Billick's first big decision: taking a stand on Staten


Brian Billick hasn't finished hiring his staff of assistants yet, and he's months away from his first game as Ravens coach, but his first big decision is at hand.

When he was hired as Ted Marchibroda's replacement last week, he said he understood the Ravens' need for a tougher coaching presence. Well, welcome to the big time, coach. It's already time to start backing up what you said.

Ravens reserve safety Ralph Staten recently was arrested on a handgun violation in Baltimore County, marking his second arrest in five months. He's a promising player, but his baggage is stacking up in a hurry.

Stacking up beyond an acceptable level.

If the Ravens are serious about improving their character and discipline under Billick, here's the place to start.

You don't raise the bar in those areas by keeping a player who gets arrested on a drunken driving charge in September and then gets arrested again four months later after driving off the road with an unregistered semiautomatic handgun and 11 live shells in his car, and with the arresting officer detecting a mild odor of alcohol.

Staten, 24, obviously needs help, but the Ravens have to start drawing the line on players who make mistakes or they're never going to be anything more than a losing team with a nice, new stadium.

And Billick is the one who has to draw that line.

If he wants to join the list of seven or eight head coaches making a difference in today's NFL, he has to follow their lead and establish his intolerance of foolish mistakes on and off the field. He has to be autocratic, demanding, maybe even a little unfair at times.

Bill Parcells wins that way. So do Jimmy Johnson and Dan Reeves. In the end, it's the only way to get your players' attention and respect these days. Shock their world. Make examples of the players who make the wrong mistakes at the wrong time.

Let everyone know what you won't tolerate.

Marchibroda let too many mistakes go unpunished and won only 16 games in three seasons. Billick's hiring was supposed to represent a new beginning. The message was clear when David Modell and Ozzie Newsome, the leaders of the search team that landed Billick, spoke of Billick's "leadership qualities."

Well, let's see 'em.

And let's see the front office back up Billick if he takes a stand on Staten.

Drunken driving should be an impeachable offense in and of itself. And driving with an unregistered semiautomatic handgun? Who needs that?

The Ravens stayed with Bam Morris for too long because of internal disagreements over how to punish a player who kept getting in trouble. They suffered for it. Morris was a quality runner whose presence only reinforced the notion that the Ravens were a losing team lacking character.

It's time to let Billick start making those decisions, seeing as he's the one who has to live with them. And if he's smart, he'll make the easy call to part ways with Staten.

You'd think he'd relish the chance to make such a powerful opening statement, not that anyone is happy about what's happened. But he doesn't know Staten, so there's no bond to break. And though Staten has potential, let's face it, he's a reserve safety, not a starting quarterback. His loss wouldn't hurt the Ravens that much, but it would send a message that needs sending.

Yes, some teams tolerate talented players who have problems, arguing that their goal is to win games, not awards for morality. They have a point. Morality doesn't sell tickets.

But you never win in the end when you sell out your standards. Just look at the fading Dallas Cowboys.

Besides, the Ravens can't afford to compromise on the issue after three losing seasons. Their front office has worked hard to purge their roster of bad apples and malcontents left over from Cleveland, but the team still has failed many on-field character tests since moving.

We'll repeat what we said last week: Even more than a new offense, the Ravens need a sharper mental edge and more self-respect.

Hanging on to troubled players only works against that.

It also increases the chances of embarrassments such as Monday's, when news of Staten's latest arrest broke as the Ravens were announcing the name of their stadium. Wonderful.

The Ravens owe it to the city they have gouged to put a quality team on the field, a team the city can support without feeling guilty.

It's time for them to raise their standards. And it's time for Billick to back up his stated goal of maintaining "excellence" on and off the field.

Start drawing the line, Ravens. Now.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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