Scratch Brian Billick from the NFL's endangered species list.
In an announcement that confirmed rumors of the past two weeks, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti informed players at a team meeting Wednesday morning that Billick will return as head coach in 2006. There have been strong indications from both players and assistants that Billick would be back for an eighth season.
One player contacted Monday by ESPN.com who also had been interviewed by Ravens management about Billick's ability to lead the team back to the playoffs said then that the coach "already [seemed] to know something about his future." Other sources within the team said Billick had been apprised as long as two weeks ago that he and his staff would likely return.
If it were up to SportsNation, Billick would not be returning as head coach of the Ravens. With a season average approval rating of just 24 percent, Billick's weekly rating rose above 50 percent for the first time after a Week 16 win over the Vikings. (Vote)
Billick, 51, has a 67-51 record, including playoff games, since taking over the Ravens in 1999. He has a year left on his contract.
"We have an ongoing and extensive process to find ways to win," Bisciotti said in a statement. "This included a thorough evaluation of Brian Billick. Collectively, we concluded that continuing with Brian as head coach gives us the best opportunity to win."
Part of that process was in-depth interviews with veteran players and some assistant coaches as Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome sought direction for the future. Billick is under contract through the 2007 season. Another element was an analysis of the field of potential replacement head coaches.
"As I have always said, I'm very thankful and appreciative to
be part of an organization and a group of people that we have
here," Billick said. "The ability to deal and go through the
difficulties that a team and an organization does, and to deal with
it the way that we have, is very important to me. That's why I
covet being here."
The news was received enthusiastically by the players, who now
have one less thing to think about as they head into Sunday's
finale in Cleveland.
"I've always been a fan of Coach Billick. I think he runs the program the right way," tight end Todd Heap said. "I'm excited we
have this continuity going forward. Everything was kind of up in the air. But now we can lay that to rest and focus on what we can do as a team to get better for next season."
In only his second season as an NFL head coach, Billick led the Ravens to the Super Bowl XXXV championship. After the 2001 season, however, the Ravens were forced to dismantle that team because of salary cap excesses. The Ravens have appeared in the playoffs twice since then but have not advanced beyond the divisional round.
Baltimore has won three of its last four games to get to 6-9 for the year and concludes the 2005 season Sunday at Cleveland.
The only time the Ravens fired a head coach was after the 1998
season, when then-owner Art Modell dismissed Ted Marchibroda before
hiring Billick away from the Minnesota Vikings, where he served as
tight ends coach and offensive coordinator from 1992-98.
"With Ted, I don't think we were headed in the right direction.
With Brian, it seems like we are," veteran linebacker Peter
Boulware said. "I was relieved; it closed the door on that."
Billick is currently tied for fourth in NFL seniority with
Philadelphia's Andy Reid among coaches with their current teams,
trailing only Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher (14 years), Tennessee's Jeff
Fisher (12) and Denver's Mike Shanahan (11).
"The majority of the guys are happy he's back. ... I don't know
of anyone that's not happy about it," said kicker Matt Stover, who
has been with the Ravens since their first season in 1996. "Some
people say that change for the sake of change -- new blood or a new voice -- is a good thing. I disagree. You have a guy that's taken you to a Super Bowl, and now it's just a matter getting us back."
Linebacker Bart Scott approved of the decision and its timing.
"It lets the guys know," Scott said. "It's great to have
Brian back. He's a great coach. The important word is stability."
Perhaps no player was happier than quarterback Kyle Boller, who
has received unwavering support from Billick despite struggling for
much of his three seasons in the league.
"I'm excited. Brian has been behind me through everything, when
a lot of coaches would have given up on me," Boller said. "It's a
great move by the organization."
Although the heat on Billick appeared to substantially subside
in the wake of the Ravens' first winning streak since November
2004, he was delighted to have his status addressed before the
conclusion of the season.
"Things happen very quickly at the end of the season," Billick
said. "It just seemed like the right thing to do at the right
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here. The Associated Press contributed to this report.