Monday, December 31, 2007
If Billick knew QBs, he sure hid it well
By Len Pasquarelli ESPN.com
Brian Billick's Ravens won only one playoff game after winning the Super Bowl in the 2000 season.
After the Baltimore Ravens' lengthy search for a starting quarterback in 1999 concluded with the underwhelming signing of free-agent journeyman Scott Mitchell, then-rookie coach Brian Billick attempted to allay the concerns of unimpressed fans by self-assuredly proclaiming: "Trust me, Baltimore, I know quarterbacks."
Those came to be infamous words in Baltimore, where Billick spent the ensuing nine seasons demonstrating that he knew very little about how to fix the Ravens' chronic shortcomings at the game's most critical position.
As Billick departed on Monday, having delivered a Super Bowl XXXV championship but never having remedied the Ravens' most glaring deficiency, it's worth mentioning that the team's quarterback situation is every bit as unsettled as when he arrived.
Having presided over some of the NFL's best offenses of this era while serving as the Minnesota coordinator under Dennis Green for five seasons, Billick was never able to transfer that same big-play magic to the Ravens during his tenure as head coach.
Yeah, the Ravens won a Super Bowl title, but that was more a result of a suffocating defense, and it came in a season when, as usual, Billick was forced to shuffle quarterbacks.
The quarterback who led the Ravens to their Super Bowl win, Trent Dilfer, was gone the following spring. And the litany of names with whom Billick attempted to fill the position -- guys like Tony Banks, Elvis Grbac and Stoney Case -- defined the term suspect.
Ironically, perhaps the most talented quarterback Billick had in Baltimore was the guy he released in 2006, Derek Anderson, who nearly took the resurgent Cleveland Browns to the playoffs this season, and who is a Pro Bowl alternate.
That Anderson succeeded in Cleveland, the city summarily abandoned by former Ravens owner Art Modell when he relocated his team, has to be more than a little galling to Baltimore fans.
In Billick's nine seasons in Baltimore, his offense never statistically ranked higher than 14th in the league. In six of those years, it was 20th or lower, including a No. 22 finish in 2007.
Interesting is that not once in the Billick Era did the Ravens' offense finish with a higher league ranking than their defense. In fact, only once did the defense rank out of the top 10 in Billick's nine seasons.
Still, in the end, it wasn't that Billick had lost his touch as an offensive expert which cost him his position on Monday morning, less than a year after owner Steve Bisciotti signed the coach to a contract extension through 2010.
More than the continuing offensive woes, and far more than the nine-game losing streak this season, or the dismal 5-11 record that followed a surprising 13-3 mark and divisional championship in 2006, it was Billick's loss of support among his players that forced Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome into making a change.
Only a few weeks ago, Billick -- whose contract is believed to be worth $5 million-$5.8 million per year -- unilaterally proclaimed himself safe for 2008. The silence from Bisciotti, who traditionally does not grant interviews during the season, was not surprising. The lack of acknowledgement for Billick's assessment of his job status from anyone else within the Baltimore organization, however, was deafening.
Baltimore management surveyed players and support people for signs that the Billick message was going unheeded in the locker room. And, as the events of Monday reinforced, they certainly must have discovered that was the case.
Possessed of an extraordinary vocabulary, and often seemingly impressed by his own knowledge of the language and delighting in verbal badinage with the media, Billick apparently ran out of the right words to inspire his charges.
It's long been thought that, when his coaching days ended, Billick would be a terrific candidate for the broadcast booth and, if that is indeed his next move, it might be an appropriate one. Because if the past nine seasons proved nothing else, it's that Billick might be significantly better at talking about quarterbacks than developing them.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.