Ravens, Billick are on verge; Vikings coordinator slips Browns tackle to interview with Modell; Irked Cleveland backs out; 'We intend to reach' Ravens deal, agent says


One day into the Brian Billick sweepstakes, the Cleveland Browns abruptly withdrew from the competition shortly after Billick announced he would make Baltimore his first post-playoff stop, and the Ravens and Billick's agent are optimistic the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator will become the Ravens' new head coach.

Billick, his family and agent Ray Anderson flew into Baltimore last night and had dinner at a downtown steakhouse with Ravens owner Art Modell and team vice presidents David Modell and Ozzie Newsome.

The team will begin formally interviewing Billick today as a replacement for Ted Marchibroda, who was fired Dec. 28. The Ravens and Browns were the two teams with serious interest in Billick, whose Vikings lost, 30-27, to Atlanta in the NFC championship Sunday.

Browns president Carmen Policy had interviewed Billick for seven hours last month, and followed the meeting by saying he was "blown away" by Billick. According to two league sources, Billick was Cleveland's No. 1 candidate.

The Browns made another strong run at Billick after the title game Sunday night by flying in director of football operations Dwight Clark to meet with Billick, but Clark became enraged when Billick said he was going to Baltimore first because he had already interviewed with the Browns. Then Policy said yesterday that Billick was no longer in consideration.

"He [Clark] wanted Brian to come to Cleveland immediately," Anderson said last night. "We told him that we already had been to Cleveland, and we wanted to go to Baltimore to hear what they had to say.

"We thought it was a pretty reasonable request. We wanted to hear if Baltimore's offer was superior. We didn't feel as though we were going to sign with Baltimore right away, we just wanted to hear from both sides before we made the decision. For some reason, the Cleveland people were in disbelief. They couldn't believe Baltimore was a formidable option to Cleveland. It's like we couldn't appreciate the differences between the two cities or the two owners. Our decision didn't sit well with Cleveland."

Anderson said the dinner last night and short meeting afterward with Ravens officials was positive and the intention was for Billick to leave as Baltimore's new coach.

"We felt quite comfortable with the Modell family and Ozzie Newsome," said Anderson. "We had some general discussions and the Ravens were very astute to the approach they have taken. They have given us some parameters and we'll continue the dialogue [today]. We intend to reach an agreement with the Ravens."

Newsome said there would have been concern if Billick had made the trip to Cleveland first.

The Browns, because they are a first-year team, were allowed to interview candidates whose teams were in the playoffs, but the Ravens had to wait until the Jaguars, and then the Vikings, were eliminated to meet with Billick and Jacksonville offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, the Ravens' other top candidate.

"We were at an increased handicap with Brian because we had to wait," said David Modell. "But we've had 27 interviews [compared with 18 and 19 for others] on him from the best man in his wedding to guys he coached with and his mentors. We've done our homework on him, and we feel very strongly about him."

When asked if Billick might leave town soon as the Ravens' new coach, Modell said: "I like the chances of that happening."

Two of the previous coaches the Ravens were interested in, the Seattle Seahawks' Mike Holmgren and the Carolina Panthers' George Seifert, signed with their respective teams after one visit.

"We'll have him go through the same process as the other coaches we've interviewed," said David Modell. "The pressure is on us to get the best coach imaginable, but it's the same pressure we have felt throughout the entire process."

Newsome and David Modell declined to comment about Cleveland's withdrawal. Billick was not available for comment. The Browns released a vaguely worded statement about Billick.

"After having the opportunity to speak further following yesterday's NFC championship game, we have come to the realization that we have significant philosophical differences related to the opportunities available in our expansion situation," Policy said.

"It is our decision to move forward with our head coaching search without Brian Billick being part of that consideration."

Policy's statement leaves room for a lot of speculation. Maybe former 49ers coach Bill Walsh, a friend of Billick's, didn't endorse Policy, with whom he is feuding. Or maybe it was a control issue. Clearly, the Browns are Policy's team to run.

David Modell said Billick, who also has been given permission by the Vikings to meet with the Chicago Bears, will not get the offer the Ravens had prepared for Holmgren, who would have been coach/general manager.

"That will not happen," said Modell. "We have a system in place."

Billick is one of the league's top assistants, and the Vikings have been in the top five of almost every offensive category during his five seasons with the team.

The Ravens already have interviewed Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas and Palmer. Holmgren, Seifert and former Kansas City Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer were rated the top three prospects by the team, but Schottenheimer has announced his retirement.

Pub Date: 1/19/99

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