, Ray Anderson.

"They like him, he likes them, Baltimore is a great situation. Cleveland certainly is an attractive situation, too."

Pub Date: 1/13/99

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