Billick: No decision made on Cavanaugh

On the Ravens

Fiery Billick needed for spark

December 31, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

Mike PrestonBRIAN BILLICK needs to re-establish himself as the power and authority of the Ravens, the most dominating personality on this team. He has been trying since Dec. 5, when the Ravens were upset by the Cincinnati Bengals, yet with little success.

But he can begin anew Sunday when the Ravens play the Miami Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium.

Billick should heed his own advice of the 2000 season when the Ravens played the Titans in Tennessee in a playoff game. He shouldn't tiptoe into the locker room, but go in with a spear, "screaming like a banshee and [saying], `Where's the son of a bitch?' "

That's what this team needs, a screamer with fire, the old Billick. Back then, he was the team's most recognizable face. As big as Ray Lewis. Bigger than Rod Woodson. The coach's personality was larger than Shannon Sharpe's, stronger than Tony Siragusa's.

Where has he gone? In 2004, he faded into the background, letting the inmates (pun intended) run the asylum.

So Sunday, before that final hope of a playoff appearance possibly disappears, Billick should set the tone for next season. He should admit to a chemistry problem, but also emphasize that the Ravens are going back to the blue-collar work ethic instead of Hollywood theatrics.

And if the players can't accept it, don't come back next season.

Billick is accountable. He has to establish more direction and possibly reinvent himself like Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh. A good head coach usually lasts about 10 years before players tune him out, and Billick is about to complete his sixth. He can wear down players and fans with the five-syllable words and condescending tone, and the constant media bashing and "Us Against the World" theme have gotten old.

His scaled-down practices and lack of curfews are a dream for players, and his overall approach worked well when he first got here in 1999 because the Ravens had veteran players like Siragusa, Michael McCrary, Rob Burnett, Woodson and Sharpe.

But this team is still one of the youngest in the NFL. These Ravens are hungry for success, and a lot of them, like cornerback Gary Baxter, linebacker Ed Hartwell, defensive tackle Marques Douglas and center Casey Rabach, are free agents still waiting for that first lucrative, multi-year contract.

That's where some of the chemistry problems began. Billick knew about them, but he allowed them to fester, possibly figuring he had enough leadership in the locker room to overcome them.

This is a team composed of Ray Lewis and The All-Stars, the rest of the boys and Chris McAlister, aka "The Black Sheep." McAlister has never been one to not speak his mind, and he was open about the locker room problems Wednesday.

But McAlister didn't name names, especially the star-studded ones such as Lewis, his clone Ed Reed (Lil Ray), Deion Sanders, Jamal Lewis and a couple of wannabes.

Ray Lewis has always been extended more privileges than anyone else. It's part of the code for being a superstar. The problem is that the Ravens are negotiating a contract extension for Lewis, who is on the decline, but are not in negotiations with Hartwell, Douglas, Rabach or Baxter, who are about to enter their prime.

If Lewis gets another contract, the Ravens might not be able to re-sign some of their better players, who want some of the wealth.

Somehow, Billick has to control the situation. It's time to ask Lewis to tone it down a little for the good of the team. It's time to ask Reed to tone it down a lot. There has to be a way to accommodate an aging star like Lewis, but find avenues for the younger players as well.

Billick can also create more harmony by hiring a new offensive coordinator. There is a stipulation in Billick's contract that he has the right to hire and fire coaches, but if he doesn't want to fire Matt Cavanaugh, then owner Steve Bisciotti should fire Billick.

For six years, the Ravens have had one of the least productive offenses in modern football. You think that isn't a point of contention in the locker room? The lack of dominance by Lewis and the defense in four of the past five games has left Cavanaugh and Billick exposed as offensive pretenders.

The players need to find some confidence in one another and a comfort level. It hasn't been there since Day One. A lot of undue pressure was added by the organization and Billick before the season started. Right before training camp began, Billick lost nickel back Dale Carter for the year with a blood clot. Jamal Lewis was facing federal drug charges, and quarterback Kyle Boller was only entering his second season. The Ravens were luring a 37-year-old cornerback, Sanders, out of retirement, and McAlister held out of training camp.

Yet Billick kept talking about the Super Bowl, increasing the expectations and the pressure. He became a victim of his own arrogance.

Now, he has to become arrogant again, this time in his own locker room. He has to re-establish and reinvent himself because he has been too laid back this season. But he can set a new tone, a new direction, on Sunday.

If not, he could be in trouble in the future. Once you start firing coordinators, we all know who is next to go.

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