High-energy Billick takes on Ravens' job

Vikings assistant gets 6-year, $9 million deal as new head coach

January 20, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

One hour after being hired yesterday, Brian Billick was displaying the energy that persuaded the Ravens to make him the second head coach in the team's three-year history.

By 3 p.m., Billick was making reservations to attend the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where he will begin forming his coaching staff. Four hours later, Billick was on the plane headed south, and his wife and two daughters were on a flight back to Minnesota.

The Billick era had officially begun. Swoosh. As the coach to energize a team that has yet to have a winning season in Baltimore, the Ravens signed a 44-year-old computer geek born in Fairborne, Ohio, and raised in Redlands, Calif., to a six-year contract worth $9 million.

Ravens owner Art Modell said the length of the contract was a slight risk, but the club considers Billick special, even though he has yet to serve as a head coach for a National Football League game.

"We think this is a minimal gamble with this man," said Modell. "I don't throw numbers around liberally, but this seems to be a special man. What really impressed me most is his passion for the game."

Billick is hardly the typical football coach. The hairline is slipping back off a large forehead and his slender face is defined by a jutting, rugged jaw. Billick could be an IBM executive with his five-syllable words and eloquent answers. Forget the T-shirts and shorts. Try a dark blue suit.

Billick has an undergraduate degree in public relations and communications from Brigham Young University, and almost had a master's degree in journalism before former San Francisco coach Bill Walsh asked him to join the 49ers as a public relations assistant.

"He is professional, competent and this is a lifelong ambition for him," said David Modell, Ravens vice president of marketing, who led the team's search committee. "He arrived with a plan and has terrific communication skills which emphasize teaching.

"Put it all together, and it spells he will be a terrific leader for this football team," said David Modell.

Billick is part of a new wave of NFL coaches along with the Oakland Raiders' Jon Gruden. They use videos and computers instead of chalkboards.

"All our game planning is via a slide presentation with Power Point that every businessman in America uses with his presentations," said Billick, "because anything with color, movement and action heightens the learning curve. If you think you can stand up in front of these guys with the old chalkboard or a black and white overlay, you can forget it. This is the MTV generation.

"Video certainly helps players visualize what they are doing," he said. "But if you put them in a more sensory-heightened situation, much like the games the kids play, you could show them without having to go out on the field."

Billick is known for having a lot of electricity in his offenses. In Billick's past five years as Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator, his teams have been in the top five of almost every offensive category. This past season, Minnesota's offense broke the NFL record for most points in a season with 556, bettering the 541 set by the Washington Redskins in 1983. The Vikings also scored 53 of 56 times they were inside the opposition's 20-yard line.

Billick said he can have similar success with the Ravens, despite working with an offense that was one of the NFL's least productive inside the 20 last season, scoring 23 of 32 times. Billick said it all starts with expectations.

"There is a lot of disappointment and frustration that comes when you don't score," said Billick. "In Minnesota, we set the bar high; we always wanted a touchdown. There is a time when reality vs. expectations comes into balance, but for us to be a successful organization, we have to set parameters.

"The expectations you have come directly from the head coach," said Billick. "I can't remember ever having a player who didn't want to win or didn't want to work. There are a lot of players who don't know how to win or how to work. It's my job to help them do that. The standards start at the top, and when they reach their zenith, they filter down. I like Baltimore's situation. I like the talent on this team."

Some of the Vikings say Billick's strength is matching situations with role players. It's all on the computer.

"Brian puts guys in a situation to make plays," said Minnesota receiver Jake Reed. "He is not going to call a play for a guy who's not good at doing a certain thing. I think he has an eye for telling how to put guys in the right positions to make the plays."

Vikings running back Robert Smith said: "The scheme has been in place with Brian and his use of the computer and trying to generate a certain number of explosive plays [20 yards or longer] and maximizing Wait a minute. That sounds like Brian talking."

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