Team faces few options in plotting Billick's fate

ON THE RAVENS

Ravens Weekend

November 30, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

During his nine-year tenure in Baltimore, coach Brian Billick often has delivered a great nugget of information, but the Ravens' front office obviously wasn't paying attention.

Billick would say that the shelf life of an NFL head coach is 10 years, and that makes you wonder why the Ravens signed him to a four-year contract extension at the end of last season.

We all know why Billick signed. He couldn't wait to complete an agreement that reportedly pays him $5 million per season.

But it was a mistake to sign Billick to an extension of that length. A two-year deal would have been fine, just like it was for most coaches a decade ago.

But now the Ravens are stuck.

Oh, they'd probably like to fire Billick, especially after such a disappointing season when the Ravens were expected to be one of the NFL's elite.

But the Ravens are on the hook for $15 million over the next three years. They would only fire Billick if the team continues to be embarrassed like it was against the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers.

But if that doesn't happen and the Ravens still fire Billick, they would be admitting they made a mistake. How often does a CEO or general manager take the blame? Seldom does it happen.

GM Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti thought they were making the right decision a year ago after the Ravens finished 13-3 in the regular season. The town was giddy about the Ravens, and most of the team was coming back in 2007. Once they signed Billick to a long-term deal, it gave the coach and players security that they would be around for a long time.

But Newsome and Bisciotti should have known better. They should have looked more deeply at Billick's record and noticed that the team hasn't won a playoff game since 2001.

Their minds should have shot back through the previous years when the Ravens' offense couldn't score points and the team's clock management was atrocious.

It was amazing how quickly Bisciotti and Newsome forgot that the team was in utter disarray in 2005, and Bisciotti publicly reprimanded the coach for being arrogant and failing to listen to others.

After last season, maybe the Ravens should have thought the success and Billick's personality change were an aberration, not the norm. A two-year contract would have been a clear way of saying, "Hey, Brian, do it again, and then we'll go from here."

Instead, the Ravens took away their leverage. They took the heat off the coach and the sense of urgency from the players.

Now, the Ravens have little choice but to keep Billick. Besides the money, there is the Marty Schottenheimer factor.

Under Schottenheimer a year ago, the Chargers were 14-2 but lost in the playoffs' divisional round. Schottenheimer was fired. The Chargers have struggled under new coach Norv Turner, and the fans who wanted the former coach fired are now criticizing the organization.

The Ravens don't want that kind of public relations nightmare. They figure that Billick has had reasonable success here, including winning a Super Bowl. He gets a reprieve from criticism much as Mike Shanahan does in Denver.

Nearly two years ago when the Ravens were looking for a replacement for Billick, they failed to lure Kirk Ferentz from the University of Iowa, and then basically said there were no other coaches available who were better than Billick.

That was a cop-out then, and it's a cop-out now. Schottenheimer is out there. Bill Cowher is available. If the Ravens really wanted to put together a list, they could come up with some really good assistants who could become quality head coaches.

Wasn't Billick an assistant coach once? Weren't Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi? The Ravens just aren't daring enough.

The Ravens are having their share of problems. They've lost five consecutive games. The offense is terrible and the locker room is a mess, though not nearly as bad as it was in 2005.

Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden, two of the franchise's top players since the team moved here in 1996, have indicated in several ways that it's time for changes.

But it won't happen. Either the players go or the coach goes, and since Lewis and Ogden are near the end of their careers, the players will leave.

Maybe that's good for Billick and the organization. He communicates better with younger players because the veterans have heard his messages before. The young ones feed off his energy and listen to his every word. They are dazzled by his organizational skills.

But there is nothing he can do that will be fresh for the veterans. They've seen it all, and with a personality like Billick's, his style becomes stale.

And that's what happens when a coach stays in one place for almost 10 years. It's a shame the Ravens didn't see this a year ago when they gave Billick a four-year extension. mike.preston@baltsun.com

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