Give the Man his due

September 09, 2009 |

On the eve of another football season starting, and with expectations for our Baltimore Ravens running higher then normal, there is something that I need to say with regards to our football team. Most sports broadcasts are doing their year preview and most all are predicting success for the purple birds. It is pointless to argue with “the expert’s” prognostication, because as a wise man once said, opinions are like a–holes; everybody has one. However, what bothers me is the introduction given to the Raven’s segment. Most begin by mentioning new coach John Harbaugh and what a fine rookie year he had. This is followed by some type of back handed comment deriding the previous coaching staff.

I need to be clear here. I think John Harbaugh is a very good coach and looks like he will have a long career here as Raven’s head coach. I understand why the decision was made to change coaches after the 2007 season. But what angers me is the local media’s propensity for taking cheap shots at former coach Brian Billick. I think it is pretty evident that coach Billick did not endear himself to the local media here. In fact, at times he was pretty combative with them. Mike Preston, conjuring up the ghost of Stan “the fan” past, drove the bus to get him out of town, and more then a year later cannot resist still taking shots.

Coach Billick was brash, brazen, cocky, and arrogant; he was also exactly the right coach for the Baltimore Ravens. He was what this town and this football team needed. Let’s go back and revisit the Brian Billick hiring. The Ravens came into existence in 1996. Due to Art Modell’s long standing financial problems in Cleveland, the team had to relocate. The financial problems were not immediately solved by the move. Let’s be fair to say that the team sustained life by operating in the red and cutting corners when needed.

Baltimore was thrilled to have football back and in an effort to bridge the past with the future Ted Marchibroda was hired to run the team. Ted Marchibroda is a fine man and had a great career as a football coach, but by the time he was recycled in Baltimore, his best days had passed him by. It is not fair to lay the mediocre to poor play by the early Ravens solely at the feet of Ted Marchibroda. The fact is circumstances conspired against Ted Marchibroda’s success. By nature and circumstance he was was forced to be a reactive instead of a proactive leader.

By 1999 a change was needed. The Ravens had reduced their coaching search to Chris Palmer and Brian Billick. Let’s think about that one a second. I think it is safe to say they made the right choice. Chris Palmer became an also ran NFL coach and Brian Billick became a Super Bowl winning coach. From the beginning Coach Billick, along with Ozzie Newsome and the other front office staff set about changing the Ravens from laughing stock to first class organization.

The first 3 years under Marchibroda, the team went 16-31-1 for a winning percentage of .333. In Brian Billick’s 9 years the team went 80-64 for a winning percentage of .556. The team was 5-3 in 4 playoff appearances, won 2 AFC north titles and, of course, a Super Bowl title. Brian Billick will not be remembered as a brilliant strategist, but rather as an incredibly prepared, intensely focused leader. His critics will site some of his outlandish comments, his combativeness with the press and his inability to produce a potent offense despite his resume as an offensive coach as reasons for his ultimate downfall. But the bottom line is as a season ticket holder, when I walked into the purple palace to watch the Brian Billick led Ravens I always thought they had a chance to win every game they played. There are very few coaches or organizations that your can say that about. He was one of the cornerstones that turned a “rag-a-muffin” franchise into a highly successful NFL franchise.

In my lifetime, let’s say from 1970 on, Brian Billick is the 2nd most important professional coach/manager that this town has ever seen. Only Earl Weaver meant more to his team. Give the man the credit he is due, embrace what he meant to this town and to our football team and stop treating his tenure like some sort of punch line. While we’re at it, put his name up in the Ring of Honor at M&T Bank Stadium.

Now that I have got that off my chest…let’s go Ravens, kick some butt.