Reward for revival

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Billick Gets Extension

January 18, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

Rewarding Brian Billick for the best regular season in team history, the Ravens extended their coach's contract yesterday, albeit in an unceremonious way.

The Ravens made the announcement in a two-sentence e-mail, adding that no details would be "publicly announced or discussed."

Billick, who guided the Ravens to a team-record 13 regular-season victories and the AFC North title this season, had one season left on his contract. This marks the third extension for Billick, who received the others after reaching the postseason in 2001 and 2003.

This extension likely will add a year or two to his existing deal, and it is estimated that Billick will be paid in the range of the five highest-paid NFL coaches (likely more than $5 million a season).

Billick was not made available to comment yesterday but explained earlier in the week why he is hesitant to talk about his contract.

"It's not very comfortable to sit and pick up the paper and read your personal finances all over the page," Billick said. "Beyond that, a coach's situation can be a distraction to the team, positive or negative."

Billick, who turns 53 in February, is going into his ninth season, which is tied for the third-longest tenure in the NFL.

Entering this season on the hot seat, he turned a 6-10 team in 2005 to a 13-3 one this season, earning the highest playoff seed (No. 2) in team history.

But the Ravens flopped in the postseason, losing to the Indianapolis Colts, 15-6, in an AFC divisional game Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium. It was the third straight postseason loss for Billick, who has one playoff victory since winning the Super Bowl in January 2001.

"When you think about where we have come from a year ago ... [it] is something to be excited about," Billick said.

Billick, who has a 75-53 regular-season record with the Ravens, became Baltimore's winningest NFL coach this year, surpassing Don Shula.

But this was a season that will be remembered as the time he reconnected with his players. During the bye week, Billick took responsibility for his struggling offense, firing longtime friend Jim Fassel as offensive coordinator.

Billick had more daily interaction with his players and provided an emotional turnaround. The Ravens won nine of their last 10 regular-season games before stalling in the playoff loss.

On Monday, Billick promoted Rick Neuheisel to offensive coordinator, but decided to continue calling the plays.

"The way it has provided me to connect and stay connected to the players, it is not something that I would readily give up," Billick said.

Before Billick arrived in January 1999, the Ravens were 16-31-1 in the club's first three seasons under coach Ted Marchibroda and hadn't finished higher than fourth in the AFC Central.

In eight seasons under Billick, the Ravens have reached the playoffs four times, capturing their first Super Bowl title in the 2000 season and winning the AFC North twice (2003 and 2006).

There were questions whether the Ravens would fire Billick last year after his worst season as coach. On Dec. 28, 2005, owner Steve Bisciotti released a statement saying that Billick would return after a thorough evaluation, saying that Billick was the "head coach [who] gives us the best opportunity to win."

"Steve Bisciotti didn't give him the biggest vote of confidence last year; he said that you have to prove yourself this year," tight end Todd Heap said near the end of this season. "I know the type of coach he is and the characteristics he brings to the table."

The contract extension didn't come as a surprise because the Ravens have never allowed Billick to enter the final season of his contract without a new deal.

But the details of the extension are a closely guarded secret. A handful of team officials reached yesterday didn't know specifics.

The Ravens are one of three teams (the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders are the others) that don't publicly announce the length of their coach's contract.

"It is certainly not an issue for me," Billick said, "and it certainly is not an issue for [the organization]."




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