Looking back and ahead

The Baltimore Sun

Coming off his worst season in his four-year run as Ravens owner, Steve Bisciotti made his most significant move by firing coach Brian Billick and replacing him with John Harbaugh. In his lengthiest interview since the coaching change in January, Bisciotti talked with Sun reporter Jamison Hensley at the NFL annual meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., and reflected on his reasons for Billick's dismissal, how disgruntled players influenced his decision and hopes for the future.

Billick said he was never given a reason for his firing. Have you talked to him since his dismissal?

No, I haven't talked to him. I certainly will this spring. I've been through thousands of hirings and hundreds of firings in my business career. As Brian stated [in February], it was clear that I had made up my mind and there was no reason to push it any further. You know how much I care about Brian. No matter how detailed the reasons, he's not going to agree with them. That's my experience with this process. I'm in the enviable or the unenviable position depending on how you look at it of being the person that ultimately has to decide that we need change.

Did you specifically give Billick a vote of confidence during the season?

Yes. Right when it was reported [in The Sun].

What changed your mind?

The bottom line is that I think there was a deterioration in the confidence in him and his coaching staff. I think the morale in the building was down. The reports that I got from other executives and team personnel [ranged] everywhere from the disrespect of coaches from players on the sideline to arguments in the locker room and team planes. Losing creates a lot of frustration. It's not something that I took lightly. When the sting is gone and I sit down with Brian, I don't expect him to agree with much of my reasoning. But it was time. I believe that or I certainly wouldn't have done it to a good friend who I owed a lot of money to [between $15 million to $18 million].

Months removed from the coaching change, many fans still believe the players instigated the firing. How much influence did the players have in your decision?

There were a lot of examples that my executive partners brought to me about the players' unhappiness. Again, that's evidenced in the locker room, in the weight room, on the bus and the planes and on the sideline. I'm not in any of those places.

Just like my business, if a manager of one my offices gets fired or demoted, it's because of the unhappiness of quality individuals that he is in charge of leading [and] they have collectively lost confidence in their leader. It's our job to dive in there, listen to their complaints, find out how much truth is in it, whittle away the personal agendas and look at it as a whole.

To say anything but they had a lot of influence in that decision would be wrong. They did. Because it's safe to assume that Brian's No. 1 job is to have the trust of his players. Fifty-three players aren't always going to be happy with his decision. But when the majority of them are griping and it becomes consistent - the same concerns and the same arguments - then it's our job to represent them like any leader should represent their charges.

Could it be dangerous for the players to feel empowered?

No, they are not running the team. I think people perform optimally when they have full faith and trust in their leaders.

What are your thoughts on the perception the new facility has made players "soft"?

If you work less at your job because your shower head is two inches wider and you got a players' lounge with a television and pinball machine and the food is considered edible ... I don't know any professional that would perform less because he is in a conducive environment. I would be more than happy to sell this off as a country club and go back and buy that hole in the wall [laughing]. I just think that's kind of silly speculation.

What has impressed you the most about Harbaugh and what has surprised you the most about him?

I've been so impressed by the amount of calls that Ozzie [Newsome, general manager] and I got from other executives and coaches in the league complimenting our hire. He is an incredibly well-known NFL coach, which has really surprised me. The one thing that we figured when we were stepping out and picking a special teams coach was the first reaction would be: who? But it really wasn't that way. Inside the NFL, he was very highly regarded by successful people in this league.

Have you expressed to Harbaugh that you want him to be more of a disciplinarian?

To categorize it as a level of discipline I think shortchanges leadership qualities in general. I don't know that the level of discipline has really anything to do with our success or failure. There are schools of thoughts in this league, and it would not be fair for me to go in and speculate all the reasons why we're .500 since I took over this team.

I don't think it would be fair to John to bring him in and tell him that I want to do it any other way. I think that John has to rise and fall on his leadership qualities. I want him to do what he is comfortable doing. My job is not to tell Brian or John how to do their job. Everything they do collectively determines the level of respect, trust and commitment that the players are going to show their boss.

Would you prefer to see a tougher training camp?

No, I don't think I ever walked out of Westminster and thought we were underprepared because Brian didn't have them in pads for two-a-days and full contact. You can say we want a tougher one, and then you have two Pro Bowlers go down, the press will be saying that he's running a boot camp and it's killing the players. If he runs a really tough camp, those players are going to be complaining about it. That's not something I'm going to defend the players over.

Do you expect Jonathan Ogden to retire?

I haven't spoken to him, but I think there's every indication that he's done.

Is it sad to see the end of an era with Ogden?

Sure it is. But what better way to end a Hall of Fame career? His toe is not 100 percent. He gets to retire as a Raven. ... This is the age that most of those guys walk away. And he gets to walk away on his terms. ... It's unfortunate for Baltimore that injuries shortchanged us and probably influenced him to retire.

Some NFL observers suggest that after a coach is fired, the next person on the hot seat is the general manager. How would you evaluate Ozzie Newsome's performance?

Ozzie's track record speaks for itself. He's considered by anybody that follows this game in and out - other GMs and other national writers - as one of the top five GMs in the league. I don't know how many instances that GMs follow coaches out the door. But I think Baltimore is lucky to have him, and I'm lucky to have him.

Would you be comfortable if Steve McNair is your starting quarterback this season?

I would be thrilled to have Steve McNair as my starting quarterback next year. When my football guys saw Steve in minicamps and in training camp, they saw everything they hoped to see with a year in our system. It was second nature for him. But injuries ruined his year. I don't think it ruined the quarterback. I think what we have right now is - if Steve is committed to coming back healthier and stronger - I think we can get to the playoffs with him as our quarterback.


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