- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
BALTIMORE -- This week we caught up with Ravens offensive tackle Willie Anderson to discuss, among other things, leaving the Bengals after 12 seasons and his business ventures outside of football.
The Ravens (9-4) are right in the playoff mix. So I take it you're pretty happy with your decision.
Willie Anderson: I'm just happy I chose the right spot. In the beginning, it was probably one of the most nerve-wracking things I've ever had to do, because I've been in one place so long. Everybody was on me -- especially my ex-teammates like T.J. [Houshmandzadeh] and Carson [Palmer] and those guys -- about making the right decision. They named three other teams besides here. But I felt strong that if Joe Flacco played well [we would win]. I knew what the defense was going to do, and I knew what the new coaching staff was going to do. I felt good about coach [John] Harbaugh. So I'm happy I chose the right spot, and it would have been the right spot whether we had nine wins or not. It's just a good fit.
This is the first time in a long time you've had to learn a new system. How is that going?
WA: Yeah, I was in two systems in 12 years. I was with Bruce Coslet my first seven years and then with Bob Bratkowski from 2002-07. So that was hard to learn new terminology and techniques. My old O-line coach in Cincinnati, we kind of grew up together. Paul Alexander came into the league one year before I got there. So some of the techniques in Cincinnati, we both came up with and a lot of the techniques he still teaches to those guys now. So it's an adjustment period for me learning a new system, but the good thing is [Ravens O-line] coach [John] Matsko is a teacher. The first thing I told him was I wanted him to teach me. I was quick to tell him, "Please coach me. I'm not one of those veterans that think I know everything." Because I want to have success in his offense. I've had success in other offenses, but I want to have success with these guys.
What are your thoughts about what your former team, the Bengals (1-11-1), are going through right now?
WA: It's a lot of thoughts right now. I feel bad for some of the players. I feel bad for a guy like Carson Palmer. I've said all along that ... Carson has proven to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. So if you just put a team around that guy, they will be dangerous. But it's a lot of things that will have to change before that can happen and [Bengals coach] Marvin Lewis said that. Right now, I think it's hard for a lot of those guys to believe that it can change at the current pace that it's going right now.
Is there a culture difference between Baltimore and Cincinnati?
WA: Culture? You know, everybody does things differently. Even though Baltimore had the down season last year, the tradition and the blueprint of knowing how to do it was still there. The front office, general manager Ozzie Newsome and those guys, the owner, Steve Bisciotti, they've got the blueprint already. They just had to get the pieces back. And when you have holdovers like Ray Lewis that will keep playing steady on defense, you just have to fill in the pieces around them. The good thing about the Ravens is they've done it before for a long time and last year was just a down year. So when you have the blueprint and that formula, you can always look at it and say, "That's how we did it right there. Let's go duplicate that system again." But I think it's hard when you've never done it.
Is half the problem knowing what a winning formula looks like?
WA: Yes, knowing what it looks like, what it smells like, what it feels like, how to coach it. You have to know how to treat it if you're the training staff. In the building, the players got to know that the coaching staff knows what [winning] looks like. That's the biggest thing. The players have to know that you know what you're doing and we'll believe wholeheartedly in you. You know what I mean? This wouldn't work if coach Harbaugh's good players didn't buy into his system. We're winning because his good players, his veterans, have bought into his system and the young guys fell in place. Everybody here believes in what he's doing and what he's saying.
We've talked before about some of your businesses off the field. How prepared are you for life after football?
WA: I'm trying to do different things. The day I stop playing, I just want to have things in motion. I'm dealing with the restaurants, with Fat Burger, and dealing with real estate and music stuff with Think Big Entertainment. I'm investing in things and taking it slow, one step at a time. I can't do a whole, whole lot while I'm gone. So the restaurants are enough right now without me being around. But I have a good team of people around me making sure things are being run right. I always see Magic Johnson. And while he was playing, he gathered all of his ideas and all of the people he wanted to meet while he was the most relevant. That's kind of the mode I'm in right now. I'm trying to meet with as many business people who are doing good stuff while I'm still playing and while I can still get a meeting with them. Being a professional football player, you can get a lot more meetings than if you weren't. I learned that from Magic. So when his career was over with, he already had something to go do and he never looked back. He had things to fill that void.