Can You Have a Change of Gut?

January 10, 2008 | Thyrl Nelson

I wonder what Steve Bisciotti’s gut is telling him now. Now, having had a little over a week to begin coping with the letdown of a 5-11 season, I wonder if Bisciotti is still confident that he did the right thing in dismissing Billick.
I am not going to sit here again and tell you why I believe that Billick deserved a chance to come back. I am also not going to pontificate on whether or not Bisciotti and the front office acted rationally or professionally in their handling of Billick’s dismissal. We’ve been down that road already, and frankly I think that everything that can be said on both sides of the argument already has been.
I am just wondering, having seen the early stages of this coaching search unfold, are we as confident that we’ll be able to find our “hall of fame” coach as we were last week? At that time, Bisciotti seemed to indicate that he was acting on privileged information from his “partners” throughout the league. He also seemed to indicate that he felt the Ravens job was one of the most appealing in football, and candidates would be anxious to get a chance.
First of all, maybe the job isn’t quite as sexy as Bisciotti seemed to think. Although the consensus among the fan base seems to be a need to rebuild, Bisciotti seemed to indicate that the team was ready to be a contender now, if healthy. And certainly the record of the outgoing coach gives you an idea of the expectations. The new coaches in Miami and Atlanta will certainly have an opportunity to rebuild their rosters before being expected to compete seriously, and the Redskins new coach will inherit a team that has made the playoffs in 2 of the last 3 seasons.
Three candidates have already declined to even interview, and Tony Sparano looks like he’ll be taking the job in Miami. This despite Sparano reportedly being illegally shown our biggest trump card, the complex in Owings Mills. Bill Cowher also seems to be resigned to waiting it out for another year (thank God for that, by the way), and the list of candidates who are being brought in is highly unexciting.
There’s Rex Ryan, who deserves to be a head coach, but just can’t succeed here. If discipline is a reflection of the coaching staff, than it’s the defense that probably needs a coaching overhaul more than anything. Plus, doesn’t the success of Marvin Lewis and Mike Nolan as defensive coordinators kind of cancel out Rex’s genius, or at least cast a bit of doubt on it?
I am already on the record regarding Marty Schottenheimer and his ultra conservative offense. If Billick has a vindictive bone in his body, he’s got to be secretly pulling for Marty to get the job. Compared to Schottenheimer’s offense Billick’s looks like “Air” Coryell. With Cam Cameron, who was reportedly verbally abused by Joey Porter in a tem meeting this year, already in tow, Schottenheimer would be everything you hated about Billick times 10.
Jim Caldwell and Jason Garrett both happen to coach offenses that boast much more talent than the Ravens have. Both would walk into a situation like Billick’s, where failure to implement the same offense here would be grounds for constant criticism. I always found it curious that defensive coaches like Tony Dungy and Marvin Lewis can still be considered successful, even though it was their offenses that carried them. Dungy and Lewis have actually fielded some of the worst defenses of the first few years of this century, until Dungy’s Colts came to life in last year’s playoffs.
Speaking of Marvin Lewis, it was suggested in the Sun today that the Ravens should give consideration to trading away some draft picks in order to be able to hire Marvin Lewis. This I suppose is instead of simply waiting another year or two for Lewis to be fired himself. In fact, if the Bengals weren’t already notorious for being overly frugal, there would probably be a lot more consideration given to firing Marvin now.
Despite having a career winning record of 42-38, Lewis actually has just one season above .500. He took over a team that had been horrible for years, but certainly inherited a wealth of offensive talent. I will give Lewis credit for inventing the sideline timeout to ice the kicker, which has been called “The Shanahan” in NFL network commercials. Otherwise though, Lewis’ head coaching career has been largely disappointing.
In 5 seasons in Cincinnati, Lewis has made the playoffs just once, and failed to win a single playoff game. Failure to win a playoff game since 2001 was one of the big knocks on Billick. Yet we should consider trading draft picks for a coach who hasn’t won one ever?
If taking control of the locker room back is a priority, than Lewis certainly doesn’t fit that mold either. In his 5 seasons in Cincinnati, Lewis’ players have made more trips to the lockup than they have to the Pro Bowl. And it’s been widely reported that Chad Johnson took a poke at Lewis in the locker room at halftime of the lone playoff game the Bengals have played in his tenure.
Again, I like Lewis as much as the next guy, but the idea of him fixing this locker room is laughable. Further, the suggestion that we give up draft picks to bring him in is not only ridiculous, but also a telling tale of the state of the head-coaching search. Considering that Lewis still has 3 years remaining on his current contract, Cincinnati might consider giving the Ravens a few draft picks to unburden them of Lewis’ services.
The scenario seems so outrageous that I can’t even believe I’ve given it this much thought. But, the fact that the Sun’s resident Ravens basher Mike Preston posed it as a good suggestion today means that it will be discussed. And hopefully dismissed too.
Speaking of Preston, he maybe more than anyone else, could be suffering from “be careful what you wish for syndrome” in the wake of Billick’s firing. Preston’s constant bashing of Billick over the years has been all at once predictable, entertaining and over the top. Since Billick’s departure, Preston seems to be suffering from a bit of writer’s block.
In addition to the ridiculous Marvin Lewis suggestion, Preston has written this week endorsing Marty Schottenheimer also, calling him among other things, “old school, a control freak and a divisive force among the coaching staff front office and players.” Actually Schottenheimer softened up substantially back in 2004, and might even be considered a players coach at this point. Other than imparting some on the field discipline, I don’t see that list of attributes as particularly positive in today’s NFL.
In an even more interesting blog this week, while singing the praises of Schottenheimer, Preston notes that “he may not have won the big one, but he gets there”. Really? He gets where? At 5-13 all time in the playoffs, Marty has been as far as the AFC title game 3 times and has some of the most memorable collapses in playoff history. Furthermore, he hasn’t won a playoff game since 1993 and is 64 years old.
It seems that Preston is probably a lot sorrier about the loss of his favorite convenient target than he ever thought he’d be. In his January 1st column, Preston opined that “Basically, Billick mortgaged years off the careers of such great defensive players as Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Adalius Thomas, Tony Weaver, Ed Reed and Chris McAlister to tutor Boller.” But you could easily substitute Billick for Lewis in that sentence and offensive players like Carson Palmer, Rudi Johnson, Chad Johnson, TJ Houshmandzadeh, and Willie Anderson.
He says also in that article that players like Ray Lewis turning his back to Billick in a meeting or calling out his play calling in the media led to the loss of control in the locker room, which I won’t dispute. But then endorses a coach who not only allowed Chad Johnson to get away taking a swipe at him during halftime of a playoff game, but also threatened to release whichever player was responsible for leaking the story to the media. He suggests we pony up to get a guy whose quarterback recently called out his coaching staff in the media.
The January 1st article is a hilarious read throughout, but 2 more points in particular made by Preston stand out. First is the idea that turning over play calling to an offensive coordinator would be “another indictment of Billick”, suggesting it would allow him to attend the first 20 minutes of practice and then take a nap. Surely Preston has to be aware that the practice of coordinators calling plays is the standard in the NFL and not the exception.
Preston also suggested that “…the Ravens had an extraordinary number of injuries this season, and when that happens, two things are revealed: It shows your team’s depth and whether your coach really has a strong knowledge of the game.”
Maybe Preston is salty, he might have had another year or two worth of columns pre written, bashing play calling, clock management, and camp creampuff. In firing Billick, the Ravens have taken away 90% of Preston’s material. When that happens two things are revealed: It shows the depth of your ability to find other subject matter and whether you really have a strong knowledge of the games. Perhaps Preston is indicting himself on both counts.
My guess is that he, like Ozzie, is hoping that whomever comes next is as easy of a target as Billick proved to be, otherwise the local press may need to open up the playbook a bit too.

BTW: Does Billick belong in the Ravens “Ring of Honor” or not? I say yes, but want to know what you think. Please don’t use Ernest Byner to justify your argument either way. I don’t think many of us believe that he belongs there.