As Ravens' stock falls, Bisciotti isn't sharing

November 15, 2005|By RICK MAESE

It's not always easy to compare sports franchises to other business entities. A sports team -- the Ravens, for example -- is too engrained in a community to follow a traditional business model.

It's not at all accurate, but I like to think of football fans as Sunday shareholders, even if the emotional investment overshadows the financial stake. In any other business, when the bottom line struggles, the investors look to the top.

In Baltimore right now, you'd expect just about everybody you pass on the street to be straining their necks upward. Everyone is looking for answers, for explanation, for a hint of hope somewhere down the road.

Players and coaches live by the same tired-yet-true sports adage: We're taking it one game at a time. That's a great mantra when your team is winning. It allows a team to focus on a single task.

When you struggle, though, and you've hit crisis state -- when it's clear that the next game won't bring about a single cure -- you abandon the adage. As an organization, the Ravens can no longer afford to stare at the next date on their schedule.

It's time to focus efforts on the long-term future. It's time for owner Steve Bisciotti to decide the course for this franchise. It's time for general manager Ozzie Newsome to start figuring out how he's going to plug all of these personnel holes. And it's time for the Ravens' front office to decide what exactly will become of Brian Billick.

These aren't questions that should linger until the offseason. Do you see any reason in waiting?

Is Billick going to seem like a better coach after Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of four straight? Or what about after the next week's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, who drubbed the Ravens on Nov. 6? Those two teams are tied for the lead in the AFC North.

The problems are numerous and the answers scant. You can no longer fall back on excuses. The Ravens haven't scored a touchdown in 11 straight quarters. They're in last place and have lost four consecutive games.

You can no longer blame referees or injuries or conspiracy theories. Billick spoke to the media yesterday and couldn't offer anything substantive, which is a problem. Talking is what he's usually good at. He has a master's degree in communications. His first NFL job was in public relations.

There's nothing for him to say right now. Billick's mouth is moving, but even the most detailed answers sound like 10,000-word shoulder shrugs.

Yesterday he conceded that the Ravens aren't "a good football team right now." While Billick focuses on the upcoming game, management needs to decide why this isn't a good team.

Was Billick given adequate personnel? Possibly.

Did he get the most out of it? Doubtfully.

It's impossible to get a firm grasp on the direction of the organization. Newsome won't assess the team's performance until the end of the season, and Bisciotti keeps declining interview requests.

Bisciotti has only appeared at one Ravens news conference since taking over majority ownership in April 2004. He did a media tour after last season, telling everyone that he hopes to be the least visible owner in the NFL.

Ordinarily, that's a great approach. But owning a sports franchise isn't like owning any other business in the community. There are times when your voice is absolutely necessary, whether you like it or not.

Bisciotti doesn't need to answer to any members of the media. He needs to answer his Sunday shareholders.

If Billick is going to be around for the indefinite future, the head coach deserves a public vote of support from the big boss.

If not, then Bisciotti needs to speak with action, if not words. If Billick's destiny is doomed, then let him go now. Offensive coordinator Jim Fassel could run the team on an interim basis while the long-term is plotted.

I suspect that a savvy businessman like Bisciotti already knows what the future holds for Billick. The owner can take a page from the Orioles' book.

Last summer, the Orioles realized manager Lee Mazzilli wasn't the long-term solution. They fired him with eight weeks remaining in the season, making it clear that they were seeking another long-term solution. It's simply protecting your investment for some type of long-term dividend.

Billick is in a tough spot. There's no obvious upswing in sight and he can do very little to ease frustrations and fears. I suspect there's a lot the coach would like to say but can't. It'd be foolish and cannibalistic for Billick to criticize his players right now.

He has few options. All he can really do is take it one game at a time. With a front office that remains mum, that's the only guarantee Billick has.

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