Who is the ‘culture changer’ now?

January 24, 2008 | Drew Forrester

For all the talk during the Ravens 2007 season about “needing a change”, it seems eerily reminiscent of 1999 when the team embarked on a new journey that started with the dismissal of Ted Marchibroda and most of his staff.

Billick-despiser or not, there’s one fact that you can’t possibly argue about the Ravens run from 1999 through 2007.
 
It all started in ’99 when Billick arrived on the scene and changed the culture of the team.
 
It worked wonders early on, as the club won the Super Bowl in 2000, advanced into week #2 of the 2001 playoffs and, generally, became a legitimate NFL franchise under Billick’s swash-buckling style. 
 
Teddy wasn’t much on swash-buckling. Billick was the ultimate “we’re gonna kick your ass whether you want it to happen or not” type. At the time, Billick’s style was precisely what the franchise needed.
 
They had a bunch of mad hornets on defense – led by Ray Lewis who was emerging as one of the game’s stars – and a group of veteran players who were used to winning, wanted to win, and bought into Billick’s sword-carrying style. 
 
When Brian Billick came to Baltimore, he brought the “culture changing van” with him.
 
The question now, in January 2008, is this: Who’s going to change the culture of the team this time around?
 
Obviously, SOMETHING needs to change, right? This club has more holes than the back-nine at Pebble Beach. Aging, veteran players are seeing the “low fuel” light on right before their very eyes…the young players are apparently not as star-struck as they once were with regard to listening to and learning from the Pro Bowlers. And, let’s face it, the franchise has lost more games than its won over the last three seasons. 
 
Who becomes the face of the franchise now and changes the culture again?
 
Is it John Harbaugh? Maybe. As the Head Coach, there’s a certain level of dependency from the front office that your top man is also your featured man. In Baltimore, that’s even more important because the team’s General Manager doesn’t really mix much with others. That’s one of the reasons why Brian Billick wound up serving as the team’s “face” – no one else wanted to do it, particularly the GM.
 
Can Harbaugh pull it off? We’ll see. It’s certainly unchartered territory for him. Billick came here in ’99 having never served as a franchise leader, but he was clearly very visible in Minnesota when he ran the club’s offense in the late ‘90’s. John Harbaugh has been a behind-the-scenes guy during his NFL coaching career – much like Frank Gansz, Jr. has been with the Chiefs and Ravens, for example. 
 
 If not Harbaugh, who then, becomes the face of the franchise and changes the culture?
 
I can’t see Ozzie changing his ways at this point. He breaks out in hives every time Kevin Byrne pokes his head into the GM’s office and says, “Oz, don’t forget, press conference in 30 minutes.” Newsome might very well AFFECT the culture change with his draft and free-agent signing prowess, but he’s not going to be the guy who the players buy into and rally around, the way the Ravens did with Billick in ’99 and beyond.
 
Speaking of ’99 and beyond, Marvin Lewis played a key role in that time period and there are always people “out there” who say, simply, “Billick had nothing to do with the team’s success…it was all about Marvin Lewis and the defense.”
 
If you subscribe to that theory, you’ve never heard Marvin Lewis talk publicly about the culture of the Ravens franchise BEFORE Brian Billick arrived…and what happened once Billick got on the scene. Marvin Lewis has talked openly about how much Billick’s role with the team changed the way the club played, operated and, ultimately, succeeded.
 
Who’s going to play the Brian Billick role NOW? 
 
Can Harbaugh pull it off? I ask again…if Harbaugh CAN’T do it or, otherwise, isn’t “built” to do it, who then leads the team through this change of culture that gets them back to being a winner on the field?
 
Maybe winning changes the culture? Is that possible? If the team wins, does the culture change? Or is it impossible for winning to occur UNTIL the culture changes?
 
In the case of 1999, I think we all know the answer, since the team DIDN’T win before that. 
 
The culture changed and THEN, winning occurred.
 
Let’s hope history repeats itself in 2008 and beyond. The culture gets changed and winning occurs.
 
The question remains, though: Who’s going to do the changing?

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