When Brian Billick coached the Baltimore Ravens, he turned to technology to help teach players the intricacies of his X's and O's.
"The last thing we used when I was with the Ravens was a 3D model," explains Billick. "Instead of just X's and O's on a sheet, we used 'Madden'-esque figures and you could actually rotate the view from the vantage point of any player on the field.
"Any time you can enhance the learning curve by making it a much more visceral, tangible environment and can pull something off the page, it's a positive thing. The biggest thing teams obviously worry about is injury, and any time you put a player out on a practice field, you risk injury. So any time you can duplicate those experiences that you're trying to create in practice and you put them in a virtual environment, you're actually making your players a lot safer."
These days, Coach Billick, along with the likes of Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson, have teamed with the producers of "Quick Hit Football" to provide a coaching sim for the masses. It's a game that's more about out-thinking than out-twitching your opponent as it's not about how fast you hit X, it's about how you setup the play-action and figuring out the perfect time to blitz your corner.
I caught up with Billick to get his thoughts on the new coaching simulator.
Jon Robinson: Can a video game like "Quick Hit" actually help teach kids or casual football fans more about the sport than simply watching a game on Sunday?
Brian Billick: I think so. Any time you're interactive and you're called on to make judgments like a coach, even if it's something as basic as should I run or pass, it puts you in the coach's shoes. I always joke that when you're a play caller, you always get criticized for being too conservative, or the one you always hear is you're too predictable. Well, I always joke that I can either run it or I can throw it, you have a 50-50 chance of guessing right. But even as rudimentary as that is, to be given a situation and put in the position to making these calls, yeah, this game does give fans a better appreciation of the thought process behind making these calls.
Play calling is really about rhythm and it's about creating a structure in your mind with what you want to accomplish. Any exercise that takes you through that routine is a good thing.
Robinson: Did you give the game producers any advice on building a coaching sim or help out by providing plays?
Billick: They were very comprehensive with all of the coaches they talked with — myself, Coach Cowher, Dan Reeves, Jimmy Johnson. They also worked with Coach Landry's estate to get him in the game, and they worked hard to match the personality of our styles and some of the calls we might make. I think it will be fun for the fans because it will give them the sense of competing against someone who has actually done it on an NFL field.
Robinson: One of the cool things about the game is building your team. You can choose your own style, from a team with a strong running attack to a defense with a dominant defensive line. As someone who has built teams in the past, what's your advice for building a winning football team in the game?
Billick: Find yourself the next Peyton Manning. [laughs] This is actually something that's really fun about the game because you can build to a certain philosophy and you have to set certain priorities. Do I start with the defensive side of the ball or do I start with the offensive side of the ball, and these are real choices that coaches in the league have to make today.
Robinson: If you were starting your team from scratch, would you start with offense or defense?
Billick: Normally, in a real-life environment, you go by the old adage of play good defense and run the ball. That will get you into the playoffs. I don't know if that will ultimately win you a championship, but that's the axiom everyone uses in basing your team going forward. But in a virtual world, in this video game, I think I would opt for the offensive side first. I'm sure my profile in the game leans toward the defense, because that's what my team was known for when I was coaching, but in video games, it's always more fun to score.
Robinson: They have Ray Lewis in the game as your superstar player. Are you surprised he's still such a dominant force in the league?
Billick: Nothing surprises me about Ray Lewis and the way he plays. He is a very, very special player.
Robinson: What's the toughest part about being a head coach that fans should know before signing up to play this game?
Billick: The good thing about this is, at the end of the day, you can turn the game off and go about your real life. [laughs] Obviously for coaches, you can't just turn it off. You live it and breathe it. Short of that experience, this is a fun way for fans to step into the world and peek behind the curtain a little bit.
Robinson: What do you think is the most difficult part of the sport of football to replicate in a video game?
Billick: Take a player like Ray Lewis. You can quantify his height, weight and speed, but that doesn't capture the essence of Ray Lewis and his competitiveness and the way he approaches the game. That's probably the hardest thing, because ultimately your success is going to be determined by any number of factors that you can't control and I don't know that you can specifically quantify.
Robinson: So does this game get your coaching juices flowing again?
Billick: Sure, any time you're put in that environment, it's a fun thing to do. I think fans will really enjoy this because it's a little different than some of the other games. It will give them a bigger, more intellectual choice and feeling for how the game is played.