Owner Bisciotti has to call next play

ON THE RAVENS

Ravens Weekend

December 14, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

Ravens coach Brian Billick has had a poor season with his offense, but he called a great play this week. He basically forced owner Steve Bisciotti into honoring another season on the final three years of his contract.

Billick should have been as creative on the field, but the news of his return raises some questions and doubts about Bisciotti.

Billick knew his Monday statement - "I'm coming back" - would create a stir, and he was aware of the rumors about the Ravens talking with former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher. The speculation would only have increased until the season ended.

Billick couldn't afford to go into the Miami Dolphins game without an endorsement, for fear that the players might not play hard. Billick also made it known throughout the NFL that if he was fired, he intended to go into TV and not coach again, which would have forced Bisciotti to pay off the rest of the contract.

The X-factor happened Tuesday. Once Bobby Petrino resigned as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, it opened up a bidding war for established coaches such as Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer. It would have been a big financial bite for the Ravens to have two head coaches on the payroll.

Advantage, Billick.

Now, Bisciotti and the Ravens are left to defend a coach who is 4-9 with a team that many thought would be one of the league's elite after finishing 13-3 last season.

It's apparent the Ravens' brain trust huddled recently, and their spin was that injuries and subpar quarterback play were the two factors in the Ravens' disappointing season, according to what a source with intimate knowledge of the Ravens' decision-making told The Sun Wednesday night.

But that's it?

How about the poor clock management and play-calling? What about the large number of penalties? How about all those turnovers? What about discipline matters and the attitude in the locker room?

The Ravens have had one of the worst offenses in the league for nine seasons. Was that included in these conversations? Injuries force coaches to become difference-makers, and Billick has constantly made the wrong decisions in 2007.

Bisciotti's decision to give Billick a new four-year contract instead of a one- or two-year deal after last season raised a few eyebrows. Now, I wonder whether he knows enough about the game or just depends on those around him to make football decisions.

I wonder whether he is around this team enough to truly gain a pulse, because if he was, he might have realized that, just as in business, sometimes you have to take a loss before you gain.

We've been through this before with Billick, who is on his third offensive coordinator, actually fourth, counting himself. We've all heard the stories about putting in more vertical plays and becoming more creative, yet we get the same 3-yard pass and a cloud of dust every season.

Now that the Ravens have endorsed Billick, let's move forward. Here's a suggestion for Bisciotti: Force Billick to hire a new offensive coordinator to structure a system in which Billick isn't involved.

The ideal situation is to put Billick in the same coaching position that Jimmy Johnson was with the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s. He can manage the team, but let the coordinators control the flow of the game.

Until the attitude of this team changes, the Ravens are wasting time. This team is divided because the defense usually has to bail out the offense, and all of the players are tired of it.

The Ravens have brought in coordinators Jim Fassel and Rick Neuheisel, but they kept the same mind-set, the same offensive schemes.

Until the players see that those things have changed, there is going to be disarray in the locker room. And you're going to see players such as Chris McAlister, Terrell Suggs or Ed Reed wanting out because they have no chance of winning with this system.

Bisciotti has to force the change on Billick, who might resist at first, but it's for the sake of the team. It's Bisciotti's team, so he needs to make the call.

Bisciotti has been the majority owner since 2004, and since then, the Ravens have been to the playoffs only once and failed to win a game. He has watched this team play well but consistently struggle offensively. Instead of listening to those around him, he should let his own eyes be the guide.

He has watched the stadium become half-empty at halftime because fans have no hope. He has watched and heard Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis implode year after year because of the team's poor offense.

A lot of Ravens fans are angry because Bisciotti has stayed with the status quo at coach, but he can make a difference with a new offensive coordinator. Maybe then we'll stop questioning his decisions and applaud sound judgment.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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