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Monday, December 31, 2007
Billick, entire Ravens coaching staff dismissed following 5-11 season

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Brian Billick never came close to duplicating the success he enjoyed early in his career as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, and it finally cost him his job.

Billick was fired Monday, less than 24 hours after his team concluded a season of high expectations with a disappointing 5-11 record. His entire staff, including defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, also was dismissed.

"I believed that it was time for a change, I believed that we have the nucleus of a team that can get back to the Super Bowl, and we felt that in the next five years we had a better chance with a new coach than leaving Brian in that position," said owner Steve Bisciotti, who made the decision after consulting with team president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome.

Billick won the 2001 Super Bowl in his second season with the Ravens, but since Bisciotti took over full ownership in 2004, Baltimore was 33-33. That included two losing seasons and only one playoff appearance, a one-and-out performance in 2006.

"It's a gut feeling. I have one job here, and that's to have a leader that I think gives us the best chance," Bisciotti said. "We have been losing more than winning lately."

Baltimore chop

The Ravens, a playoff team in 2006, fell sharply in 2007. In fact, the team had the worst win differential in the NFL:

Team '06 Wins '07 Wins Differential
Ravens 13 5 -8
Bears 13 7 -6
Jets 10 4 -6
Dolphins 6 1 -5
Chiefs 9 4 -5
Rams 8 3 -5

Billick led the Ravens to a franchise-best 13-3 record in 2006. But Baltimore lost a team-record nine consecutive games this season before ending the skid Sunday with a 27-21 win over Pittsburgh.

Baltimore offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel didn't have to worry about losing his job; he already had agreed to become head coach at his alma mater, UCLA. He remained with the Ravens for their final game, and was surprised that Billick was let go.

"I left believing that the Raven thing was going to turn around," Neuheisel said Monday. "We had a tough season two years ago and came back and finished 13-3."

Bisciotti said he made the decision to fire Billick hours before kickoff, and carried out the move Monday morning in a meeting at the team's practice facility.

"He had to make a hard decision, and he did what he believes is best for the Ravens," Billick said in a statement. "We are friends and will remain friends."

Billick had three years left on a contract that pays $5 million per season. Bisciotti determined a few weeks ago that he would give Billick a chance to right things in 2008, but changed his mind after talking with Cass, Newsome and other NFL owners.

"We believe that we will be better with fresh blood or we wouldn't have made this decision," Bisciotti said. "We obviously wouldn't fire Brian if we thought we were where we needed to be."

Ryan will be considered for the head coaching job, but Newsome said he will "be calling and talking to a lot of people."

Billick's nine seasons with Baltimore was tied with Philadelphia's Andy Reid as the third-longest current run with the same team and behind Tennessee's Jeff Fisher and Denver's Mike Shanahan. He took the Ravens to the playoffs in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2006 and finished with an 80-64 record.

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"Sometimes the message can get repetitive after a while," 12-year offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said.

The Ravens expected to compete for a world championship this season after bringing back almost every starter from last year's AFC North champions. But injuries and a turnover-prone offense contributed to a complete collapse after a 4-2 start, and Baltimore finished in sole possession of last place in the division for the first time since 1997.

Bisciotti knows there are no guarantees that the Ravens' next coach will get better results than Billick. But he figured making a change was worth the risk.

"In order to be successful you have to take chances, and in order to take chances you have to listen to your heart. You have to go with your gut," the owner said. "It doesn't mean that you don't fear being wrong, because I do fear being wrong. I could be three coaches past Brian Billick nine years from now trying to solve this puzzle."

Billick was the offensive coordinator of the Vikings before coming to Baltimore. He was deemed to be an offensive genius when he got to the Ravens -- in his last season (1998) with Minnesota, Billick's offense scored a then-NFL record 556 points -- but the team became known for its staunch defense and never had an attack that was remotely as productive as that of the Vikings in the late 1990s.

"I'm not saying I agree with it," kicker Matt Stover said of Billick's dismissal, "but sometimes things have to change."

Billick, 53, was hired as Baltimore's second head coach in January 1999, succeeding Ted Marchibroda. In Billick's first season, the Ravens reached .500 (8-8) for the first time. Then he led Baltimore to a 12-4 record and a berth in the Super Bowl, where the Ravens beat the New York Giants 34-7.

But after he failed to build on last year's 13-3 record, Billick wasn't afforded the opportunity to bounce back from a season in which the Ravens went from Oct. 14 to the end of December without a win.

"For all we went through as a team, I think coach Billick stood in there. And for all the verbal lashings from the fans and the media, he stood in there and took it," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "That says a lot for the man, for his character. Yes, it was shocking, but the organization had to make a decision, and they felt in was the best decision for this team to move forward."

But was it the right decision? Bisciotti couldn't say for sure.

"How much blame you put on different people, and how much you hold yourself responsible is new to me," he said. "I hope that over time that Baltimore views me as [good] an owner as Brian Billick was a head football coach.

"I've got some catching up to do to the man that I asked to step down today. The jury's out on me. Brian's already got his Super Bowl."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.