Ravens' focus the same regardless of Green exit

Team won't overlook Vikings on Monday

January 05, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

He is a friend first and foremost, a good football coach second, which is why Ravens coach Brian Billick found it so hard to believe Dennis Green would no longer be the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

Minutes before learning Green had accepted a buyout of his contract, Billick denounced reports that Green would be fired after Monday night's Ravens-Vikings game at PSINet Stadium.

But Green did indeed reach an agreement with the Vikings and resign yesterday, a move Billick declined to comment, on presumably because of his relationship with his ex-boss.

Billick served as offensive coordinator of the Vikings under Green from 1993 to 1998.

Billick's team, however, has its own problems and may need a win over the Vikings to make the playoffs if the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks win their respective games tomorrow.

"It doesn't change anything about our focus, and if I know them, it shouldn't change anything about their focus," Billick said before learning of Green's resignation.

Ravens players, many of whom played in Minnesota under Green, greeted his leaving with surprise because of the level of his success.

This is Green's first losing season in his 10-year career with the Vikings. Minnesota has been to two NFC title games under Green and posted a 15-1 regular season mark in 1998.

"It is very unfortunate because Coach Green has done an excellent job there," said Randall Cunningham, a quarterback with the Vikings from 1997 to 1999. "He's gone through his ups and downs but he's done his job."

As for what this means to the Ravens, Cunningham said, "It makes us focus more. Whenever you see an opponent going through things like that, you can't [lose focus] of what you are trying to accomplish. And we are trying to accomplish a lot."

Cunningham, receiver Qadry Ismail, running back Terry Allen, fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, running back Moe Williams and guard Orlando Bobo all played for Green and Billick while the two were in Minnesota. Tight ends coach Wade Harman was also a Vikings offensive assistant from 1997 to 1998.

Many of Green's former players were disappointed the NFL is without one of its most successful coaches.

"Personally, I wanted to be able to shake his hand and say, `What's up?,' " Ayanbadejo said. "He is the reason why I'm still in the NFL today. But beyond that, from a team standpoint, it really shouldn't affect us. If anything, it should make our job easier because they might be a little [off their game]."

Or more on their game, which is what Williams, who was cut by the Vikings at the end of training camp, expects to happen.

Vikings offensive line coach Mike Tice, a former quarterback at Maryland, will take over Monday night, a move Williams believes may spark the Vikings.

Williams expressed his gratitude to Green, even though he was released a week before the start of the regular season after spending five years in Minnesota as a backup.

"I have no problems with Coach Green or the Vikings organization," Williams said. "They drafted me. They did things financially for me and my family that 30 other teams didn't do in the first two rounds.

"Coach Green leaving, I'm not going to say that's bad for us. But we just have to come out and play because it is going to be a whole different attitude. Coach Tice is definitely going to have them ready, and I'm not saying Coach Green wouldn't. But it is one of those things when you have a new coach, especially with the linemen because he is their guy, you know they are going to give him their all."

The Vikings (5-10) have their fewest wins this late in the season since 1984, when Les Steckel was the coach.

At best, Minnesota will tie for its worst record since a six-win season in 1990. Although the Vikings seemingly have little motivation for Monday night's game, the Ravens are not underestimating what amounts to a wounded animal.

"I expect a team that is going to come out and compete with class regardless of what is going on," Bobo said. "It is just like an injury; if somebody goes down, you still have to compete. And I don't look for that team to fold. That team has too much class and dignity not to come out and compete. I don't look at it any differently than days before when Denny was there."

NOTES: Cornerback James Trapp had $5,000 subtracted from his original $12,500 fine for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland Browns punt returner Dennis Northcutt earlier this season in Cleveland. Trapp, who has missed much of the second half of the year with a groin pull, was upgraded from questionable to probable for Monday night's game.

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