Uncertainty about coach's fate has 4-9 Ravens `stuck in limbo'

Billick's 2-week notice?

December 18, 2005|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

From all appearances, Brian Billick looks as if he will return as the Ravens head coach next season.

Billick talks once or twice a week with owner Steve Bisciotti about the future of the Ravens and, despite being mired in a troubling 4-9 season, the two were seen laughing over a leisurely dinner at the team complex Monday. These are not signs that the Ravens are trying to distance themselves from Billick, one of four coaches who are currently with the teams they guided to the Super Bowl title.

So why is there a sense of uncertainty that stretches from the coaching staff to the players?

Two weeks from the end of the season, Bisciotti has not guaranteed publicly or within the organization that Billick will be coming back, a silence that has created rumblings in the locker room.

"We're stuck in limbo as a team," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "You don't know if he is going to get fired or he's not. You can't sit here and say you don't think about it because you do. You hear the rumors and what the sources say in the paper [about Billick getting fired]. And when you don't call them out, then the source must be true."

Unlike the coaching situations in Houston and New Orleans, the debate whether to retain or fire Billick is far from clear cut.

Those who favor bringing back Billick point to his entire track record with the Ravens. Compiling a 60-49 record and three playoff seasons, Billick has long changed the image of the Ravens as a perennial loser and has only drastically underachieved once - this season - in seven years.

Those who want Billick out as coach focus on his longtime struggles on offense and his recent losing ways. With the Ravens dropping 13 of their past 19 games, Billick only has a 30-31 record since 2002.

One can only assume Billick is staying by his demeanor. Though he looked beleaguered midway through the season, he recently has seemed confident and loose, joking with players during practice and the media before news conferences.

"The comfort zone that I have is in the quality of the people and the ability to communicate with one another," Billick said. "It makes a very difficult situation much more easy to deal with."

One source close to the situation said, "If Billick was going to be fired, he would be the last one to know." It has even been speculated that the Ravens have begun a list of candidates to replace him.

But in his one address to the entire organization at the end of October, Bisciotti refused to blame Billick or the players for the dismal season. According to one player, Bisciotti put the losses on "bad luck."

The answer to Billick's fate likely won't come for another 14 days, when Bisciotti is expected to speak to the media for the first time since the end of last season. It has been Bisciotti's policy not to talk to reporters during the season.

"There's no adequate way to answer those questions during the season that don't bring into question the legitimacy of the observation or the intent," Billick said. "So we're just not going to do it."

Less time, less interest?

Losing games puts coaches on the hot seat. Losing players in the locker room puts them out of a job.

According to an NFL insider Web site, profootballtalk.com, a source said last week the players "gradually have lost most if not all respect for head coach Brian Billick, who by all appearances has lost interest in his job."

The report cited the fact that Billick no longer subjects the team to film review on Mondays and only met with the players for 15 minutes last Saturday at the pre-game team meeting.

Billick did not deny the specifics of the claim but objected to the intent.

"That's a well-thought observation, but it's wholly inaccurate," he said. "This is the way we've always gone about doing it. To use that as a benchmark to say Brian has lost his passion for it or his interest, that's not a valid observation."

Billick said the team reviews film in a more efficient way throughout the week and he uses the final speech as simply an "exclamation point."

Asked if the players still respond to Billick, Thomas said, "Look at our record, that kind of says it all. I don't know if that is a bonding thing. We have the talent. It's so frustrating. You can't say it's all Brian's fault by any stretch of the imagination. That's where everybody points the blame when a team does bad."

Positive signs

There's no questioning that the Ravens have been playing hard the past four weeks.

Who they are playing hard for is another matter.

"I don't play hard for Brian. I play hard for myself," Thomas said. "I'm my own person and hold myself to a higher standard."

The Ravens' last two victories have been comebacks: beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime and edging the Houston Texans in the final minute. They also didn't lay down when trailing the Cincinnati Bengals 34-0, and nearly upset the Denver Broncos last Sunday.

Some players said it's a sign they have not given up on Billick.

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