Bisciotti blinks and credibility sinks

December 31, 2007 | Drew Forrester

In the end, Steve Bisciotti blinked.

Oddly enough, though, he blinked while negotiating with…himself.

As far back as Thursday, November 16, 2007, word out of Owings Mills was that Brian Billick would be retained as the team’s Head Coach.  In fact, if you search the Ravens team web-site, you’ll see a blog from the team’s VP of Media Relations, Kevin Byrne, that attests to that very fact on or about 11/16/07.  Media members around the country questioned Byrne and the organization about Billick’s fate for the better part of six weeks and the answer was always the same, "Billick is coming back."  In fact, just LAST Thursday, December 27, Byrne added another entry on his Ravens.com blog that discussed Brian’s return.  Kevin, of course, was acting on behalf of Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome when he wrote that stuff…and the sources in Owings Mills who were supplying the "tips" to the media about Billick’s return were doing so with Bisciotti’s blessing.

And, today, Bisciotti even admitted to the media gathered at the team’s Owings Mills facility that he had, in fact, previously decided to bring Brian back for the 2008 campaign.

And now, Bisciotti says, he woke up Sunday morning and decided to change his mind.

Kevin Byrne is a 35-year executive in the NFL who is trusted by eveyone he comes in contact with.  Until today, that is.  With one decision, Steve Bisciotti has crushed all the hard work and dedication that Byrne has given to his craft.  The next time Byrne tells Peter King that something is or isn’t happening, is King going to believe him?  The same for Adam Schefter (NFL Network), Chris Mortensen (ESPN) and the various media members in Baltimore, me included, who went with the "Billick is returning" story.  Sad, sad, sad.  Kevin Byrne may be the BEST Media Relations guy in the league and today, much to his chagrin (he looked pale as a ghost at the press conference), his reputation has been blackened like a good piece of tuna at your favorite restaurant. 

Forget about the Ravens credibility with the Baltimore media.  Bisciotti now has credibility issues with his own organization.

In an inner-discussion negotiation that only HE was privy to, Steve Bisciotti listened to his other half on Sunday morning.  They say everyone has a "Self A" and a "Self B".  "Self A" is the logical, well thought-out side and "Self B" is the risk taker and the "what the hell?" side.  Bisciotti admitted it today by saying, "Sometimes you have to gamble."  His "Self B" won out.  He lost a negotiation with himself.

Or did he?

I now hear from various people in the organization that team President Dick Cass polled a number of non-playing support staff late last week at the facility with THIS question:  "What would the reaction be if Brian Billick gets fired?".  Wow.  How is the team’s Asst. Equipment Manager going to answer that one, I wonder?  (I can hear him now…"OK, if I tell Cass that firing Billick is a bad idea and they fire him anyway, am I out of a job?"  Maybe I’ll just say, "sounds like a plan" since they’re probably not asking me this unless they’re really thinking about doing it.")  Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported that Bisciotti and a team representative polled the PLAYERS.  False.  It was Cass alone who did the polling, but no players were consulted by Cass.  Instead, Cass gathered opinions from staffers and team support personnel.  One player told me this afternoon that a Team Chaplain was asked by Cass if he had any thoughts on Brian and his relationship with the players.  The Team Chaplain?  I mean, let’s be serious…God is important and all, but should the Team Chaplain be quizzed about the merits of the coach returning?  I’d say "no" to that one.

Evidently, there was a meeting last Thursday afternoon at the facility in which Ozzie, Brian and Bisciotti gathered to go over their plan-of-attack for the big "end of season" press conference that was originally scheduled for this Wednesday, January 2. 

So, let me get this all straight.  The Ravens started telling any media member willing to listen as early as November 16 that Brian Billick would return as the team’s coach in 2008.  Weeks of poor play continued…more stories circulated about a possible coaching change…and yet, the Ravens kept throwing out the same company line:  "Brian will return".  Last Thursday, the parties met to talk about what to say – and what not to say – to the media this Wednesday.  And late last week, the team’s President slithered around the facility and asked questions about Billick’s possible termination to "gauge the temperature"? 

Then, on Sunday morning, Bisciotti wakes up and decides to fire Billick and all of his coaching staff?  After he’s instructed his organization to pass the word that Billick is coming back? 

I don’t know about you, but this smells very Orange and Black’ish to me.  This one is straight from the O’s Handbook on How To Make a Bad Decision Overnight.

Now – let me say this, for what will probably be the 1st time out of 1,000.  If after meeting with all of his distinguished football people, Steve Bisciotti would have decided at season’s end to fire Brian Billick, I think that ouster would have had merit.  After all, the team has missed the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years and even though I wouldn’t have fired Billick in this case, I certainly could have understood if Bisciotti would have gathered everyone a week from now and delivered the news on Brian’s departure. 

But, by his own admission, Bisciotti woke up on Sunday morning and decided he was going to change the coach.

And every coach in the organization.

Mike Pettine?  Gone.  Chris Foerster.  Out.  Rex Ryan.  Thanks for everything.  Mark Carrier?  Take care.  

Are you kidding me?

What happened between Thursday and Saturday night that erased all of the thinking and logical application that Bisciotti had put into the 2008 Ravens season?

I’ll tell you.

In addition to the team President canvassing the guy who does the laundry and the water bucket filler-uppers, someone else finally caved in over the weekend.

Ozzie Newsome.

Yes, Bisciotti wasn’t the only one who blinked over the weekend.  So did Ozzie, evidently.

A staunch Billick supporter for – well, forever, actually – Newsome must have run out of energy for doing the right thing and finally threw in the towel and surrendered.  What a shame.  And today, predictably, he sort of half-stared his way through the whole press conference, only occasionally looking up to make eye contact with the media.  "Mumbles" – as I like to call him since he hardly ever says anything audible – talked about making a recommendation and agreeing with Steve and Dick Cass.

That’s funny, Oz.  When did you actually "make that recommendation"?  Saturday night?  Sunday morning?

You decided on a whim to alter the lives of every coach in your organization after all of this experience you’ve gathered working in the NFL?

I’m was dumb enough to believe the Ravens, obviously, about Billick’s return, but I’m not dumb enough to believe THAT one.

Dick Cass recommended that Brian Billick be fired. 

And Steve Bisciotti blinked.  And, overnight, after hearing from the janitor – through Cass – that Billick’s time was up, Bisciotti threw away his entire organization’s credibility and good word and canned the only coach he’s ever had.

Ozzie might have, in fact, given in to the concept, but you can bet he’s smarter than that. 

Every man has his price, though, right?

Where they go from here is anyone’s guess.  Ozzie mentioned that Rex Ryan will be interviewed for the job, but if you’re Rex, do you want to remain employed by an organization that just assured your boss his job was safe for the better part of six weeks only to bring him in and give him the boot after 48-hours of contemplation?

Brian Billick might have deserved to be terminated.  Had they done it the right way, the Ravens probably would have survived this turmoil with little or no collateral damage.

But doing it THIS way…waking up on a Sunday morning and deciding to go against everything you’ve already thought about and said? 

Somewhere tonight, members of the Orioles front office are laughing.

For the time being, there’s a new front office comedy for us all to giggle at…and it’s located at 1 Winning Drive in Owings Mills.

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