Ravens on a Slippery Slope

January 01, 2008 | Ed Frankovic

After the Brian Billick firing yesterday it is now clear who is running the Ravens: mostly Dick Cass with some of the players, to an extent! In my experience with pro sports teams anytime a non-sports knowledgeable person and the inmates are running the show you have a VERY dangerous situation that usually leads to bad things. Thus Ravens fans should definitely be on HIGH alert now because the non-football people are taking over this organization unlike the way things have been run in the past.

Some might say that Ozzie Newsome was heavily involved in this decision or that Ozzie should be fired along with Billick but clearly this move was totally made by Steve Bisciotti and Dick Cass and Ozzie had no choice but to go along with it or lose his job as well. After all, Billick and Newsome had a process that worked (80-64 overall, 4 playoff appearances, one Super Bowl title) so to think that Ozzie is the one who orchestrated this firing is ridiculous. Nope, this was all Cass and Bisciotti, and the fact that Cass went around and canvassed employees was absolutely absurd (you can read more about that in Drew and Nestor’s blogs). Also, Bisciotti made the fatal mistake early on in his ownership of trying to be too buddy-buddy with the players showing up at their foundation events and taking them to Maryland basketball games. These types of activities undermine the authority of the head coach and allow the players to think that they have control of the situation.

As for the players themselves, specifically guys like Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden, letting them run the team when their football time is almost up is ridiculous. Lewis should be ashamed of himself for how he has handled things but this is typical Ray, never take ownership of the situation when things are bad but be right out in front when things are good and take credit. It is also clear he got in the other players ears as evidenced by the quote from defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in the Sun today that questioned the play calling. Since when does a 2nd year defensive lineman know anything about calling offensive plays?

Could Billick have called some different plays this year that won a few more games? Possibly yes, but then again had Matt Stover made that OT FG in Miami or Todd Heap not mistakenly been called for pass interference in Cincinnati or the Ravens defense stopped New England at the end of that game or the Ravens special teams/defense prevented Cleveland from getting into FG range at the end of regulation the team could have easily been 9-7, right? None of those specific four scenarios above involved a bad play call so to put this all on Brian is ludicrous.

The Ravens went 13-3 last year and Bisciotti gave Billick a HUGE contract extension after running him through the ringer the year before. Billick and the coaches didn’t become idiots overnight so why the about face by Bisciotti? Is Cass worried about what the fans and media are saying about the team? Is he worried that ticket holders and sponsors won’t continue to buy tickets and ads with Billick at the helm? Was there a dust up between Billick and Cass or Billick and Bisciotti?  Something is just not adding up here.

In my mind, Bisciotti absolutely missed the no-brainer decision he had in front of him this off-season:  Keep Billick but have him bring in a new offensive coordinator and have Brian go back to being head coach. If Brian went and failed next year then he was clearly out of options and Billick would be done at that point and the contract extension issue would be moot. Firing Billick now makes Bisciotti look totally stupid for giving Brian that extension in January.

Last season Billick took over the play calling when the team was 4-2 and it worked as evidenced by the fact that the team finished 13-3. But last year they had a healthy veteran QB in Steve McNair so it was likely much easier to do both jobs. This year, when McNair went down it was clear that Billick could not do both the head coaching and offensive coordinator jobs but Billick was willing to give up the coordinator role. So why not take him up on it and let him come back next year and see what could be done?

Doing two jobs with the injuries the team had was clearly too much to overcome, perhaps that is why he supposedly “lost” the locker room? (By the way, Mike Preston once again really showed us his lack of football knowledge with that “show up for 20 minutes and go take a nap” line in his article today. Last time I checked Bill Belichek isn’t coaching the offense or defense on New England as do at least 25 other coaches in the NFL and they seem pretty overworked with the head coaching job alone. They have head coaches, offensive, and defensive coordinators for a reason: it is too hard to do both jobs!).

There are at least $5 million plus reasons why bringing back Billick for at least one more year should have been the course of action this management team chose. This is what makes me the angriest about the situation. Guess who is going to pay for two head coaches and their staffs now? Not Bisciotti – the fans! Bisciotti and Cass are businessmen so the cost for Bisciotti’s mistake is now going to be passed on to the season ticket holders, the advertisers, people who buy merchandise, etc. You give the head coach a three-year big $ extension, turn around and fire him a year later, and then your next step is likely finding a way to charge the fans for that cost. The 2009 ticket increase is likely to be an average of $10 a ticket (70,000 x $10 = $7M). And who knows what food and drinks or Ravens gear will cost next year?

Sure Billick has only made the playoffs 1 of the last 4 years but Bill Cowher had three straight non-playoff seasons in years 7, 8, and 9 of his tenure (two of them with losing records) before coming back strong in years 10-14. Didn’t Bisciotti say two years ago that he wanted to follow the model the Steelers, Broncos, and Titans all are using by keeping their head coach around for the long haul? What changed all of that thinking? I still haven’t gotten any answers from what I heard at yesterday’s press conference. Perhaps Steve or Dick Cass could address it?

In addition, Cass has this all set up perfectly now. Newsome is now in charge of the new coaching search and if that staff comes in and lays an egg Cass now has the next fall guy in place: Newsome! That’s right, Cass can either say Newsome picked the wrong guy or the players Newsome and his staff brought in weren’t the right ones. Yes, this is what happens when the non-football guys (i.e, lawyers and owners) start running the show: they get power hungry and think they know the sport better than the sports people. We’ve seen it all too well with the Orioles (Peter Angelos), the Redskins (Dan Snyder), the Wizards (Susan O’Malley), and the Capitals (Susan O’Malley/Ted Leonsis). I was hoping the Ravens would stay immune to that but it looks like that won’t be the case going forward.

Was anyone else disturbed by the fact that Bisciotti said he consulted other owners (and he referred to them as partners, in that case) when he thought about making the coaching change? Steve later did say he is competing against those guys for the Super Bowl so why would you go to your competitors for advice on such a MAJOR decision that directly impacts your competitors? He clearly didn’t consult the Rooney’s in Pittsburgh because they have had only three coaches since 1969! Is he talking too much to Dan Snyder? Bisciotti better hope that this coaching change works out because if it doesn’t he has secured himself the “Meddling Owner” tag and that doesn’t sell very well in Baltimore.

Memo to Ozzie: Watch your back!!!