'I Needed To Step Back In'

Billick fires Fassel, takes over Ravens' listless attack

October 18, 2006|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

Amid escalating frustrations from the players concerning the Ravens' offense, coach Brian Billick fired offensive coordinator Jim Fassel yesterday and took over play-calling duties for his struggling attack.

Billick reached his decision late Monday afternoon after he spoke with Fassel about having an increased role in running the offense, a source within the organization said.

When Fassel bristled at the idea -- he thought Billick had intervened enough already this season, a source added -- Billick chose to part ways with his longtime friend and end an ongoing power struggle over the offense.

The removal of Fassel represents the first significant change to a Ravens offense that entered the season with high expectations after the arrival of quarterback Steve McNair but has since plummeted to No. 28 in the NFL rankings.

"Clearly, in order for us to expand on our 4-2 start, we have to have more offensive productivity," said Billick, whose Ravens are on their bye week. "It was my opinion going forward to bring about the level of production we needed offensively to go where we need to go that I needed to step back in on a day-to-day basis."

When reached yesterday by The Sun, Fassel said there was no animosity with Billick and seemed surprised that some of the comments he made to an ESPN reporter were made public.

"Everywhere I've been, I've gotten the offense up and running pretty fast," Fassel told ESPN. "It didn't happen here and the reason I believe is that I wasn't in full control."

Fassel's abrupt dismissal is likely another indicator to how important this season has become to Billick's future with the team.

"This has been building for quite a while and finally I went to Brian last week and said, `Look Brian, you've always run a good offense and I've always run a good offense, but the bottom line is somebody has to be in charge. Somebody has to pull the trigger and it can't be two guys,' " Fassel said.

"Brian was very good about this. He told me, `You're right. My job's on the line and the only way I can deal with it is if I take control of the offense.' "

Although firing a coach at midseason is unusual for a division-leading team, the Ravens were forced to address an offense that has been unraveling.

Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden threw his helmet in disgust during the second game of the season and engaged in an emotional talk with Billick on the sideline.

Receiver Derrick Mason gave the offense an "F" earlier this season before cursing about the unit's problems Sunday.

And running back Jamal Lewis severely criticized the play-calling Sunday, saying the game plan of going with the hot running back was "smoke being blown" by the coaching staff.

"We're a talented team," Ogden said yesterday. "What we're looking for is a spark. We've got guys who can make things happen. We've got some guys who may be near the end of their careers, but guys who have been successful at other places. I think the change will be good for us."

Another offensive player said Fassel never developed a chemistry with the players and rarely took any input from them, saying he kept his distance more like a head coach than a coordinator.

Billick declined to talk specifically about whether the firing was in response to the players' disenchantment with Fassel.

"There was no single incident or episode that brought about this change," said Billick, who ended his 11-minute news conference after five questions. "It was a collective evaluation on my part that something dramatic needed to be done."

Billick's ties with Fassel go back to 1979, when they met at a cocktail party in Palo Alto, Calif. They faced each other as head coaches in the Super Bowl in January 2001, when the Ravens beat the New York Giants, 34-7.

Two months after Fassel was fired by the Giants in December 2003, he joined the Ravens as an offensive consultant. After the 2004 season, Fassel replaced Matt Cavanaugh as coordinator, although Billick's first choice was Ron Turner, who took the coordinator position with the Chicago Bears.

A source in the organization said Fassel and Billick never clicked as coaches, describing their working relationship as "awkward." There were ongoing rumors of heated arguments and conflicts in game planning between the two.

Still, they remained friends outside of the Ravens' headquarters. Fassel was supposed to go off on Billick's boat for vacation this summer before canceling to spend more time coaching McNair.

"This is clearly one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make not only from a professional level but for the obvious personal reasons because of the relationship that Jim and I have," said Billick, who called owner Steve Bisciotti after meeting with Fassel on Monday to inform him of his decision. "I have an obligation to this organization to do what I think is in the best interest of this team regardless of how it affects you personally."

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