Jonathan Ogden had just met his new head coach in a hallway at his team's training facility, and the Ravens' left offensive tackle was beaming at the thought of playing for Brian Billick.
Ogden, preparing to play in his second Pro Bowl, saw his prodigious talent go to waste last year in a Baltimore offense that helped drag the Ravens down to a 6-10 finish. At one point, they went 13 consecutive quarters without scoring a touchdown.
By season's end, the Ravens had scored a measly 269 points -- fifth worst in the NFL -- and had managed a league-low 243 first downs. By season's end, their young, improving defense had allowed fewer than 17 points in half of the team's games, only to see the offense betray it repeatedly.
Suddenly, Ogden saw the silver lining. There was Billick, the man behind the most prolific, single-season scoring machine in league history, shaking his hand, asking him about his injured ankle and wishing him luck in next month's Pro Bowl.
"He seems like a real likable guy," Ogden said of Billick, who left behind his successful work as Minnesota's offensive coordinator to sign a six-year, $9 million contract with the Ravens. "Obviously, we were lacking offensively last year, and he's bringing some innovative ideas with him.
"Hopefully, he'll get things shaken up. He was real direct and outgoing, which is something that's needed. We still need some players, but personally, I think this is a step in the right direction."
Ravens kicker Matt Stover could not agree more. The ineffectiveness that strangled the Ravens' offense had a direct effect on Stover, who kicked only 24 extra points and 21 field goals in 28 attempts.
In contrast, under Billick's direction, the Vikings' offense set a single-season scoring record with 556 points. That allowed Stover's counterpart, Minnesota's Gary Anderson, to kick an astonishing 59 extra points and 35 field goals.
"I'm glad [the Ravens] picked an offensive mind. That sounds great," Stover said. "They [the Vikings] put up a ton of points. That's exciting for me. Hey, I'm a kicker."
Safety Stevon Moore, who also met Billick briefly, might not be around to get know his new coach better. Moore, who is under contract in Baltimore for the 1999 season, is available to the Cleveland Browns in the Feb. 9 expansion draft. Still, Moore came away with a memorable impression of Billick, starting with his personality.
"It seems like [Billick] is a motivator who can really get guys' attention. That's what we need," Moore said. "He's a very respected, talented coach who knows how to move the ball. I don't think a lot of guys were respecting the head coach [Ted Marchibroda] toward the end of last season.
"Defensively, we're just about there. We can play with any team in the league. Offensively, we're got the right guy to come in and get things on track. I think Brian Billick can bring us that edge of momentum with his emotion and enthusiasm."
The way Ogden sees it, there was more to Billick's success in Minnesota than top-flight talent, such as wide receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss and running back Robert Smith. Billick helped resurrect the career of Randall Cunningham. And he found creative ways to use role players like David Palmer and Leroy Hoard.
Mainly, Billick found ways to make the offense go long before players like Cunningham and Moss arrived. In each of five, full seasons under Billick, the Vikings' offense was in the league's top five in yards per game, passing yards per game, completions and third-down conversions.
Under Billick, the Vikings recorded their top three offensive seasons (1998, 1995, 1994) in team history.
"True enough, [Billick] did have about as much talent as you could have," Ogden said. "They also set a single-season scoring record, so they're doing something right. I don't care how much talent you have; if you don't work with it the right way, you're not going to do anything."
A look at the Minnesota Vikings' per-game totals over Brian Billick's five full seasons as offensive coordinator:
Yr Rank Yards Points
'94 3rd 365.5 22.3
'95 4th 371.1 25.8
'96 12th 325.3 18.6
'97 8th 334.6 22.1
'98 1st 391.5-x 34.8-y
xVikings record; yNFL record
Pub Date: 1/20/99