The honeymoon ends for Steve Bisciotti

January 01, 2008 | Nestor Aparicio

As you can well imagine, the mind is racing on this New Year’s Eve.

I’ve got a million thoughts, none of them tremendously positive for the Ravens. And, for all of you who have read my blogs or Moons over the years who really think I’ve been “easy” on the Ravens, this blog’s for you.

What I saw yesterday was the absolute worst-case scenario, something I prayed as a fan and business owner and media member I thought I’d never see.

It was a random act of ruthless management by Bisciotti, leaving everyone shaking their heads in Owings Mills.

And it had EVERY single earmark of a thrown-together P.R. disaster, a red-alert crisis management situation for the most public business and the most public figure in the city.

Billick has yet to speak, but I gotta wonder what he’s thinking tonight as he watches the fireworks on TV on this New Year’s Eve. He went to work this morning, given EVERY assurance that his job was safe, his coaches and their families’ lives were in order, and everything was status quo. He was putting together an annual review and had meetings set up for noon.

At 11 a.m. Steve Bisciotti, Dick Cass and Ozzie Newsome came in and fired him.

Out of blue, just like that.

(Here’s the part where you can talk about the offense sucking, the quarterback situation…which has a little to do with Ozzie Newsome as well…and you can say that he got $15 million as a “severance” check or a Golden Parachute, whatever your rationale and reasons are and they are all legitimate. The team was 5-11. There’s no hiding that. There’s only assessing blame.)

Firing Billick, I think we all can understand. It’s the NFL, coaches come and go. In defense of the "decision," there were major disciplinary problems, under-motivated players, a bad offense and a rabid fan base gnawing at the bone.

This is NOT a blog saying that Billick shouldn’t have been fired. Not at all. There were plenty of reasons to do it, especially if Bisciotti felt like he was the biggest "problem" in the organization.

Maybe that’s the way it’s done at Aerotek. You come in, you fire the boss, and no one notices.

The fact of the matter is that Steve Bisciotti, in the hours of soul-searching in the final days of 2007 — went back on his word to virtually everyone, and threw together a hasty firing on a Monday morning after a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in which PLENTY of players looked like they wanted to play hard and win despite the crowd, the weather and the third-string nature of their roster.

To call the firing and the circumstances surrounding it and the "back-door" way it was handled a "Chinese fire drill" would be to insult the Chinese
and to all fire drills world-wide.

In a quote that has been pre-described by several bloggers already as Angelosian, Bisciotti said: “You have to listen to your heart, you have to listen to your gut.”

If his gut would’ve been more active before Sunday — or had he abstained from EVER giving Billick, his staff and virtually everyone in the city an assurance of Billick’s “safe” status — he could afford the chance to go with “his gut.”

But now, he:

•    Appears highly influenced by an absolute neophyte team president in Dick Cass
•    Appears wishy-washy with the media, the fans and his own staff in the building by changing the plan "on the fly"
•    Has unwittingly shined the spotlight brightly on himself, when that’s the LAST thing he really wants to deal with as an NFL owner. He HATES being famous, just HATES it!

I’d like to say that I know Steve Bisciotti pretty well. Or at least I thought I did. So did Brian Billick and his entire coaching staff, to some degree.

I really thought he was incapable of being wishy-washy and I certainly thought he was MUCH, MUCH smarter and more well thought out than what I saw take place inside of his organization yesterday.

Again, it wasn’t the firing of Billick. It was the way it was handled.

I still believe the problem is squarely with the players and culture of the locker room, not the coaching staff who merely coach the players Ozzie Newsome delivers. Who knows? Maybe Rex Ryan will be back as the defensive coordinator or the head coach? When players get injured or underperform or quit, I don’t believe that you fire the coach to earn the respect of the players, who are all blaming the coach.

I really respect Steve Bisciotti and what he’s built in business. If he wrote books, I’d read them. But NOWHERE in ANY business or football handbook would yesterday’s scenario be allowed to happen.

Much to his chagrin, the walls start bleeding information in Owings Mills when this stuff happens. It’s a small town, it’s a small organization, it’s a gossipy environment to say the least.

Everyone has SOMEONE they can throw under the bus or dish the dirt about, especially, as Billick liked to say, "if it served their agenda."

As much as the Ravens would like the “media leaks” to not happen, they inevitably do and not all of the news is good about Cass and Bisciotti either, especially in light of the ruthlessness with which this went down.

And I’m still wondering how Ozzie Newsome will escape looking like he’s NOT holding the knife. And I’m also wondering if he’s thinking this: “Is this how it’ll end for me, too?”

Look, MANY things will happen over the next several weeks, all of which will make for interesting internet rumorama, coaching candidates and most significantly, the drawing up of camps. And this will happen before the April draft.

Those who hated Billick are doing a jig. And obviously, there are a LOT of Billick haters, both inside the building and in the community. Mike Preston has been officially crowned in 2008 as the now-retired “King of the Billick Bashers.” Funny, he didn’t want to come and show his glee at the press conference yesterday, though.

Those who threw Billick under the bus lately, but REALLY didn’t think he should be fired, will be a little shocked if it doesn’t get better immediately. Many believe the coach is the ONLY problem and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Billick was simply charged with keeping the walls together and the situation was obviously far past the boiling stage.

Good luck to Marty Schottenheimer, Bill Cowher, Kirk Ferentz or whomever is getting this assignment. It’s not easy corralling 53 guys with 53 agendas and agents and distractions. That’s WHAT the job is, being a C.E.O. of people, and getting them to band together to win football games on Sunday.

The clubhouse is littered with potential personality, motivation and power problems, not to mention aging stars who shared one thing in common: they’d all prefer an “upgrade” over Billick.

So, the players, ultimately won the war. They wanted Billick fired, and they got it. Apparently, some non-uniform people in Owings Mills echoed the sentiment, and they won big yesterday as well.

Now what happens?

(They better really score big with their next hire. They just fired a guy who won the Super Bowl and was 13-3 last year. And if the Ravens were seriously prepared for the marketplace, they’ve already missed out on the best candidate in the business, Bill Parcells! But of course, they could go get Marty Schottenheimer, who was also fired after going 14-2 last year!)

And then there are those like me, I suppose, who thought that firing Billick was a 50-50 proposition at best for success with this group of injured, aging talent combined with big salaries and caustic personalities, but are more really kind of appalled at the "way" it went down.

If you wanna fire him, have a go at it: it’s YOUR team, Steve. And YOU’RE the one who’s gotta pay him $15 million!

Lord knows, there’s PLENTY of public support to fire Billick. Just turn on the radio station or check the websites. Firing Billick was the easy way to try to fix it, and it buys the franchise time to regroup because expectations will be lower just because of the transition.

As a public relations endeavor, it makes ownership look strong. The team stunk, the coach was fired and ownership is making a change. Fire away! It’s your team, Steve!

But, geez, to blindside everyone in the organization by taking a random straw poll down the hallway by Dick Cass and friends, and to take a 30-year public relations man whose information is trusted by virtually everyone in the community and blindside him with it five minutes before walking in to tell Billick, who must’ve been speechless, is well – just not cool and the repercussions will be felt for years.

Every single media member from Peter King to Jamison Hensley, from Drew Forrester to Steve Davis, from Gerry Sandusky to Scott Garceau to Adam Shefter to Chris Mortensen were all lied to and/or misled with information that we trust is honest from Owings Mills.

So, in turn, the fans were lied to as well, including on the team’s own website.

Wow. This is not a dark day because of the Billick firing per se (put the list of legitimate reasons here…offense, QB, 5-11, lost players, etc.), this is a dark day because Steve Bisciotti has committed his first, almost unconscionable sin – he went back on his word and threw everyone under the bus to some degree.

In the end, the ONLY one in the media who will say he was right – and I didn’t see that "breaking" story in The Sun yesterday that Billick was getting fired, by the way – is Mike Preston.

Bisciotti finally found a way to justify Preston’s reporting once and for all. Who knew that Mike Preston could influence Steve Bisciotti’s thinking, because ultimately, it was that line of reasoning and the airing of the organization’s private laundry via Preston and the moles that hastened Billick’s firing.

(Someone reminded me earlier today that Billick’s ouster might’ve been more about the Deion Sanders fiasco and the crappy teams of 2004 and 2005.)

There have ALWAYS been people in the building – non-uniformed, non-football and football people alike – who didn’t like Billick.

It could’ve been anything: the arrogance, the Trophy, the ring, the $50 million he’s made over the last decade, the way he stood up for every stupid thing his players ever did, his big vocabulary…whatever it was, Billick had worn out his welcome and it was time for him to go.

Fair enough.

But you’ve gotta come to that conclusion a helluva lot earlier than Sunday and the least you owe the guy is a chance to get his staff together for pending changes and a chance to save face.

The guy won a Super Bowl for the city. The guy has been a model coach, a great community man and has always been honest about his intentions and his actions have been consistent and always consistently positive. As David Modell remarked: “He was a leader of men.” The Modell family should know: it took them 35 years of doing stupid stuff like firing Marty Schottenheimer the first time and hiring Bud Carson before finding a Super Bowl victory with Billick.

Billick now looks like a fool, and a fired fool at that. Ozzie Newsome looks like a traitor. Dick Cass is VERY MUCH in charge as the team President. Most everyone in the city, right down to their own Vice President of Public Relations, Kevin Byrne, who wrote on Thursday night that Billick was staying and they were pre-preparing the press conference, look utterly foolish.

I don’t know how Peter Angelos fires people, but I gotta think it MUST be more humane (if not as thoroughly contemplated) than what went down yesterday.

And on top of it, at least we know where we stand with Angelos. He’s never available and when he is, you almost wish he went back to his cubicle because it just reminds you how bad it is all over again. He’s the most unaccountable owner in the history of sports. Even Irsay held the occasional drunk news conference.

So, again, I give Bisciotti some points for at least showing up and taking the minimal amount of heat.

But, how can anyone in the media ever trust a word out of the building again? How can anyone in the building – from Vice Presidents right on down — not be paranoid ever again after the way the entire situation went down. And how do they sell this turd P.R. blunder to a potential new head coach, given Bisciotti’s tactics of sending moles throughout the building to threw the coach under the bus?

It was right out of the Orioles handbook of disastrous crisis creation and subsequent mismanagement.

And, what’s the word around the rest of the NFL about Bisciotti if he whacked Billick in what feels like the football equivalent of the toll plaza scene in The Godfather.

Geez, we all get that it’s a business (well, at least SOME of us do), but we all wanna LIKE the Ravens and root for them and feel like they’re the “good” guys.

From my 12 years of covering the team – waaaaay before Billick came to town – they’ve always been honest, well-read, “transparent” as they always like to say. I’ve always been confident in dealing with them that I’m getting the truth, which I can then relay to the public.

Remember: I was a major fan LONG before I ran this little radio station. The Ravens have always represented an honest organization that was the antidote to the nonsense and lack of professionalism I routinely see over at The Warehouse.

The Ravens have always managed through the adversity (not to mention the stupid acts of their players off the field) to have a halo with the fans in Baltimore.

I LOVE THE RAVENS!

They were a honeymoon team for me. They came along when I was 27 and to this day have brought so much fun and excitement and community and joy to my life.

And deep down, in places you don’t want to admit you know in your heart, you feel the same way.

The Ravens are FUN for Baltimore and great for the city.

Geez, we all wanna like the Ravens. I know I wanna like them WIN or LOSE, no matter who the players are or what the coach’s name might be. And this year sucked and I hope for better days ahead for whoever the next coach will be.

I’m a Ravens fan.

I’ll post many, many stories about Brian Billick sometime soon. I’ve got a million of them. Yeah, it’s been noted, we’ve always had fun together.

Granted, Billick is an acquired taste. Some dig him, some don’t. Don’t think for a second I don’t get that or that HE doesn’t get that.

What would he say: “It is what it is!”

But, all the “buddy” stuff aside, what went down yesterday was very tacky, very bush league, very shoddy.

If Bob Kraft did it to Bill Belichick that’s what I’d think. If Dan Rooney had done it to Bill Cowher I would have felt the same way.

I can just say that I thought more of Steve Bisciotti in 2007 than I will in 2008 after that performance in Owings Mills today.

I hope this is a rare and random “once in a lifetime” P.R. screw up and not the beginning of a trend. Remember: Peter Angelos had a clean track record and some cache with his customers right up until that Davey Johnson episode in Oct. 1997, at the end of HIS fourth year of ownership.

(I hope I never have to write the names Steve Bisciotti and Peter Angelos in the same sentence as synonyms ever again, by the way.)

It’ll take YEARS to figure out if firing Billick was the right thing or the wrong thing – and like I said, FIRE AWAY, there was certainly some justification – but be careful what you wish for.

Looking so ruthless and cold-blooded in the way the “business” of football was transacted here over the past few weeks and the public and turnabout hanging of Billick on New Year’s Eve is not good for the long-term business of the Ravens.

Sending moles down the hallway to do "character checks" on the head coach after he’s been in the building for nine years and won a Super Bowl is really a shoddy way to do business and treat the person who has been beyond loyal to virtually everyone in the building.

I’d like to think, deep down, that the Ravens are better than that.

Only time will tell…

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