The Final Score

Brian Billick's reign as coach of the Ravens

January 01, 2008|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN REPORTER

Brian Billick's reign as coach of the Ravens will ultimately be remembered for two games: a victory over the New York Giants in the Super Bowl and a defeat to the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of last season's playoffs.

The 34-7 win over the Giants at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium in January 2001 was the signature moment of Billick's nine-year tenure in Baltimore.

The 15-6 loss to the Colts at M&T Bank Stadium on Jan. 13 was an ominous sign for this season, the final act coming yesterday when Billick was fired after his team finished with a 5-11 record.

Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who along with linebacker Ray Lewis, kicker Matt Stover and cornerback Chris McAlister are the only Ravens to have played in Baltimore throughout Billick's head coaching career, said yesterday that his former coach should be celebrated for his successes rather than chastised for his failures.

"I think he will be remembered as a good coach," Ogden said. "He had a winning record, he brought respect back to Baltimore football. By the second year [with Billick], we won the Super Bowl, the organization became talked-about. We weren't an also-ran. He brought a high standard to this team."

The Ravens made the playoffs four times under Billick but had trouble sustaining their success. Only in 2000 and 2001 did the team play in the postseason two years in a row. Since their Super Bowl season, the Ravens have won only one playoff game, at Miami after the 2001 season.

What colored Billick's entire head coaching career was the antithesis of what brought him to Baltimore in the first place.

As offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, Billick was considered the architect of one of the most potent attacks in NFL history. The 1998 Vikings - led by quarterback Randall Cunningham and wide receiver Randy Moss - set an NFL record for points scored in a season - a mark that was broken this season by the New England Patriots, led by quarterback Tom Brady and Moss.

Under Billick, the Ravens never came close to achieving any type of offensive dominance or even respectability.

Their Super Bowl run was led by Lewis and a defense ranked second overall - one of six times the Ravens ranked in the top five in the league, including No. 1 last season. During Billick's time in Baltimore, the Ravens never ranked higher than 14th overall offensively and 11th in passing, the latter coming last season.

"I never thought we established a great passing offense unfortunately," Ogden said. "The stats are what they are. Things happen, but at the same time when you look back at these nine years, we never really got off the ground for a lot of different reasons. Was it all him? No, but I'm sure he contributed to it."

As steady a player as Ogden was anchoring the offensive line, the revolving door at quarterback was a blur: when rookie Troy Smith replaced an injured Kyle Boller two weeks ago, he became the 12th starting quarterback used by Billick. It was a list of has-beens and never-would-bes.

There were several Pro Bowl players among them - Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, Cunningham, Jeff Blake and Steve McNair - but they each achieved that honor before playing for the Ravens.

Billick had three offensive coordinators - Matt Cavanaugh, Jim Fassel and finally Rick Neuheisel this season - but their importance became diminished under Billick.

The one constant in the offense was Billick.

The former tight end from Brigham Young, who started out his NFL career as a public relations assistant with the San Francisco 49ers, learned how to coach while sitting outside the legendary Bill Walsh's meeting rooms.

Phil Friedman, a Washington, D.C. attorney and a season-ticket holder since the Ravens arrived in Baltimore in 1996, said that Billick's predictability as a play-caller was particularly distressing.

"I would sit in the stands with my kids and I could call with 90 percent accuracy whatever he was going to call," Friedman said yesterday. "If I could do that, and that's not my job, it must be pretty easy for any defensive coordinator in the league to figure out what's going to happen."

For that, Friedman didn't blame the long list of mediocre quarterbacks the Ravens have had.

"I don't care what talent you have, if you have third-and-eight and you throw 6 yards, you're not going to be a very successful quarterback no matter how good your receivers are," Friedman said. "That played out year after year. That's his offensive plan. No feel for the game at all. Aside from the play-calling, the clock management was the worst I've ever seen."

What also undermined Billick's return to the Ravens next season was the perception that he had lost control of his players. Having transformed himself over recent years into a coach more willing to listen to his players than he had been earlier in his career - in large part because the team started losing - Billick became too much of a player's coach.

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