Ravens Overhaul Just a Tweak?

January 26, 2008 | Thyrl Nelson

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There isn’t a whole lot of middle ground when it comes to opinions on Brian Billick. His personality was both strong enough to bring swagger to an organization that never had it, and to alienate the media and carve out an unshakable and arrogant persona seemingly in a single press conference. I suppose that it’s fitting then, that Billick’s firing has been such a polarizing issue with the fan base as well. There are clearly two camps on this issue, both equally vocal, and both with equally valid points.
One thing that everyone can seem to agree on though is that change was necessary. What needed to be changed, and to what degree is what has everyone so divided. Firing the coach seemed to set the stage for wholesale change; now with Rex Ryan possibly back in the mix as defensive coordinator, how much is really changing?
Cam Cameron is coming in as a heavily credentialed offensive coordinator, that’s a change. But it’s not exactly a big one; in fact it’s conceivable that since Billick had agreed to hire an OC to call plays for 2008, Cameron might have been the OC regardless. He seemed to be more of a slam-dunk to come to Baltimore than even any of the head-coaching candidates, as he seemed to be linked to everyone who interviewed or was rumored to be in the mix anyway.
Cameron comes heavily credentialed, but basically built his rep as OC of the Chargers. It’s at least a concern that he has been working under the conservative watch of Marty Schottenheimer for the bulk of his pro coaching career. I have already written several times about the Chargers loss to the Ravens for being too conservative, then their subsequent loss in the playoffs to the Patriots with an exact opposite game plan. Cam and Marty seemed to cave in to the pressure of the fans and media to be more aggressive. Additionally, when it comes to philosophy, Cameron rode Gates and Tomlinson on offense, never utilizing his wide receivers. He was part of the regime that benched Drew Brees in favor of Doug Flutie, in a knee jerk reaction early in his career. If you’re looking for a coach to nurture a young QB, Cam is not that guy, in addition to Brees, look at the job he did on John Beck this year.
What bugs me most about Cameron is the perceived indecisiveness, with Brees as a young player, with Beck this season, changing philosophies during the most important game he has ever called in 2006. Jay Glazer talked about him begging Keith Traylor to come back last year, and then cutting him after a confrontation with another player on a plane flight in week 16, a confrontation that Cameron did nothing more than stand up and observe as it was happening. Then after being lambasted by Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor, he apparently invited Traylor back but had the offer rebuffed by the veteran. He also talked about Joey Porter going on a long anti Cameron rant during a team meeting, to which the team offered applause and Cameron offered no response.
At least Cameron probably won’t have one eye on another opportunity, as Bisciotti claimed the last OC did. The same type of behavior may or may not have led to the ouster of Jim Fassel the previous season too. If that is a concern with the front office, than why are they even considering brining back Rex Ryan? Rex, more than anyone has one eye on a head coaching opportunity.
If I were Cameron, I would have insisted that Rex not be back, as part of the conditions of my employment. If we like to point to Rex’s lineage as a positive, than it’s a must that you give consideration to the negative side of that too. While a genius on the defensive side of the football, Buddy Ryan was a divisive force in the locker room. The fact that Rex’s defense turned on Billick and his offense this season, at least makes this worth mentioning.
Watch the press conference again; when Harbaugh was asked about Rex Ryan, he politely danced around the issue. Bisciotti said that Harbaugh had complete control over whom he hires, but also said he’d like to retain Rex. Further, Mike Preston reported today that Ozzie has denied other teams the opportunity to interview Rex for DC positions, even though Bisciotti said that all of Billick’s assistants were free to seek jobs elsewhere. And I wonder now too, if Rex might string the Ravens along for another couple of weeks while the Oakland situation plays out.
By empowering Ray Lewis in the press conference, it appears that the organization has already decided on his status for next year too. I think that you have to bring Ray back regardless of your feelings about him. You wouldn’t likely get much for him in a trade this season, he’ll come back and be a model citizen with free agency pending in 2009, and you’ll likely get just as much value back in a compensatory pick if you allow him to walk as a free agent as you would in a trade this year.
If Rex is back, as I suspect he will be, than little will have changed actually. And maybe that was the intention of ownership all along. The next few days may go a long way toward telling that story.
Maybe Bisciotti was out to make over the Ravens image; that would have to begin at the top. The Ravens always seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to the media and the referees. The media certainly drives a lot of public perception. Watching the Patriots, I don’t think that they celebrate any less than any other team. I see Tom Brady yelling at referees as much as any player, Bill Bellichick is hardly seen as a warm individual, but the media respects him. Why did the media jump all over Phillip Rivers for taunting opposing fans when we see players doing that every week?
Maybe Billick wasn’t handling the media and especially the officials as eloquently as he thought. If replacing Billick with Harbaugh gets us a few calls per game, than it’s a great move. If the Ravens bring back Ryan, and you’d figure most of his assistants, little else will have really changed anyway. Maybe Bisciotti is taking his own cue from Billick and manipulating the media for the good of the team. Or maybe he’s just putting lipstick on a pig. Time will tell, like it or not.



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