An early Christmas present: Billick broadcasting Ravens-Bears game

December 18, 2009|By Mike Preston

Ever since the news broke last week that Brian Billick would be a commentator for the Ravens game Sunday against the Chicago Bears, there were many trips to my mailbox. I knew he would send me a Christmas card.

Or call, or send a telegram or a text message. At least, give me a little something. But nothing. Go figure.

For nine years, Billick and I had one of the best running shows in Baltimore sports history, and now after a near two-year separation, he's treating me like last year's Christmas tree.

But I still love that man. When I see him on Fox as an analyst, I have mixed emotions. He's great in his new job. He is full of wisdom, insight and coach-speak, but I still snicker when I hear him talk about drawing up offensive plays and developing quarterbacks.

I can't help myself, because, oh, well, you know why (pssst ... "My Man," Kyle Boller).

Honestly, though, I miss the old Compu Coach. He always made things exciting around here. I miss those phone calls he used to make to my boss. I miss him putting my picture up during PowerPoint presentations and telling players not to talk to me because I was the Evil Empire.

Good stuff.

I miss those midweek news conferences, especially early in his career, when Billick used to make up six-syllable words. I used to love his post-game news conferences filled with expletive-laden speeches about poor officiating. If Billick were still the coach of the Ravens, he might have been fined about $1 million by now.

But let's get serious now: One of the greatest things this franchise ever did was hire Billick in 1999. His overall record is impressive, and so are the division championships and the 2000 Super Bowl, but the most important thing Billick brought to this franchise was a face and leadership.

Billick came to Baltimore with so much fanfare because he was the coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, who had set numerous NFL records in 1998. There were "BILLICK!" billboards plastered all over the city.

Besides the deep voice, strong vocabulary and NFL connections, Billick was tall and could intimidate a lot of people. He could win you over with his charm and gab, but if he felt strongly about something, he didn't give a damn what he said or how he said it.

Before the Ravens were to play in Cleveland for the first time in 1999, Billick basically told the officials that it was OK to get caught up in the moment, but they had better not cheat for the Browns.

It was a great move.

He had other great moments. On the night the Ravens arrived in Tampa, Fla., for the Super Bowl, Billick announced that Ray Lewis' homicide trial in the spring of 2000 would not be retried in the national media because they weren't smart enough, and he wasn't going to allow it to happen.

The national media resented the speech, but it was funny. No other coach would have had the arrogance to pull it off.

The other great speech came after the 2000 AFC semifinals, in which the Ravens upset the Tennessee Titans. That's when Billick delivered the banshee speech. Until then, I didn't believe the Ravens had enough offense to win a Super Bowl. But after that speech, I felt like putting on shoulder pads and playing for Billick. So, if I felt that way, imagine how the Ravens felt.

There has always been this theory that the Ravens' defense was so good that the team would have won the Super Bowl without Billick, but that's wrong. He was the driving force that stirred the team.

Unfortunately for Billick, you can hide behind rhetoric and a dominating defense for only so long, especially in the NFL. In Baltimore, we never saw those skills that had made him an offensive guru in Minnesota.

Over the years, Billick and his offenses were inept despite numerous offensive coordinators. His record after nine years was impressive but still that of an underachieving coach whose teams likely should have been in one or two more AFC championship games because of their dominating defense.

The start of Billick's downfall began in 2003, when he drafted Boller in the first round, mortgaging away the future, and then had the audacity to start Boller while having a defense that still had enough juice to charge for another title or two.

Those championship years on defense were wasted, and Boller never lived up to Billick's expectations. Billick thinks that not developing a quarterback led to his dismissal, but there were players and assistant coaches who thought he stopped working hard after the Ravens gave him a lucrative contract after the 2006 season.

Those words got back to owner Steve Bisciotti and are still following Billick, which is why some believe he can't get rehired as a head coach in the NFL.

But somebody ought to take another chance on Billick. He's a smart man who'll learn from his first lesson as a head coach. He'll find someone to compensate for his weaknesses this time, and Billick can provide any team with a spark.

He's a good coach, and even a better man. Given the right situation, I'd bet on him.

Now, if he'd just send me a Christmas card.

Listen to Mike Preston from noon to 2 p.m. Mondays and Fridays on 105.7 FM.

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