In end, Billick couldn't overcome offensive struggles

The Ravens' Brian Billick became like the emperor with no clothes on, with his greatest weaknesses as a head coach becoming exposed more and more every year.

Finally, in the 2007 season, his charisma and salesmanship could no longer save him, overwhelmed by a season in which he had to be a difference-maker and wasn't.

Billick's weaknesses with X's and O's, as well as clock management and play-calling, caught up with him in a season of promise that turned into one of disappointment.

The Ravens fired Billick yesterday, ending a nine-year run that included four playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title in the 2000 season.

Billick should be saluted because he was a good coach, and during his era he produced enough smoke and mirrors to often hide his weaknesses on the sideline.

He fooled the local media (no big task), the Modell family, which hired him, and twice did the same with current owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome, the last time nearly a year ago when they gave him a four-year contract extension.

But the Ravens had an extraordinary number of injuries this season, and when that happens, two things are revealed: It shows your team's depth and whether your coach really has a strong knowledge of the game.

The Ravens finished 5-11 but had enough talent to finish about .500 and at least be in contention for a playoff berth.

But questionable play-calling and clock management and an unproductive offense led to Billick's dismissal. He could no longer hide his deficiencies as a coach, and at times they were glaring, which irritated the defensive players.

Those same problems were there in his early years with the Ravens, but a great defense and a Super Bowl trophy obscured those weaknesses.

Who cared if the Ravens didn't score a touchdown in five straight games? Who cared if the Ravens went through numerous quarterbacks? Who cared if the Ravens went through three offensive coordinators and still didn't have a top 20 offense?

In the words of Billick: "It is what it is. A win is a win."

Billick's downfall began in 2003, the year he made then-No. 1 draft pick Kyle Boller his starting quarterback.

Basically, Billick mortgaged years off the careers of such great defensive players as Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Adalius Thomas, Tony Weaver, Ed Reed and Chris McAlister to tutor Boller.

That's when he started losing this team. The slide continued in 2004 and hit rock bottom in 2005.

The fluff and puff were gone. Players laughed behind his back at his $50 words. There was little interaction between Billick and his players, and the locker room became a problem area.

Billick overcame some of the problems, but he could never quell that rift between his struggling offensive players and their defensive counterparts.

It was too much. At the turn of the century, the Ravens had one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, yet from the 2001 season to the present they won only one playoff game.

That in itself kept eating at the fiber of this team, and it eventually turned the players against Billick.

They didn't respect his knowledge of the game. Star players such as Reed and Lewis would occasionally turn their backs on him when he addressed the team. Lewis even called him out about play-calling during the season.

When younger players see that, they believe they can act the same way, too, which is why the Ravens are so undisciplined.

Billick's personality and message had gotten stale, and his lack of discipline contributed to the problems this season.

Before yesterday, the Ravens and Billick had agreed to bring in a new offensive coordinator for the 2008 season, but that would have been a Band-Aid.

It's hard to justify having two highly paid coordinators running your team. That would have been another indictment of Billick. What was Billick supposed to do? Go to the first 20 minutes of practice and then take a nap?

Billick was on his way to becoming a figurehead, a once-powerful coach who kept losing more control every year since 2005, when Bisciotti publicly reprimanded him.

Billick was working in reverse. Over extended periods of time, great coaches such as Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells gain more power and become general managers and presidents as well as coaches. But Billick's power base was eroding.

His time in Baltimore was well spent. He was what this franchise needed in 1999. Back then, the Ravens needed energy, direction and organization.

Billick was the perfect fit. He exuded confidence to the point of arrogance. He was tall, strong and emotional, the perfect public relations machine. He had a love for the game and a passion for power and money.

But through the years, the façade began breaking down and the magic faded away. And this season, more than ever, Billick had to prove himself as a difference-maker. Instead, he proved he was actually more smoke than substance when it came to the games on the field.

mike.preston@baltsun.com
 
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