On Bisciotti's flip-flop

Spin cycle

Ravens owner shows he can play the PR game

First Word

January 03, 2008|By PETER SCHMUCK

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti obviously is a talented corporate chief executive, but he proved this week that he also has a flair for public relations.

How else do you explain the way he flip-flopped on the status of fired coach Brian Billick and still came away looking like the decisive leader he already has proved to be in the business world?

Remember, it was only a few weeks ago that word leaked out Billick had been told his job was safe for at least another year, and Bisciotti was up-front about that during the Monday news conference in which he announced his team's longtime coach would be replaced.

He acknowledged he simply changed his mind and decided it was time for the Ravens to go in a new direction. No dissembling. No excuses. No apologies. Nothing but the fact that he's the boss and his gut told him the team needed a fresh start. Because he'll be paying Billick $5 million not to coach next season, we probably should take him at his word.

I don't know that Billick deserved to be fired, but Bisciotti seemed to recognize something had to be done to change the subject after one of the worst seasons in franchise history.

It wasn't just the 5-11 record this season. It was the dismal offensive performance in last season's playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. It was the growing perception, so familiar already to Baltimore's long-suffering baseball fans, that things were not going to get better without new leadership.

Bisciotti could have rationalized staying the course. He could have looked at the long list of injuries that depleted the Ravens' roster and projected that things would get better all by themselves next season. There is plenty of talent on that roster, and the misfortune of 2007 has put the Ravens in position for another strong draft, so it wouldn't have been hard to restate the case for organizational stability.

Except that Bisciotti, the guy who got fabulously wealthy by trusting his own business instinct and identifying with his market, seemed to understand the team was facing an unprecedented crisis of confidence on two levels.

The fans had developed a severe case of Billick fatigue, and the players had begun to tune him out.

In business, if the customers are complaining and the workers are in revolt, there's a pretty good chance someone in upper management is going to be cleaning out his office soon.

The decision to remove Billick might have been made at a gut level, but the long series of unflattering events that led up to it almost certainly convinced Bisciotti there was an irreparable breakdown in team discipline.

What else could anyone conclude after Ray Lewis went on his weekly radio show and criticized Billick's play-calling? What was Bisciotti supposed to think when departed free agent Adalius Thomas outlined for Sports Illustrated why the New England Patriots were a real team and the Ravens were not?

Throw in the last-minute meltdown in an otherwise uplifting game against the Patriots (which sort of proved Thomas' point), and the only real surprise is that Billick got that mid-December vote of confidence in the first place.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not indicting Billick for all of that, though it is fair to hold him responsible for the atmosphere in which Lewis can pop off with impunity and Ed Reed can play me-ball and, well, you saw what happened on Monday Night Football against the Patriots.

This was a mutiny as much as a managerial decision, but Bisciotti deserves credit for putting the right face on it.

That would be his face, which reflected the painful nature of the decision when he showed up to explain it Monday afternoon.

Call it a flip-flop if you want, but Bisciotti needed less than 24 hours after the final snap of 2007 to get everyone focused on the future of the team instead of one sorry season, and he somehow managed to make the sudden firing of a respected coach look like an amicable parting of the ways.

This guy's pretty good.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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