Mistake-free Football? Not From Coach Billick On Color Commentary

Z ON TV

December 21, 2009|By DAVID ZURAWIK

As even a casual follower of the Ravens from the Brian Billick era knows, the coach never made a mistake. All you had to do was ask him, even when he built an offense one year around Elvis Grbac.

Well, let me point out a few of the mistakes made in the Fox broadcasting booth Sunday by Coach Billick, as his partner Thom Brennaman kept deferentially addressing him throughout the game.

In one of Billick's first bits of analysis, he referred to Ravens defensive back Domonique Foxworth as Domonique Foxworthy.

Foxworthy would be the comedian and author of "Jeff Foxworthy's Redneck Dictionary," Coach. Easy mistake to make, I guess.

Then, there was the time (with about 7:17 left in the first half) when the Ravens were backed up on their 1-yard line on second-and-9.

"I look for a play fake and shot down the field here," Billick said.

Wrong and wrong. Quarterback Joe Flacco handed off twice to runners who drove straight ahead.

There was also Billick's big pre-game prediction that the Ravens' offense was mainly going to be a "heavy dose of Ray Rice."

The powerful running back did have two solid runs at the start of the game, but the Ravens' four touchdowns were all on passes. And even Brennaman, who addresses Billick like he's the pope, raised the issue in the third quarter that we hadn't seen much of Rice since those first two runs.

Nitpicking? I don't think so. But maybe you do. So, let me tell you two major things wrong with Billick's performance as an analyst.

First, he is there to provide analysis and color commentary for the average fan, but there is absolutely nothing colorful about what he says. He is dry, tight and too often given to insider language.

For example, he explained one of Rice's strong runs early on by saying it is a "great job of down, down and kickout." Maybe Rice did a nice job of executing, but Coach did a lousy job of explaining it to all but former athletes or dedicated sports-talk geeks in the audience.

Think of John Madden and the kind of color he brought to his analysis. And he didn't use X's-and-O's-speak, and his partners didn't have to call him Coach every time they spoke to him.

My biggest problem with Billick, though, was that he was so noncritical of the Ravens - even in the first half when they were up by only one touchdown on a wretched Bears team.

After a missed field-goal try, for instance, he failed to mention the fact that the Ravens cut one of the great money kickers in pro football and kept a guy whom they have since released. And it looks like they made the mistake with Matt Stover in an effort to save a few bucks.

As close as Billick came to criticism of the Ravens was acknowledging that they missed a few tackles on a punt that the Bears ran back for a 49-yard touchdown. Visually, they were so obvious you could not ignore them.

Billick did note that "penalties have been an issue" for the Ravens. But describing the Ravens' maddening inability to cut down on innumerable penalties as an "issue" defines pulling a punch.

And Billick was so over-the-top in already writing the Ravens into the playoffs that Brennaman had to remind viewers it was not exactly a done deal.

Why does this matter? It matters because of reports that Billick is still being paid by the Ravens.

There is a potential conflict of interest in having someone who might be receiving money from a team providing commentary on a game involving that team - whether Fox Sports thinks it is a problem or not.

There were advantages, of course, to having the former Ravens coach do the game. He knew a lot about players such as Jarret Johnson, Todd Heap and Kelly Gregg, and was able to offer interesting details about their pasts. One was called "The Golden Retriever" coming out of college, while another was an Oklahoma state wrestling champ.

Nice trivia, but neither factoid would hardly rate as color commentary or inside analysis.

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