In yesterday's Sun, Ravens beat writer Jamison Hensley had a Q&A; with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti (it can also be found on the paper's Web site, baltimoresun.com) that finally lays to rest some of the lingering questions about the end of the Brian Billick era in Baltimore and helps fans better understand what Bisciotti expects out of his team's leader, the coach.
Stark in the Q&A; was this revelation - although revelation is probably too strong a word because the reporting on the team had already made this point abundantly clear - the players had substantial influence in Billick's dismissal.
In the following quote, Bisciotti was more specific than he has ever been about what was happening with the team last season and how it affected his decision:
"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."
Hensley followed up by asking the owner whether it was dangerous to allow players to feel so empowered. Bisciotti responded that the players are not running the team but that people perform best when they have trust and confidence in their leaders.
Which brings us to the now and future. John Harbaugh is the new coach. He has already developed a highly energized leadership style, and a well-respected one, as a position coach in Philadelphia, mainly special teams. But anyone who understands the dynamics of leadership knows converting an entire organization to your own style is not easy. Often, the most effective way to do that is to bring in "your guys." It works that way in all types of businesses, and especially in sports.
Of course, NFL coaches start by largely hiring their own coaching staffs immediately. But you'll also see coaches begin to weed out the roster (the Bill Parcells modus operandi).
You want "trust and confidence?" Have a team full of guys you hand-picked.
And that makes the recent development regarding Ray Lewis, who is in the last year of his contract, particularly interesting. This week, Bisciotti said he wants to sign No. 52 to a contract extension and even went so far as to say the Ravens would likely outbid other teams if Lewis hit the free-agent market.
Sun colleague Kevin Van Valkenburg in his blog has already discussed the conundrum of signing an aging star (Lewis turns 33 next month), who also happens to be the best player in Ravens history, to a contract extension that includes lots of guaranteed money (presumably $15 million to $20 million) that will affect the salary cap for a number of years. If the Ravens do that, Harbaugh will have a situation where the most high-profile public critic of the former coach, namely Lewis, will continue to have some leverage as the new coach tries to mold this team going forward.
Van Valkenburg used the correct word when he described the prospect of a long-term Lewis deal as a "conundrum," trying to balance having Lewis retire as a Raven against the financial liability the team incurs in making that happen.
I'll add this word as it may apply to Harbaugh's position, if he has any problem winning over Lewis and Lewis gets a deal that assures him several more years in Baltimore - dilemma.