Seat getting hot

ON THE RAVENS

Feeling pressure, coach wants vote of confidence

On Billick's future

December 11, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

The Ravens are a mess, and there are no easy solutions to their problems.

They have a head coaching issue and problems with their quarterbacks and offensive coordinator.

A troubled situation became even more bizarre yesterday, when coach Brian Billick said he was coming back next season, but no one in the organization could confirm he had spoken with owner Steve Bisciotti.

Billick has three years remaining on his contract, which is reportedly worth $5 million a season. But this season of great expectations has been a great disappointment, including a current team-record seven-game losing streak.

Billick has been harshly criticized this season for his play-calling and time-management abilities, and rumors continue to circulate about club officials recently meeting with former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, rumors those same officials deny.

But you have to wonder about Billick's statement. Was he making it to rally the players before they play the winless Miami Dolphins on Sunday? After a futile effort against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, was he making the statement because he felt he had lost the team?

Billick is feeling the pressure. He has heard the rumors. He wants an endorsement from the owner.

The sweat is pouring down his brow. He often appears confident, but Billick is high maintenance and needs his ego stroked by those around him in the Castle.

After the embarrassing loss to the Colts in which the Ravens trailed 37-7 at halftime, Billick knows his fan base is eroding, but he wants some assurance.

The problem is that Bisciotti isn't expected to talk until after the end of the season. Billick wants to force his hand now, and, after embarrassing losses to the Colts and Steelers and the midnight meltdown against the New England Patriots, who can blame him?

Most of the players like Billick as a person but find him inept as an offensive coach. The pace and tone of practices between the offense and defense are entirely different, with the defense operating at a higher level.

Like most businessmen, Bisciotti doesn't want to pay Billick the rest of his contract for doing nothing, but he would rather pay the money than continue to be embarrassed.

Billick has been reluctant to turn the play-calling over to offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel, but he might save his job if he did so in the remaining three games.

Neuheisel was once one of the most respected and creative offensive minds in college football. But for the past two years, he has been Billick's caddie and yes man.

But, at this point, what does Billick have to lose by turning the assignment over to Neuheisel? Even if Bisciotti retains Billick, he'll address his role in the offense and ask him to make changes. If Billick declined, then he'd probably ask for his resignation.

The Ravens have other problems, like not having a legitimate starting quarterback heading into 2008. After the four-turnover debacle by starting quarterback Kyle Boller on Sunday night, it would seem logical for the Ravens to start rookie quarterback Troy Smith, last year's Heisman Trophy winner out of Ohio State, for the final three games.

He looked decent and showed promise even though it was late in the game against the Colts' backups. In that brief appearance, Smith showed what Boller lacks: pocket awareness.

Smith probably isn't the answer to the Ravens' quarterback problem, but I know Boller and Steve McNair aren't. The rookie deserves the opportunity to play.

But it won't happen. The Ravens can't afford to lose to Miami in a game that could determine Billick's future. Plus, general manager Ozzie Newsome is a firm believer in Smith. He believes Smith can develop into a quality quarterback if given the time to develop and not rushed into action the way Boller was.

There are just so many gray areas with the Ravens.

They really don't know if they're going to go find a starting quarterback in the draft or free agency.

If Neuheisel finds a college job or doesn't take over the play-calling next season, finding a good offensive coordinator won't be easy. Being the Ravens' offensive coordinator can be hazardous to your career. Ask Matt Cavanaugh, who has been banished to the University of Pittsburgh, or Jim Fassel, who can't find his way back into the NFL head coaching circle.

But before that happens, the Ravens have to make an announcement on Billick. He is a little nervous these days. But I believe an answer won't come until after the season.

That has been the Bisciotti way. And until then, every day makes Billick sweat more and more. mike.preston@baltsun.com

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