What I really think about the Ravens job search and John Harbaugh…

January 19, 2008 | Nestor Aparicio

I’ve written lots of critical stuff over the past three weeks – all of it well-founded, well-sourced and honest about the Ravens’ coaching search. As much as some of the “traditional media” loves to portend that I’m some knucklehead, I’m VERY much a John Steadman-trained journalist at heart and I’m very heartened and flattered by the universal praise WNST’s coverage of the “Coachingate” saga has received.

The WNSTeam rocked the coverage and I owe Casey, Drew, Ray, Adam, Rob and Bob a big “shout out” because I’ve never been prouder of our work as a radio station and a news source. My guys and gals just bust their ass here! I know we have the best people in town! Write and tell THEM that!

I’ll warn you: this is long. I have a lot to say, I’ve been up late thinking some deep thoughts and you can consider this my “shoot” blog.

This is what I REALLY think!

Unabridged…

Much of what I’ve written over the past three weeks has centered around criticism of Steve Bisciotti and his handling of the firing of Brian Billick and the process the job search entailed.

I have seen some people on our message boards and blogs refer to tonight as a “time for the Purple Nation to come together and heal.”

In the spirit of that, we will! (Kinda like we’ll have to in November, whatever the outcome or your political persuasion…we’re all in this “Ravens thing” together kinda like being Americans together!)

But before we do – and we do have about eights months where John Harbaugh’s “on the field” record will remain unblemished – in a way that would make Mark McGwire blush, we WILL talk about the past.

But only here today, because after the press conference at noon on Saturday, it’ll be one mission: to be going to Tampa for the Super Bowl 52 weeks and two days from now.

Honestly, I don’t see that as a very realistic possibility given the state of the 2008 Ravens, and all of the reasons that were listed in previous blogs earlier this week: no QB, aging team, bad cap situation, questionable chemistry and character, rookie coach, too many questions all over the field. This is all of the crap that makes guys like Josh McDaniels, Rob Chudzinski, Kirk Ferentz, and Jason Garrett not wanna take this job.

I sincerely hope that these past three weeks are blip on the purple radar. I hope that 12 months from now – the only real time to begin ANY judgment on ANY of this in my opinion – we’re talking about Harbaugh having a good first year on the job. A playoff year or one where we battle until New Year’s Day. I want a season with some cheers and some fun and laughter.

Everyone I know wants that.

But since the morning of Dec. 31 at around 9 a.m., the franchise has been treading on some very, very shaky ground. And I stand behind everything I’ve written and said. The Ravens have resembled the other dirty Birds across the parking lot one too many times so far in 2008. That’s just the way I feel, and the Jason Garrett fiasco will always be a future drama that will unfold as the “road never taken.”

Marty Schottenheimer? Bill Cowher? (and how about that ludicrous mystery “golf date” at Caves Valley? How do you people make this manure up?) Kirk Ferentz was dying to come to Baltimore? A reunited Marvin Lewis? A first-time, team-elected choice in Rex Ryan?

We’ll know as much about these guys running the Ravens as we will about President Gore’s tenure.

We’ll just never know…

I thought Steve Bisciotti was wrong 19 days ago – and I’ll stand by that and perhaps eat my words – but one day you might, too.

You know the day that it would be proven that he was right or wrong?

The day John Harbaugh is fired or whenever he leaves or Bisciotti gives up on him. It’s inevitable, you know? And his chances of winning the Super Bowl are miniscule, really. The odds are 3% — or compounded – 12% over the four years of his contract. Less than 20% if he stays for six years!

Bisciotti has bet the house that he’s going to come out of this smelling like roses, because John Harbaugh would have to win TWO Super Bowls to top Billick. That’s a very, very heady proposition. That’s, literally, the “Hall of Fame” coach.

After having 18 days to consider this, here is my official position: Steve Bisciotti made a major mistake in firing Brian Billick.

Now let me qualify that:

I think John Harbaugh will be a fine coach, and literally EVERY reference and resource I have — and I have them at all corners of the league from management to coaches to players to broadcasters and former players — says that Harbaugh is a rock star of a guy. Most people I talked to actually couldn’t FATHOM how they could have possibly wanted Jason Garrett over him.

Now that the process is over, I’ll come clean: I root VERY hard for the people I like. And I DEFINITELY had some dawgs in this hunt. Not publicly, but privately. Some of these guys are some of the best people I’ve ever met in any walk of life.

And very selfishly, I wanted them to be the head coach of the Ravens.

I love Jim Schwartz and I want him to be a head coach. And everyone should know that. I’d have hired him in a heartbeat – a nanosecond! But I figured campaigning in my blog would only serve to hurt his chances. I know how badly – deep down – he’d love to come home and win a championship for Baltimore. I didn’t want to do anything to hurt him, so I abstained from the “BRING JIM HOME” campaign. Honestly, it would’ve only crushed any chance he had. But if I even THOUGHT I could’ve affected policy, I would’ve begun the campaign.

Arbutus could become the new Aberdeen if Schwartz became a “Hall of Fame” coach!

Hell, if I owned the Ravens, we’d be kicking off to Judas Priest’s “Living After Midnight” and we’d keep Chris McAlister on the team just to LISTEN TO IT!!! (I’d be a helluva owner, huh? I’d make Mark Cuban look sane!)

When the Garrett thing broke down on Tuesday, I’d have been on the phone to Cincinnati with Mike Brown and at least INQUIRED about Marvin Lewis’ availability. I have a VERY hard time believing that Lewis was unattainable, and I think he’d have been the biggest “compromise” sell if you wanted to meet the players somewhere near halfway. And Rex Ryan as defensive coordinator might’ve been a bit easier sell with that, because he would’ve known the team was serious about getting a known commodity.  No one loves Baltimore (and dare I say, “The Ravens Way”) more than Marvin Lewis. No one!

I would have had no qualms about hiring Rex Ryan except for one little detail: the players liked him too much and the players are the biggest part of the problem, in my opinion.

All of their flaws, personality issues, ego issues and penalties and misdemeanors got blamed on the deposed head coach. Rex has to shoulder at least SOME of that blame. And I always feel that the players are truly to blame for the losses, not the coaches.

I think Rex is going to be a really good head coach somewhere, and I think the ugly 2008 season rubbed off on him in the process of the coaching search. It’s really a shame the way this has played out for Ryan, as well as Billick. It’s rich with irony that the PLAYERS actually DID Ryan IN, in the end!

Some people asked or wrote with the same question: “Who would you interview?”

I would’ve absolutely interviewed: Steve Mariucci, Dave McGinnis, Mike Smith, Steve Spagnuolo, Jim Mora Jr., Tim Lewis and anyone Ron Jaworski told me to interview.

Now, some of these guys above I know a little bit, some I don’t. But I always like what I see and hear when I’ve been around them, heard them speak or watched them work.

I can tell you this: there are a LOTTA, LOTTA great men in the NFL coaching circles. I’ve been doing this for almost a quarter of a century, chasing coaches, athletes and sports people and I’d take most of the WORST football people over the BEST baseball people any day.

There are some super, super people at this level in NFL. As fans, you really need to know that.

These are guys who are very smart, self-effacing amidst the fame and B.S. and at heart they are TEACHERS. For many of them, the world is a place to teach and, then, concurrently to LEARN. I’m grateful for all that they’ve taught me about people and sports and life through the years. I use their knowledge and wisdom every day in lots of stuff that I do.

I happen to know a handful of them and I’d hire ANY of them. Mike Nolan? Jack Del Rio? HIRED!

Jon Gruden? Jeff Fisher? Dick Vermeil? I’d hire ANY of them and take my chances. And I don’t even know any of them. I’ve been in a room with Gruden a dozen times and I’m always too intimidated to even talk to him (How weird is that? I just LOVE watching Gruden work the sidelines and watching his interviews. He’s my favorite coach, hands down!)

But if I did a LOT of homework and called around a lot — maybe, just maybe — John Harbaugh would’ve been my coach. He’s a guy I’ve never spoken to, but I know his brother, I know about a dozen people who know him pretty well and he’s a serious dude with a stellar reputation.

A “lifer” coach with every requisite collegiate and pro stop you’d wanna see and a trail of success a mile long behind him. His brother was a helluva NFL quarterback and really super person. Jim Harbaugh was one of the Top 10 coolest Ravens of all time, in my opinion.

Harbaugh’s dad was a lifer coach and is still in athletics. at Marquette. He’s a coach’s kid. (By the way, Brian Billick ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS said the best football coaches and players were coach’s kids!)

And from what I hear, he’s TWICE the person that he is the football coach. I could say that about a lot of the guys named above.

Like all of the other “friends” I have in the coaching fraternity, I will give John Harbaugh more than just a “fair” chance: I’ll become his biggest fan starting at noon today.

But, I think John Harbaugh could be a “great” NFL coach in Baltimore and not win a championship. (Hell, Marty Schottenheimer didn’t win a championship and he won 200 games and only had two seasons under .500!)

Come noon, you will not FIND a bigger John Harbaugh guy than me. I love the Ravens. I hate everyone else. (Ask Schwartz or Marvin – they’ll tell ya!)

But I think the franchise took a very dangerous turn by firing Brian Billick and firing him in the manner Bisciotti and Dick Cass did. Only time will tell if it was the right move. And Bisciotti has a long history in business of “finding the right man.”

We’ll see…but at least I’m not wishy washy on my beliefs, circa January 2008.

I hope to God this all works out for the best. But I’m skeptical.

Right now, the scoreboard is clear:

Players 1, Steve Bisciotti 0

Let’s see what happens with Rex Ryan. Will they bring him in and “fix it” with him, or will they let him sail. (My sources say that the possibilities for him staying are “very real.”)

If he stays – for better or worse – the score becomes: Players 2, Steve Bisciotti 0.

I have no idea what the team plans on doing to police or “sheriff up” the roster of its whiners, complainers, overpaid guys, aging vets, malcontents and those who can’t follow the rules. Instead of “firing” them, Bisciotti through his firing of Billick, indicated that Billick was the biggest part of the problem.

I don’t believe that to be true.

John Harbaugh knows there’s still a problem. Ozzie Newsome knows there’s a problem. Steve Bisciotti knows it. They all do. Everyone in the NFL knows it.

Now, what are they going to do about it? They must think John Harbaugh has some “magic” that Brian Billick didn’t possess.

And in his nine years of head coaching experience in every crisis management and on & off the field circumstance you could possibly imagine from:

A.    Taking over a moribund franchise and changing the culture and setting the bar so high he couldn’t live up to his own legend and standards
B.    Defending his Hall of Fame players’ double-murder charge repeatedly (only to have Ray Lewis ultimately bare a large part of the responsibility for his ultimate firing)
C.    Winning a Super Bowl with 53 VERY “free-spirited” personalities
D.    Going through a complete “reshuffle” in 2002
E.    Winning the division at 13-3 a year after a meltdown
F.    And fill in your quarterback controversy, player holdout, T.O. drama, etc. of choice here

…needless to say, this team has been through a HELLUVA lot of twists and turns since Billick came to town.

Billick’s judgment was FAR from perfect: the offense, clock management, Kyle Boller, getting rid of Dilfer — in the end, the BAD stuff is what “stuck” to him and his reputation.

BUT…I believe Billick knew what the hell was doing no matter what some idiot phone caller or message board commenter would think.

He’s an honorable, dignified, decent and intelligent man who has never, ever wavered on his love of Baltimore and the Ravens and defended it to the bitter end.  (And I’d be shocked if he publicly slings an ounce of mud, once he comes out of the basement in the coming days and weeks!)

And he’s as good of a C.E.O. of football as I’d hope to ever see. He didn’t just suddenly get stupid a year after he took the healthy, younger, happier version of the team to 13-3. He had five things in 2006 that he didn’t have in 2007 — a healthy quarterback, a healthy right tackle, a healthy pass rusher and two healthy cornerbacks.

Other than that — and a first place schedule with a roster full of injured, aging, malcontents — everything was just perfect for the 2007 Ravens.

I’m a Brian Billick guy and will be for life. And as much as there were a lot of names and potential candidates for the job, Billick has something NONE of them has: a Super Bowl ring.

And if you think that’s an accident or you want to give all of the credit elsewhere, you’re just stupid. I don’t know what else to tell you. You’re just dumb, and you have a bad memory of what Ravens football was like before he got here. I was there from the beginning and I remember “Teddy Ball” VERY well. And if you ask anyone on the inside what it was like the day after Brian Billick came to Baltimore, they’d all say the same exact thing: “Night and Day.”

Brian Billick FIXED the Baltimore Ravens and EVERY great thing they’ve EVER done he’s presided over. Just think about it! And he presided over the failures, too, and never shirked the responsibility or placed blame on others.

He treated them all “like men.” If you wanna know the truth, I can’t say that all of the players did him the same service.

If Steve Bisciotti thinks Harbaugh can “fix them” better than Billick, then I think that’s quite ambitious given their propensity to lack respect for any authority outside of Rex Ryan.

But one last time (and I promise to let it rest for the most part):

Instead of listening to what my “gut” would’ve told me – after nine years of knowing the character and resolve and integrity of Brian Billick in every circumstance, good and bad – I would’ve gutted the team instead.

Because I think for the franchise to win, they’re going to need to do that anyway – do away with the baggage and the nonsense and the loudmouther underachievers.

And I could’ve saved Bisciotti millions on Billick deal. And I would’ve empowered Brian Billick and the position of “head coach of the Baltimore Ravens” once again. But we’ll never know how that book would’ve turned out.

At the rate they’re going, they’re going to waste the money on the field in 2008 instead of off of it when they cut these guys.

Chris McAlister was already popping off this week. So was Terrell Suggs (and that’s the second time in 10 days!). Ray Lewis’ radio show is on hiatus but he’s bound to have something to say in Phoenix in two weeks. And on and on. Let’s see where John Harbaugh stands on the some of the issues with the malcontents.

And let’s see what happens if Bisciotti can’t come to terms with Rex Ryan.

What’ll happen THEN with the players and their microphones!?

If they don’t win over the next two years, it won’t really have mattered. That’s all the tread – at best – some of these guys have left on them. And several coaches who “passed” on the job of being Baltimore’s spiritual leader, saw it this way for sure.

It’s a “win now” league. And Steve Bisciotti believes that.

My firm belief is that impatience is not the way to build championships, longevity and solid stock. And firing a very qualified, decorated, competent and loyal leader – and in the fashion it was done – was the wrong move.

I have a “gut” feeling Bisciotti might learn that the hard way. Plenty of business geniuses have failed in the sports business. Shoot, 31 of them finish “last” every year.

It will take years to find out but the foundation will be laid this offseason and when a new course is plotted. It will begin with the assistant coaches this week and then free agency and the draft, but ultimately the players that are on the roster will have to step up in the short term to make this “smell good” over the next 24 months.

I don’t like the odds. And I don’t like at ALL the way Ozzie Newsome’s expertise has been eschewed through much of this process. Of all of the people in the building, Ozzie is the real genius.  And he’s been given “village idiot” status to Dick Cass and that’s unfortunate.

And if Bisciotti’s truly impatient, Harbaugh might be a short-lived coach unless he really is a “miracle” worker.

Once again, I really hope I’m wrong. It would really suck if the Ravens were ANYTHING like the Orioles.

I hope one day we can mention John Harbaugh in the same breath as Brian Billick as a head coach.

That would be VERY high praise in my opinion.

And it’s praise I’d love to one day sing.

Welcome to Baltimore, John Harbaugh!

I hope you’re half as good as the last guy.

But that’s a TALL task.

You’ll see what I mean…

They ALL will…

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