Who’s Picking the Coordinators, Harbaugh or Bisciotti?

January 25, 2008 | Thyrl Nelson

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I doubt that I am the only one who was less than shocked at the hiring of Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator. I’d guess that the only person who might be moderately surprised is new head coach John Harbaugh. I have to believe that if Harbaugh were given free reign to hire whomever he wanted as his top offensive assistant, we’d be talking about Pat Shurmur. It’s kind of funny how every head-coaching candidate that was seriously discussed seemed to be leaning toward Cameron as his OC.

Cameron certainly has some good credentials, but some reasons for concern too. He did have the highest scoring offense in the league in 2006, and seemed to be getting the most out of Ronnie Brown early last season. But he also completely lost the locker room in Miami last season, and was openly questioned by team leaders. The biggest issue that players seemed to have with Cameron according to Jay Glazer was in inability to step up and exert himself. For an offense in need of swagger, Cameron seems like a bad fit.
When the Ravens were talking about bringing in Marty Schottenheimer as head coach, lots of fans were wary of Marty’s conservative offense. I pointed to the Chargers going into an offensive hole in the second half of the Ravens game in ’06, playing the conservative running style that earned Schottenheimer his reputation. I also mentioned that even more alarming than this was the complete 180 that the Chargers did in the playoffs, going pass happy while trying to protect a lead against New England. Well, Cameron was the one calling those plays. It seems that Cameron was listening to the fans and media rather than coaching his game.
Steve Bisciotti listens to the fans and media too. He said as much in his press conference to announce Harbaugh’s hiring. He said that he could have hired Marty Schottenheimer, and had him go 13-3 and lose in the playoffs. He said that the fans and media would say that’s Marty, and he didn’t want that. He said he’d be lying if he said that that doesn’t come into play, it kind of does. Then he seemed to stop abruptly and take his thoughts in a different direction. That’s a problem, and that, more than anything that may be Bisciotti’s biggest fault as an owner.
I for one am not comfortable with Mike Preston, Sage Steel, or even Nestor having that much influence over how the team is run. I doubt that Bisciotti built his empire worrying about what other people thought, or by consulting his competition regarding personnel matters. It seems though that this is how Bisciotti is determined to run his team. It is his team, and he can do what he wants with it, but it’s our team too, and we have to live with the decisions that he makes about running it.
The mystery that is Steve Bisciotti is just beginning to reveal itself, and I for one don’t like what I’ve seen so far. Bisciotti seems to be searching for his legacy, he seems determined to make this team his own, and maybe secure himself a spot in the history books too. He started with an organizational overhaul of internal communication processes. He said that the level of communication at the Ravens complex was appalling, and he was determined to fix it.
In hindsight, this should have probably been a major red flag on Bisciotti, but because it came in the throes of a miserable season it was accepted. The public undressing of his coach was alarming to some, especially given Billick’s preference for keeping in-house business in house. What Bisciotti seemed to gloss over at that press conference was the fact that he had been taking up a big chunk of the coach’s time while redefining the role of the head coach in Bisciotti’s new system. My guess is that Bisciotti’s new system may be more responsible for the Ravens’ lack of success during his tenure than any of the guys who have been answerable for the results.
The Ravens were a model franchise, routinely scalped for coaches and executives, yet Bisciotti felt the need to not only overhaul the internal communication processes of the team, but also to redefine the role of the most successful head coach in Baltimore football history. Why did that not alarm us?
In the one successful season that the Ravens did enjoy under Bisciotti so far, Billick fired his offensive coordinator after a tough loss on Monday night football. The same Billick who stuck with Tony Banks for several games too long in 2000, the same Billick who stuck with Matt Cavanaugh for several years too long as offensive coordinator, made a knee jerk reaction to a couple of tough losses. Something tells me that Billick didn’t call that shot.
What Billick did do, was pull that offense together behind the first serviceable quarterback that he’s had since 2001 and guided them to a 13-3 record and a first round bye. Bisciotti must have felt pretty good about that call, after all it got us to the playoffs, and Billick lost the game. Bisciotti had led the horse to water, but that stubborn Billick wouldn’t drink, at least that’s probably how Bisciotti saw it, and probably still does. (For the record, I will go to my grave believing that McNair routinely checked the plays at the line of scrimmage in the second half of the Colts game. That was not a Billick game plan.)
Remember when Peter Angelos blocked the Bonilla/Wells trade even though the O’s looked to be out of contention? At the time, it looked like a good move, the O’s made the playoffs, but it made Angelos think that he knew more about baseball than his baseball guys. Hopefully 10 years from now we won’t be looking at the Fassel firing in the same light.
Here’s the bottom line: Brian Billick did not lose the Ravens locker room, Steve Bisciotti took it away from him. The unassuming owner, who wants to keep a low public image, yet who is routinely seen hobnobbing with players at Terps games, circumvented the coach’s authority. He created an open door policy, and made the coach open to criticism and objections, but he also gave some players a way around that open door. Meanwhile, in his redefined role, the head coach has to open a dialogue with the owner and general manager about who should be calling the plays. And again in this instance, Billick’s authority was circumvented. By some accounts Bisciotti even had the clubhouse staff polled when pondering Billick’s future.
Communication is one thing, but chain of command has to be maintained. If everyone has a line to the man in charge, than no one other than him, has any real authority, especially if Bisciotti is clearly micromanaging the head coach.
Steve Bisciotti was asked at the press conference whether Harbaugh would be allowed to choose his own staff. He said “Of course”, and then gave a look like he didn’t even believe he said it. Cam Cameron doesn’t look much like Harbaugh’s choice. I doubt that Rex Ryan would be either. Bisciotti also said earlier in the press conference that he hoped that Rex would stay here if he didn’t get a head-coaching job, even though Harbaugh seemed to dance a bit when asked if he’d like to have Rex on the staff.
If Rex comes back as the defensive coordinator, I’ll be convinced that Bisciotti is hopeless. It was the defense after all, who lost patience with Billick and the offense. The defense that quit on Billick was the same one that quit on Boller. Granted, Boller didn’t give them much reason for hope, but in the 2 games Boller had to come into in 2006, the defense clearly let down. Boller played great and watched the defense cost them the Panthers game.
Rex clearly was part of the revolution, although I doubt it was intentional on his part. Remember how the players reacted after the timeout against New England? Visibly demonstrative in their frustration toward Billick as he just stood there stoic and unwilling to point the finger to Rex. To my knowledge, he never pointed to Rex, nor did the players, once they found out that it was their fearless leader who called the timeout.
One thing that I never heard mentioned about that timeout was that Rex had no business calling it. A lot was made about the refs allowing it, since only the head coach is allowed to do that, but no one questioned why Rex took it upon himself to call the timeout. It’s also quite a coincidence that Buddy’s kid would be the coordinator on a team where the defense disdained and pointed fingers at the offense?
If Rex returns as the coordinator, I’ll need no further proof. It would make it clear that Bisciotti is calling the shots. I’ve been feeling sorry for Ozzie these days, he looks so sad lately, but Ozzie may be the luckier than most. Whether he leaves by choice or by force, I suspect he’ll leave soon, and with his reputation intact too. Newsome will be free to move on, Harbaugh will have a tough time getting another chance if he fails at this one. I am beginning to really believe that will be the case. And the biggest sufferers of all will be Ravens fans. They’ll be the ones stuck with Bisciotti’s decisions. They’ll be the ones waiting and hoping for Bisciotti to figure it out.
I for one, think that I have it all figured out, but I hope that I’m wrong. Two knee jerk firings in two years, three miserable seasons in the four since he took control and exerted his influence. Press conferences to address ticket prices, schmoozing with players, voting on who should be calling the plays, and just plain being too visible. Wanting to have his own legacy is one thing, installing yes men at every level is another. Cam Cameron looks like a yes man; Ozzie seems to have turned into one, if Bisciotti is picking the staff, than Harbaugh’s one too. Bisciotti’s involved at way too many levels and giving and taking way too much input.
Get ready for the Reign of Bisciotti “Reluctant Rock Star.” Man, I hope I’m wrong.


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