Billick: No need to punish team

Ravens coach won't sanction players for debacle in Detroit

October 11, 2005|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

It was only five weeks ago when the biggest question was: Can coach Brian Billick guide the Ravens back to the playoffs?

Now, after sinking to 1-3 at the quarter point of the season, the most pressing issue has become this: How does Billick regain control of his players?

In Sunday's 35-17 loss to the Detroit Lions, the Ravens had 21 penalties (seven more than the previous team record), and two players ejected. Six players were flagged for personal fouls, prompting even Billick to describe his team as "out-of-control men."

Billick's solution doesn't involve fines or invoking stricter rules, a decision he had to repeatedly defend during his 32-minute news conference yesterday. Instead, he has chosen to stress accountability, coaching his players on how their actions can leave the team vulnerable.

"What happened [Sunday] is not a discipline issue. It's not a character issue," Billick said. "It manifested itself in one game. I hope it's a one-game aberration, but I can't take that chance. But I'm not going to overreact to it.

"If I thought an internal monetary sanction would suffice or help, I'd do it in a New York second. It does not. If they are not remorseful on their own, then we're no better off than we were [Sunday]."

In their first three games, the Ravens had two personal fouls, but neither was a misconduct penalty.

When the Ravens did emotionally melt down - they were penalized three times for unsportsmanlike conduct - the most alarming part was that Billick couldn't stop it. His parting message to his players coming out of halftime was not to talk to the officials, but Terrell Suggs and B.J. Ward still got ejected in the second half.

Billick refuted any notion that he has lost his grip on this team.

"They listened to me, but they couldn't contain themselves," Billick said.

This has become the most criticized time of Billick's seven-year tenure. The team is off to the worst start in Ravens' history. Dating to last season, they have lost seven of their past 10 games by an average margin of 13.6 points.

There have been increasing questions about whether Billick has been too soft on his players - his mantra is "act like a man, and you'll be treated like a man" - from having no curfew during training camp to practicing indoors to avoid bad weather.

Billick, 51, reportedly has two years left on his contract after this season that will pay him $4.5 million each year.

He had discussions yesterday with owner Steve Bisciotti, president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome about the direction of the team, including the short- and long-term plans.

Asked if he received a vote of confidence from Bisciotti during the meeting, Billick said, "This isn't about me. This is about the way we do business here and the process we have going forward."

When Bisciotti took over as majority owner last year, he said he wanted to keep a low profile and would decline to comment publicly on football matters.

Billick, however, did not back away from accepting responsibility for the Ravens' reckless actions, which included bumping two officials, taunting a Lions player and making an obscene gesture - a double pelvic thrust by Maake Kemoeatu - at the fans.

"I'm accountable," Billick said. "Make no mistake. We recognize what we did and don't feel good about it."

Billick addressed the team about its embarrassing misdeeds yesterday, the first step in regrouping from last place in the AFC North.

"He still has faith in the character of this team," quarterback Anthony Wright said. "We're not a bad team, on or off the football field. Right now, we're going through some trials and tribulations."

An NFL spokesman said players will be informed of any fines from the league later this week, and Billick expects the fines to be "substantial."

Billick said that he doesn't expect a repeat offense from Kemoeatu and indicated that he only needs to talk with Suggs about the consequences of his actions.

He was more ambiguous in how he would handle cornerback Chris McAlister, a repeat offender with unsportsmanlike behavior.

"I'll deal with Chris in the way that's in the best interest of this team and Chris McAlister," Billick said. "I'm very pleased with the growth Chris has shown this offseason, during the summer, the way he's conducted himself off the field up to this point. It's regrettable that it manifested itself in the way it did [Sunday], but I'm certainly not going to give up on any of my players because of what they did in the heat of the moment."

Billick reiterated that he had problem with several of the officials' calls, saying he couldn't remember ever submitting more plays for review to the league office. But he declined to use that as an excuse for his team's unruly performance.

"It's not about the calls," Billick said. "That's not what we have to address. It's how we reacted to the situation."

Nevertheless, the Ravens won't be issuing any public apologies.

"The only real substantive action they can take is to not let it happen again," Billick said. "The rest is just cheap talk."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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