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Vikes' Billick is worth wait for Ravens


Confused by the Ravens' head coaching search? Fear not. Here's the scenario to root for:

The Atlanta Falcons upset the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game tomorrow.

Within 48 hours, the Ravens hire Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick.

Billick trades for Brad Johnson, the Vikings' backup quarterback, who blossomed under Billick before being supplanted this season by Randall Cunningham.

That would give the Ravens a new coach, a new quarterback and a new, offensive-minded outlook, giving everyone a reason to get excited about next season.

What are the chances of all the pieces coming together so perfectly? Well, the Vikings are favored to beat the Falcons and advance to the Super Bowl, so there's a real chance of the whole process being delayed two weeks. But that's not important as long as the other pieces ultimately come together.

It's also possible Billick is the No. 1 choice of the Cleveland Browns, which means the Ravens would have to outbid a competitor. That adds a real element of risk.

And trading for Johnson is, of course, just an idea right now. Sheer speculation. The Vikings might not even want to deal him.

But, hey, we're talking about what to root for, right? This is it, no doubt.

Not that the Ravens would be thrown for a total loss if they lose Billick. They have other options, including Jaguars offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and Steelers defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

Given Haslett's hard-nosed attitude, he might be the best candidate of all.

But Billick is the right choice now for the Ravens. He's the architect of the NFL's best offense, a wizard with formations and deceptions. He also has a mean streak the Ravens desperately need.

Yes, he has terrific talent to work with in Minnesota, including Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Robert Smith and a superb line. But he has worked wonders with Cunningham, who was an underachiever with the Eagles. He also developed Johnson, a no-name coming out of college.

All in all, Billick is worth the shot.

No, he doesn't have the track record of Mike Holmgren or George Seifert, but let's face it, the Ravens couldn't compete with the outrageous Microsoft money that lured Holmgren to Seattle, and Seifert could be overrated as a can-do guy, given all the talent he had to work with in San Francisco.

Considering all that and the credentials of the other candidates in play this year, Billick makes sense for the Ravens. They seem to know it, too. That he was at the top of their list became apparent when Palmer came to town for his interview this week and left without an offer. The message was clear. The Ravens were waiting for someone else.

Yes, that waiting has made them appear indecisive. But for once, you can't blame them. Rules are rules. You can't hire a coach still in the playoffs.

Hey, give the Ravens credit for holding out for the coach they really want instead of moving too soon to avoid getting left out. It's better to wait than to rush such a critical decision.

And anyway, what have they missed by waiting? They might regret losing out on Holmgren and Seifert, but not Ray Rhodes (Packers), Andy Reid (Eagles) or Mike Riley (Chargers). Andy Reid?

Of course, the Ravens still have to go out and land Billick after waiting this long, and that's hardly a given. The Browns have a lot to offer as an expansion team, from a front office headed by Carmen Policy to the No. 1 pick in the April draft to a slew of extra draft picks. It's a situation with upside potential, no doubt.

But the Ravens have assets, too. They have some of the league's best, young talent. They also have a new stadium, which helps with free agents. And if former defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis returns -- an excellent idea -- there'd be continuity on defense.

It's a job with more immediate potential than the job in Cleveland, a job that could make a coach look pretty smart within 12 months. Billick seems intrigued by that.

Trading for Johnson would complete the package, giving the Ravens a young quarterback who has shown what he can do. The Ravens would have to give up their first-round pick as part of a package, but just about any package would be worth a proven quarterback.

The Vikings are saying right now that they're going to hang on to Johnson and Cunningham, but we'll see how long they stick with two quarterbacks with big contracts.

It's the scenario to root for, no doubt, the scenario the Ravens themselves want: Falcons, Billick, Johnson. Case closed sooner than later.

But even if the Vikings win tomorrow, the Ravens should continue to hold out for Billick, the coach they want. Once Billick is on board, they could make a play for Johnson.

One way or another, they need to end up with the right coach and a new quarterback.

If you want more value for your PSL investment next season, you know what to root for now.

Pub Date: 1/16/99

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