Brian Billick's mind was on what the Ravens were trying to accomplish in their afternoon practice yesterday at McDaniel College. His heart, and his prayers, were with his mentor, Bill Walsh, who had died earlier in the day after succumbing to leukemia.
That Walsh's death came on the first day of training camp for Billick's team wasn't lost on the Ravens coach.
"We occasionally get these reminders about priorities," Billick said. "All the things that we think are important and spend so much emotional energy worrying about, and then you realize what's really important. It is very sobering to lose a friend and a great coach like Bill.
"There are so many things that people will talk about that Bill Walsh contributed to the game, he was one of the great innovators of the game. There are great coaches and then there are coaches that changed the game, and Bill Walsh changed the game."
Billick has often said that he owes much of his career to the legendary San Francisco 49ers coach. Along with the practice plans he copied and the speeches he memorized, Billick took something else from the two seasons he worked for Walsh as the team's assistant public relations director.
"He believed fully that it was all about teaching," Billick said. "That's where I get my reference to that. Of all the things I want to nurture the most are my teaching abilities because at the end of the day, it's what those players can do and whatever you can do to teach them to get better."
Though Billick wasn't on the coaching staff during the 1979 and 1980 seasons, Walsh would allow him to listen in on coaching meetings. Walsh also encouraged Billick to write scouting reports on college games when Billick would go on the road to advance the 49ers' visit.
"What I remember the most is how tireless Bill Walsh was in helping other coaches realize their dreams, in making the calls, creating programs for coaches around the league. There's not a coach he would turn down to not try to help better himself," Billick said.
Billick recalled his final conversation with Walsh, about a month and a half ago.
"True to Bill, all he wanted to do was coach football, what we were going to do with Willis McGahee. He was not going to let his circumstances dictate to him how he was going to go out," Billick said.