Players to Bisciotti: ‘Billick has lost locker room, can’t get it back’.

December 31, 2007 | Thyrl Nelson

I am still firmly in the camp that would like Brian Billick to return, and until this evening I was of the belief that he would. That was until I was “The OT”, Fox’s post game show on Sunday. On the show, Jay Glazer was being asked about the futures of several NFL coaches. When Billick’s name came up, Glazer reported that Steve Bisciotti and another team executive went around to each player in the locker room this week, and asked them whether Brian Billick had lost them, and also whether or not he could get them back. He went on to say that the consensus was that he had lost them, and that he couldn’t get them back. To me, that sounds like the end.
There will be many who will be pleased with this development; the Billick bashers have certainly become the vocal majority again. Even an apologist like me has a tough time arguing for Billick at this point. I will say this however, “Be careful what you wish for”. As the saying goes, “you just might get it”.
If Billick has truly lost the team, there are few options. You either fire the coach, or draw the line in the sand, and remove the dissidents from the locker room. Most franchises in professional sports opt for the former; it’s certainly an easier answer. But is it a better answer?
If this is the end of the road for Billick here, it’s tough to feel sorry for him. He’s still owed a boatload of cash. He could retire and do whatever he wants for the rest of his life. He could have a career in TV for sure. If Bill Cowher is able to pull an analyst gig then Billick could easily have a future in the studio. Or he could sit back and wait for an offer that he can’t refuse; he’ll certainly have other opportunities if he wants them.
I have often said that Billick is exactly the kind of guy that I’d like to work for, loyal to a fault and he keeps his business in house. Billick played the media like a violin during Superbowl week, and has been squarely between their crosshairs ever since. I am not saying that there is a conspiracy at work here, just that in trying to shield Ray Lewis from the media in Tampa, Billick created an arrogant persona with the media that has never gone away, and that I think he has used largely to his advantage.
The coach has always been a lightning rod for criticism, and in doing so has mostly shielded his players from having to be publicly accountable for anything. He did his best to shield Ray Lewis from accountability for what happened in Atlanta, he refused to scapegoat Tony Banks in 2000, waiting far to long to go with Dilfer in the minds of most, he refused to point fingers at Matt Cavanaugh or Jim Fassel until he was basically forced to do so. And all the while, the anti-Billick camp grew larger and larger.
Sadly, I do think that he’s lost the team. We started to see it early in the season, when Ray Lewis called him out on his radio show. It surfaced again against New England when the defense was demonstratively yelling at the coach for a timeout that he didn’t actually call. Did you happen to notice the non-reaction by Billick to the rant? He could have pointed down the sideline to Rex. Did you also notice how the players never said a word after the game, when they found out it was Rex?
The non-effort put out by the defense against the Colts was more evidence that the team had been lost. Billick’s need to scream at his rookie QB’s questioning of his decision to go for a field goal in Miami is perhaps even more evidence. Even in the win against Pittsburgh there was evidence that Billick has lost control of this team. After Cedric Wilson’s TD catch in the fourth quarter, several players stood stationary, making motions for the sidelines to throw a flag, instead of playing the down. They were wrong by the way.
Players play and coaches coach, but around here it seems that everyone is trying to coach, from the fans to the media to the players. Unfortunately nobody is playing, and now they have been offered a scapegoat. If this is the end of the Billick regime, that’s exactly what he’ll be. But as Drew likes to say, the blame is like a pie, and there are plenty of slices to go around. Let’s hope that if Billick is made to eat his slice, he’ll finally serve it up to a few others too.
Steve Bisciotti can take the first slice. According to Wikipedia he was voted as the league’s coolest owner by NFL fans. Far be it from me to question Bisciotti’s business acumen. I could probably make a very good living using what he has forgotten about business. With that said, it’s no more ridiculous for me to criticize his business savvy than it is for the average fan to question an NFL coach’s play calling, so here goes.
First, it’s worth noting at least that Bisciotti made his fortune on a staffing firm, and therefore may be limited when it comes to managing a workforce over the long haul. I for one found it ridiculous that Bisciotti paraded Billick out for a public browbeating after 2005. While every employee deserves a fair and honest evaluation of their performance, none should be forced to have that evaluation made public. Beyond that, little was said except that Bisciotti had mandated changes and Billick would adhere to them, and that Bisciotti felt Billick needed to be more personable to the media.
I will never forget that press conference, what a joke. I remember thinking that everything about this was contrary to the way that Billick handled his own subordinates. I couldn’t believe that he just sat there and accepted it. A big part of me believed that he was coming back in 2006 just to prove a point, and that at the end of the season he’d walk away. It seemed like a good play, his stock would have been very high. I thought he’d stand up and tell Bisciotti that he won, doing it his way, and elected to move on now. That would have been sweet revenge. If Billick is fired and still paid out his remaining salary, his revenge could be even sweeter.
If what Glazer reported about Bisciotti questioning the players is true, than he offered them a scapegoat. You do remember the 2007 Orioles don’t you? After a halfhearted approach to the beginning of their season, the players were offered a scapegoat. They responded by winning for the new manager, thereby validating the feeling that it could all be blamed on Perlozzo. It was soon discovered that a new leader couldn’t give a team character if they didn’t have it to begin with. The Ravens may find that out too.
Ozzie Newsome should step up and get his slice too. Ozzie has thrown some massive egos into that locker room during Billick’s tenure. Guys like Shannon Sharpe, Orlando Brown, Deion Sanders, and of course Ray Lewis perhaps the game’s biggest personality, just to name a few. I believe that Billick has largely been able to keep control of a locker room that would have eaten most coaches alive. Don’t forget that he tried to put TO into that mix too. Don’t forget too, that TO largely blamed offhanded comments by Ozzie as one of the biggest reasons for not wanting to come to Baltimore.
Teflon Oz seems to get all of the credit for drafting. And with first rounders like Lewis, Jon Ogden, Peter Boulware, Chris McAllister, Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata he deserves it. But Ozzie seems to get a big pass when it comes to early round busts like Travis Taylor, DeRon Jenkins, Jay Graham, Patrick Johnson, Chris Redman, Dwan Edwards, Devard Darling and Dan Cody. For every Shannon Sharpe or Trent Dilfer that he grabbed through free agency, there’s a Bam Morris or Eric Green, or Leon Searcy.
Billick shoulders the blame for some of Ozzie’s misses, like Grbac and Boller and Rabach. But gets none of the credit for making successes out of guys like Kelly Gregg or Will Demps or Dawan Landry. Ozzie gets all of the credit for letting free agents go at the perfect time, but little consideration is given to the possibility that Billick’s system had something to do with their success.
Ozzie gets credit for building a Superbowl winner, but shoulders no blame that he had to turn over basically the whole team 2 years later. Billick however doesn’t get the credit he deserves for digging Ozzie out so quickly by getting the most of the young team he was given in 2002.
It’s also worth noting that as the guy who fired Bill Bellichick, traded the picks that amounted to Asante Samuel and Vince Wilfork to acquire Kyle Boller, and allowed Adalius Thomas to walk in free agency, Ozzie deserves a lot of credit for New England’s perfect regular season too.
Ray Lewis can take his piece of the pie too. In addition to the smoke screen that Billick tried to create for Ray Lewis in Tampa, there are some who believe that Billick helped shield Ray from the media by allowing him to quit on the team in 2005 with a phantom injury. Glenn Clark reported that as fact on WNST this weekend. So how does Ray return the favor? He railroads his coach and the offense on his radio show in mid season.
First of all, I find that Ray’s public rant against his coach, after calling Adalius Thomas a coward for airing their laundry in the media to be ridiculous and hypocritical. Furthermore, as possibly the most polarizing leader in the history of locker rooms, Ray simply should have known better. By stepping up and drawing that line, Ray made it acceptable for others to cross it. Clearly they have. Ray’s leadership goes far beyond the field. With one year left on his contract, Ray may be pursuing his own agenda at this point anyway and likely won’t be around to deal with the fallout.
The fans and media can step up and get a slice too. Fans too willing to look for and accept the easy answer. Fans who have allowed the media to drive their opinions and fans who believe that the Superbowl is their birthright and that the failure to win it has to be blamed on someone. The media, who allowed themselves to be put off by Billick’s arrogance and lost their impartial viewpoint, The media, who are afraid to take Ray Lewis or Ozzie Newsome to task for whatever reason, and who through the use of “moles” on the coaching staff practically sabotaged the 2005 season. The same fans and media who hand out blame far more readily than credit, and who will fade into anonymity if this railroad campaign ends like that of Eddie Murray.
Camp Cupcake, and whoever coined that term will probably get a slice. I think it’s probably fallout from 2001 that led to what some will call a soft training camp. When Billick bashers unite, play calling and camp cupcake seem to be their biggest points of contention.
Someone recently responded to a blog that I wrote by stating that my defense for Billick was more like a comfort with the devil I know as opposed to the devil that I don’t. That probably sums it up better than anything else that I could say. The devil I know, has won a Superbowl. He has seen 3 of his assistants promoted to head coaches in his short tenure. He took a team that had never been respectable and turned them into champions in 2 years. He kept the bar higher than it should have been by overachieving more often than not between 2000 and 2004. The devil that I know also has more first and second year players playing this year than any contender could and might have won a few games that he shouldn’t have if we can look objectively at it. He also had to fire his best friend last year, and in doing so led a healthy offense to an overachieving and respectable season. And he will probably have an opportunity to prove what a mistake getting rid of him was very shortly.
If this is the end of his tenure here, at least he leaves a winner. Hindsight will make us realize that no one could have gotten the Ravens to the playoffs under the circumstances that faced the team this year. In fact, hindsight already says that by the time the Ravens had lost to Buffalo in week 7, Indy, New England, Green Bay and Dallas had all established themselves as out of Baltimore’s league. Therefore, tanking it from there would only help our draft fortunes in a season where a championship was out of the question anyway.
As a Ravens fan, I want what’s best for the team, and if Billick is out, I hope we find the next Lombardi to replace him. I doubt we will though. If I were a cynic, I’d hope the players got their wish, and the new coach was a drill sergeant like Bellichick, Parcells or Coughlin. If the player’s coach has lost the locker room, it’s time for a disciplinarian I’d say. I’d also hope that the media gets a dick. No more over the top sound bites and open access. In giving the media what they want, I’d hope it’d make their jobs harder.
What we all really want is a winner, again I can’t feel too sorry for Billick, and won’t feel sorry for the players if they get a drill sergeant who turns them into winners. If the new coach gets a good draft class and has a healthy team next season, he’ll be set up better for success than Billick was this year. Hopefully he’ll be able to deliver. I’m afraid however, that when this change happens, it will unmask much bigger organizational deficiencies and dysfunction than any of us may be prepared to face. Lots of changes may be necessary before the Ravens see a 10-year run like the one they’ve been on.
It looks like the devil we know is done, are we sure we’re ready for the devil we don’t?