Giving Billick walking papers would be misstep for Ravens

November 19, 2005|By JOHN EISENBERG

As the Ravens' 2005 season disintegrates, all I'm hearing is one question: Should Brian Billick be fired?

As if that's the only issue facing this 2-7 team that some people picked to go to the Super Bowl.

Billick is having a bad year, for sure; he all but admitted it this week by writing in his online diary that it was "justified" to question whether he should keep his job. He hasn't fixed the offense, hasn't developed a quarterback, and in my opinion, erred by failing to impose harsh punishments after the Detroit debacle, leaving discipline lacking.

But is the case against the seventh-year coach so strong that he should be fired with two years left on his contract? I'm having a hard time thinking that's a good idea.

It takes a village to lose in the NFL. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who is in charge of personnel (and has overseen two straight disappointing drafts), deserves his share of the blame. So does offensive coordinator Jim Fassel. The players? Well, it looks as if they just aren't very good.

"You don't point everything at the man upstairs," safety Ed Reed said about Billick. "It's a collective effort by everybody, coaches and players."

I'm seeing pouting superstars, ineffective quarterbacks (for whom the whole organization is responsible) and aging Pro Bowlers, but all I'm hearing is "fire the coach," the shrill chorus that reflexively sounds wherever any team in any sport is losing, rising so angrily from radio talk shows, online bulletin boards and elsewhere that it overwhelms all other discourse.

I hate it.

Someone has to take the fall. The dead fish rots from the head.

Oh, yeah? Then why do so many coaching and managerial changes make no difference? Why do so many losing franchises continue to shuffle through coaches and managers (see: Orioles) while winning franchises generally exhibit stability?

Some changes make sense, but much more often than not, "fire the coach" is just a kneejerk reaction to disappointing results, a simplistic glossing over of a team's larger predicament, as opposed to a level-headed assessment of what's wrong.

Remember when the Ravens' woes were all offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh's fault last year? Oops, guess not.

With any team, including the Ravens, the formula for losing is always a lot more complicated than it looks, and likewise, the solution always a lot more complicated than one coaching move.

Lopping off the head of the rotting fish doesn't make it smell better.

No, Billick isn't the offensive genius he was advertised to be when he was hired in 1999, but he has won a Super Bowl, a division title and 58 of 105 regular-season games, never finishing a season with fewer than seven wins while consistently preparing his teams to give solid, winning performances. A coach with such a track record deserves at least one mulligan.

If one bad season can get you fired, there was a strong case for firing Bill Parcells last year. Dallas went 6-10 when Parcells thought it was a good idea to build an offense around ancient Vinny Testaverde.

But Parcells kept his job, and he has Dallas back in the playoff hunt this year. He's a winning coach. His bad season didn't mean he had suddenly become stupid.

If one bad season can get you fired, Pittsburgh really should have canned Bill Cowher after he won just 13 of 32 games in 1998 and 1999, seemingly losing control of the team. He took a ton of heat, but kept his job and has regained his winning touch.

Firing a coach for one bad season is the surest way to make an organization unstable. With the draft, salary cap and schedule conspiring to pull teams toward the middle, losing seasons and disappointments have become inevitable for coaches today. A franchise has to learn to deal with them.

Denver's Mike Shanahan and Seattle's Mike Holmgren are Super Bowl-winning coaches who take their share of heat (neither has won a playoff game since the 1990s), but their organizations stick with them because they win more games than they lose and know how to go all the way, and that beats starting over.

Those who are convinced the Ravens' grass would be greener with someone else should know that five of the past 10 winners of the NFL Coach of the Year award have been fired. Genius is strictly temporary in this business. Chances are just as good that the Ravens would go farther in the wrong direction with someone new.

Here's a radical thought - the Ravens probably need a bunch of new players more than a new coach.

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