Putting It Into Practice

It wasn't until his team won the Super Bowl that Ravens Coach Brian Billick knew his theory of leadership was correct.

May 14, 2001|By Kevin Cowherd

IN AN elegant upstairs ballroom at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, Brian Billick is speaking to a rapt audience from First Financial Group, most of whom seem to be thinking the same thought:

When I die, I want to come back as a Super Bowl-winning coach.

At the podium, Billick looks like his days of buying off-the-rack are long gone: A rich-looking charcoal suit draped over his 6-foot-5 frame falls just so at the cuffs and heels.

On a table to his right is the gleaming Vince Lombardi Trophy, which half of Baltimore has touched since the Ravens brought it home from Tampa in January. On the big screen to his left, they've just shown an introductory film of the Ravens coach so stirring that if it were Billick vs. O'Malley for mayor in this room right now, the Irish guy gets crushed.

Clearly, when you win the Super Bowl, doors don't just open for you. People will bulldoze entire buildings to bask in your aura.

But standing now before 255 heavy-hitting business people, Billick wants them to know it hasn't all been a cakewalk since the Ravens whacked the Giants four months ago.

He wants to allude to the pressure that comes with his job now. He doesn't want people feeling sorry for him - no, that's not it at all. But he wants them to know about the burden of great expectations that can weigh down an NFL coach like a piano tied to his back.

So he trots out a story he's been using on the banquet circuit this spring.

After the team's post-Super Bowl party in their Tampa hotel, he tells the audience, he finally returned to his room in the wee hours of the morning, showered, changed and went downstairs for his 7:30 a.m. news conference with the national media.

"First question they ask me," Billick tells the audience, "is: `Can you repeat?' "

He pauses for moment to let it sink in.

"Can you believe that?!" he roars. "I've only had the [trophy] 12 hours! And they're already asking me if we can do it again!"

The audience laughs and nods knowingly.

A guy at the next table whispers: "I'd still trade places with him."

Everyone nods at this, too.

A few hours earlier, relaxing in the hotel's lobby bar, Billick talks about how his life has changed since "Super Bowl-winning coach" became permanently affixed to his name.

A trip to the convenience store now takes 35 minutes as he wades through knots of well-wishers and autograph-seekers.

His price for speaking engagements has jumped to $25,000 a pop (although First Financial booked this gig last year and got him at his pre-Super Bowl price).

And he's also coming out with a motivational book, due in stores later this month, which is the main reason I've been following him around like a stalker.

The book is called "Competitive Leadership: Twelve Principles for Success" (Triumph Books, $24.95), co-written with James A. Peterson, a sports-book guru. (Half of Billick's profits will go to the Baltimore-based Living Classrooms Foundation, a non-profit educational program for disadvantaged and at-risk youth.)

Leadership, Billick says, is something that's fascinated him his whole life. For years he's devoured books on the subject, among them John Wooden's "Beyond Success: The 15 Secrets to Effective Leadership and Life," Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski's "Leading with the Heart," and Noel M. Tichy's "The Leadership Engine: How Winning Companies Build Leaders at Every Level."

"No matter where I go and who I talk to, the qualities of leadership seem to be what people are most interested in," Billick says. "However you term it - decision-making, crisis-management, team-building, goal-setting - these are all elements of leadership."

Billick says he's been collecting inspirational quotes - this is a guy who could work Mark Twain, Sun Tzu and Vince Lombardi into the same sentence - and gathering research material on leadership for years. He says he actually started putting the book in place his first season with the Ravens, in 1999.

"When I took this job, I [thought] `I'm gonna win me a Super Bowl,' " he says. "And I want to be ready [with a book] when I do."

Actually, Billick and Peterson were considering launching the book even if the Ravens' storybook season had ended with the AFC title. But as soon as the Ravens won the NFL championship, it was a no-brainer; again, there's nothing like slapping "Super Bowl-winning coach" atop a book jacket, especially if it's a motivational book.

At this point in the conversation, I feel compelled to point out to Billick that the bookstores are bursting with motivational books. You could wallpaper an entire sub-division with the contents of the self-help section in one Barnes & Noble alone.

So how's your book different from all the other motivational junk on the market? I ask.

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