Early in his tenure as Ravens offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron was universally praised for his relationship with young quarterback Joe Flacco, who won 20 games in the regular season in 2008 and 2009 and three more, all on the road, in the playoffs during his first two years in the NFL.
Flacco was considered by some to be a project coming out of Delaware. The physical tools were there, but he came from a smaller school that ran a shotgun spread offense, something that has become more prevalent here and around the NFL since Flacco was drafted 18th overall in 2008.
Cameron brought Flacco along slowly but steadily, and the quarterback, now in his fifth season, was once considered to one of the NFL’s most promising young passers, one who set the standard for current rookie quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.
But along the way, that relationship between Flacco and Cameron became strained, though both men deserve credit for putting up a positive front when speaking about each other in public.
The first public sign of a tug of war between the two came after a loss to the New England Patriots early in 2010. After Flacco said he just rans the plays that Cameron called, Mike Preston reported that Flacco and Cameron met to discuss Flacco’s frustration with a game plan he considered to be conservative and also about Flacco possibly getting more say with audibles and play-calling.
Days later, Cameron denied that he had met with Flacco.
"There was no big meeting with me and Joe," Cameron said. "There was a conversation between me and Joe after every game, like there always is. And I'll tell you exactly what I said. I said, 'Joe' -- because I believe this -- I said, "Joe, I could've helped you better. I could've helped you better at times in that game.' That's my job. … and Joe said to me, "I could have done a better job.' And that's the relationship that you have with your quarterback."
Cameron also said the Ravens weren’t telling Flacco where to throw the ball, as was reported.
"That has not been done," Cameron said. "We don't do that. Joe knows how to read defenses.”
That winter, quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn, whom Flacco had a good relationship with, was let go, reportedly because he and Zorn got too close. Flacco publicly complained about the move.
"I'm not happy about it, and they know I'm not happy about it," he reportedly said at the time.
Last season, after a 12-7 loss to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, Flacco remarked that the team’s no-huddle offense would work faster and more efficiently if he were allowed to call plays at the line. “He can call any play that he feels he needs to,” Cameron said. “He can suggest one at any time.” Days later, the no-huddle played prominently in a comeback over the Arizona Cardinals.
But nearly three months later, as the Ravens prepared to play the Houston Texans in the AFC divisional round, it was Cameron who came to the defense of Flacco, who was blitzed by criticism.
“Really, we can’t get too hijacked by that kind of stuff,” he said, passionately defending his quarterback. “The bottom line is that I think the world of Joe Flacco. We drafted him at the right place for the right reasons and you do your homework and you can see the greatness in this kid.”
This season, Cameron’s short-yardage play-calling and the workload of running back Ray Rice were scrutinized more than his relationship with Flacco, who has had an uneven fifth season. But last week, before Sunday’s 31-28 overtime loss the Washington Redskins, Flacco told my colleague Jeff Zrebiec that he didn’t know what the Ravens were getting away from the no-huddle again.
"I am frustrated a little bit. Yeah, I could probably do a better job of not showing that, but I just feel like we're so close to being able to be a good offense," said Flacco, who is in a contract year. "There are certain things that I feel like come Sunday, we're not doing the way we should be doing it. I've said it the last couple of weeks. There's definitely a little frustration out there."
Now, just a few days later, Cameron is gone. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said that Flacco did not have any input in the decision. But the tension between coordinator and quarterback was likely at least a consideration. With Cameron relieved of his duties, replaced by quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, it will no longer be scrutinized. After 58 wins, their relationship is now over.