Billick still is master motivator for Ravens

Coach expert at pushing team's emotional buttons

December 11, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

When the season was at its lowest point, coach Brian Billick was at his best.

Trailing Seattle by two touchdowns, the Ravens entered halftime three weeks ago on the brink of losing their season and their confidence. But Billick never lost the pulse of his team.

Standing before his players, he pushed his coaches behind him and said, "Hey, we're just the coaches. We have put you in the right direction. Where do you want to go from here?"

Billick's challenge was the springboard in what has the makings of the defining point of the Ravens' new era. The Ravens rallied to beat the Seahawks and have won three straight to take a one-game lead in the AFC North.

Capturing the division ultimately rides on the mind-set instilled by Billick.

The Ravens end the season against the Oakland Raiders (3-10), Cleveland Browns (4-9) and Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8) and should be heavily favored every week. At a time when focus is essential, the players take their cue from Billick.

"If you overlook a team in the NFL, you're dead. You're absolutely dead," Billick said. "The players won't, the coaches won't. I'll make sure of that."

Billick is the heart and conscience of the Ravens, and they play with as much passion and confidence as he shows on the sideline, in meetings and in the locker room.

"He has faith in us that we're going to back him up," center Mike Flynn said. "That fires me up. This team has his attitude."

Despite winning a Super Bowl after the 2000 season, Billick has taken heat for a revolving door at quarterback, an often-struggling offense and an arrogance that towers over M&T Bank Stadium.

But whatever anyone thinks about Billick, he is masterful in getting his team ready to win.

In their fifth season under Billick, the Ravens are 50-33 (.602) and poised for their third playoff trip. The team hadn't won more than six games in a season and had finished no higher than fourth in its division in three seasons before his arrival.

The turnaround came from the fact that Billick is as detailed as he is driven. In fact, next year's minicamps have already been planned out.

His routine during the season is to present a theme Wednesday and reinforce it daily until the Saturday night team meeting. Every word is thought out and every thought is calculated.

To reinforce his points, he has shown movie clips, referred to history and called players out.

Before last year's game in Tennessee, injuries had decimated the Ravens and Billick wanted to strike a chord with his players. So, he showed a critical scene from Apollo 13 in which an air filter is not working and engineers need to devise a way to have the astronauts fix it with miscellaneous parts.

By piecing together their lineup, the Ravens went on to beat the Titans, 13-12.

Heading into Sunday's game in Oakland, Billick isn't relying on a movie or an emotional angle. His message is simple: You control your destiny.

"I've come to realize that this is what it's really about," Billick said. "X's and O's are fine, but we're all doing the same thing. Everybody is talented. Everybody has injuries and has to deal with adversity. But how a team relates to itself and the chemistry you can create on a team is very, very important."

A few days before last week's battle for first place against Cincinnati, Billick said he felt it was time for the Ravens to become a team in and of themselves. He pointed out how many Pro Bowl players were present and how many Super Bowl rings were in the room.

Emphasizing that the players needed to take ownership of the team, Billick told them, "You have a championship perspective and pedigree in this room that you could trust. I'm turning the keys over to you."

While he empowers his players, he never loses control of them.

"He makes us feel like we're the leaders," receiver Marcus Robinson said. "He makes us feel like we have a part and it's not just a head coach looking over us as kids. He treats us as grown men."

Some were more easily convinced than others.

Offensive tackle Orlando Brown said he initially did not trust Billick. But he noticed how Billick studied him throughout the year.

During halftime this past Sunday, Brown went into a frenzy in the locker room before Billick called him over. He looked into Brown's eyes and told him about saving his fight for the game.

"I respect him," Brown said. "He brought me back and he brought me back quick. If he was in a dark alley and somebody was on him, I would be there to get his back."

Just as important, the players know Billick has their back as well at a time when they need him the most.

"He knows when to push us and knows when to back off," Flynn said. "Knowing when to pull the strings, that's just being a good head coach."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (8-5) vs. Oakland Raiders (3-10)

Site: Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.

When: Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 6

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