This interview dates back to the 2005 season when the Ravens struggled mightily and the team was falling well short of expectations.
It goes without saying the Ravens have certainly had their fair share of struggles this season. The finger of blame has been pointed in many directions but almost always rests on the offense. Recently, I sat down with Coach Billick (at least I think I did) to discuss this dynamic and the host of problems plaguing the 2005 Ravens?
Tony Lombardi: Coach the season has been a huge disappointment not only for the fans, but also for the entire Ravens’ organization. By your own admission, seven losses will more than likely seal the Ravens fate this season. Do you worry that there will be other agendas that surface amongst the players that will conflict with what is best for the team?
Brian Billick: Absolutely. I refer to those other hidden or even visible agendas as “stacking.” I even worry about that when things are going well. That’s the dynamic of the NFL. Fans often forget that the players have lives outside of the game and while it is a game and these athletes are highly paid, they do have families and they like you, need to balance their lives. When Terrell Suggs consistently loses while playing Madden 2006, it concerns me. I worry about those extenuating circumstances rising from such frustrations. It changes the way he approaches the game and it alters the parameters of how we attack on defense.
TL: Speaking of your defense, they have been the rock upon which you stand. Despite the inefficiencies of the offense, your defense still ranks second in the league even while missing the two most recent Defensive Players of the Year in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed for the past two games. How are you getting it done?
BB: Well the truth be told, it stems from pride and the results are a byproduct of the collective pride of our defense. And they have been given plenty of help from the offense. Had our offense been able to score more points and taken a substantial lead in some games, Rex may have dropped into a prevent defense and opponents may have racked up more yardage. That could have weakened our defensive ranking.
TL: So let me get this straight Coach, the lack of offensive scoring leads to a better defense? Interesting concept. Let’s talk about the offense. Why are they so miserable in the red zone?
BB: As you know the red zone is a very compressed part of the field and that goes against our tendencies. It doesn’t play to our strengths which is to be explosive and vertical. It also hurts our power running game because teams can choke off our cutback lanes more readily than they could if they were forced to respect our verticality.
TL: Coach, I’ve got to tell you, and maybe I don’t understand the game quite like you do, but I can’t say I’ve seen a vertical aspect of your offense nor do I see your opponents respecting it.
BB: Well Tony that’s just it. You don’t understand! Until you’ve played the game at this level, until you’ve been through a NFL training camp and until you really understand the speed of the game, the nuances of disguised coverages and the preparation that goes into the game both mentally and physically, you or any of your peers, colleagues or associates will never get. There are parameters that you can’t comprehend.
TL: Coach, really I was just hoping to see you call a bomb or a fly pattern or a deep post pattern. I thought that was a vertical game.
BB: That’s part of it. The other part of it is tempo. Tempo and pacing are crucial to verticality. They are the lifeblood of a high powered offense. We have the technology. We have the capability and the culpability and the probabilities and probably the escapability. We just don’t have the physical ability and the prerequisite maturity to overcome our vertical shortcomings but that will come with time.
TL: Ok well, I hope it does Coach but it has to be frustrating to both you and the defense that time and time again has been called upon to bail out your inept offense.
BB: Inept? Inept? Are you kidding me? Our offense is among the league’s best between the 20 yard lines and as you know, or should I say as I think you know, field position is crucial to playing effective defense. So while we might not score touchdowns, our offense perhaps more so than any offense in the league, allows its defense to shine through our precise handling of the geographic parameters of the football field.
TL: Coach I believe you. Besides I failed geometry. For the record, who really calls the plays for the offense?
BB: That’s an easy question to answer. The offensive coordinator and I, whether that is Matt Cavanaugh or Jim Fassel, we put together a game plan on Tuesday. We implement the plan in practice on Wednesday. We sequence the plays based upon the opposing metrics that we anticipate from that particular week’s opponent. During the game, we run the plays the way we practiced them regardless of the game situation. The dynamics of our game plan have an ebb and flow to them that allows for adjustment to down and distance and we reset appropriately or should I say adjust accordingly.
TL: Thanks Coach but really, who calls the plays?
BB: The plays in many ways call themselves. That’s how tight the parameters are and the players understand that.
TL: Why then does the team struggle so much with the two minute offense and with clock management?
BB: That is an invalid criticism. Our offense is going through an adjustment period. We’ll be fine. The blocking is fine. The receiving corps has been tremendous. I challenge you to find a more productive pair of backs given the dynamics of their respective offenses and the sequencing of the repetitions in the entire league than Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor. And for my money, I’ll take Todd Heap over any tight end in the league. Add to that that Anthony Wright has done everything we’ve asked of him and then some and now we have Kyle returning, we are on the verge of finding the necessary rhythm that is a prerequisite and a precursor to offensive consistency.
TL: But you are averaging just 12 points per game?
BB: That is the exact type of shortsighted thinking that is indicative of the Baltimore media. The season isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. It isn’t a chapter, it’s a book. It isn’t a trip to the grocery store, it’s a journey. It’s all about who gets better the fastest in the NFL. At the moment, we are slightly behind in the developmental curve but as this plays out and the natural course of our carefully chosen processes unfolds, our pacing will improve and so will our scoring.
TL: Coach, this is a difficult to say but the fact is many within NFL circles suggest that you are the proverbial “Dead Man Walking.” Sources have indicated that you’ve lost control of the team and even some of your coaches are looking for employment elsewhere for 2006. Sources have also indicated that your close friend, Jim Fassel, has argued with you in the presence of others in the organization. Are you concerned for your job?
BB: First, I just love the so-called “sources.” If you don’t have the stones to step up and reveal your sources, then why should I put any stock in the statement? As for Jim Fassel, he possesses an excellent football mind. If I expected him to agree with everything I say or do, then one of us wouldn’t be necessary now, would I? I mean they? Jim and I are similar in that we are both articulate and stubborn. We are dissimilar in that I am more conscious of the process where Jim has a tendency to fly by the seat of his pants and go with gut instincts or hunches. A hunch is creativity at work. Sometimes the parameters don’t allow for creativity. And that’s where Jim and I differ. Well, I’m also taller and better looking than Jim as well.
TL: Coach, that’s cool but the question is, did you have the argument?
BB: How would you like me to answer that exactly?
TL: I just want the truth Coach.
BB: YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!
TL: I think we’re entitled to the truth.
BB: Son, we play in a league that has clearly defined parameters, and those parameters have to be guarded by men with knowledge of the game. Who’s gonna do it? You? Your crack pot staff at Ravens24x7.com? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for the fans, and you curse our quarterbacks. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know – that our offense’s death, while tragic, probably saved careers; and my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves fans from having to spend more of their hard earned dollars on playoff tickets.
You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that sideline — you need me on that sideline. We use words like “tempo,” “balance,” “parameters.” We use these words as the backbone of a life spent creating a profile. You use them as a punch line. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very comfort zone that I provide for your website and radio show and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said “thank you” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you strap on a helmet and take a position. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!”
TL: Coach, that was pretty good. Do you want to be in broadcasting someday?
BB: Actually, I think I’m a natural. What do you think?
TL: I think Ravens’ fans at this point would like to see you on TV.
Coach, as a journalist the one question that I’m asked more often than any other question is, “why haven’t the Ravens been able to develop a QB?” So I’m asking you, why haven’t the Ravens been able to develop a QB?
BB: That is perhaps the most difficult thing to do in all of sports — developing a quarterback. Is he fast enough, smart enough, does he have the right arm? Can he escape pressure? Can he throw the football 60 yards through the uprights while kneeling? These are questions that demand answers outside of the player’s ability to perform on the collegiate football field. It is such a challenge to find the right person to handle the demands of our offense. Sometimes, looking back I wonder, “What the hell were we thinking about?”
TL: Steve Bisciotti is built to overachieve yet your team has fallen well short of expectations. How might you calm the concerns of the owner at this point?
BB: Steve Bisciotti is a kid — I mean an adult with worldly experiences, who understands the peculiarities of a coaching dynamo such as myself. He recognizes my dynamics and that above all else, I’m going to collect $4.5 million per season over the next two years. He knows I’m the man for the job. Why else would he have anted up so much dough to keep me around? Like I said before, he wants me on that sideline — he needs me on that sideline. I don’t know about Boller or Wright or Fassel or Neuheisel or the Easter Bunny. I just know that he doesn’t like the spotlight and I do. It’s a match made in Hollywood.
TL: Why didn’t Chester Taylor run or catch the ball on Sunday?
BB: Chester Taylor is a very unique talent. So unique that we blew, I mean invested $3 million on him to sit him on the sidelines against a team like the Jaguars who are vulnerable to rushes on the edge — the type of rushes that he specializes in. We really wanted to see if he could handle the adversity of not starting. So far we are paying him close to $12,500 per yard and we recognize that that is a handsome salary. We don’t want to insult Chester by asking him to rush for more yards which would essentially lower his salary per yard. We are always cognizant of things like that and we have to respect our athletes.
TL: Kyle Boller was awful today. Not only that but he was smacked around pretty good behind an offensive line that once again was a sieve. What are your plans going forward?
BB: We’ll get back to work on Thursday. Our guys are tired so I’ve decided to give them an extra day off. They’ve earned it. A little more rest is exactly what our line needs. I fully expect them to respond to the adversities that have manifested themselves in our pass protection.
TL: Coach, you certainly have a unique perspective on the game of football. Let’s do a little word association and see what you inner conscience suggests?
BB: Ok, let’s go?
TL: Mike Preston
BB: Clearly a journalist who twists and contorts half truths in an opportunistic way, the sole purpose of which is to sell newspapers. I think his talents might be better served on our offensive line.
TL: Offseason needs
BB: None. We should keep everything as it is and allow the process to accelerate the developmental curve of the challenges available to us.
TL: Uh, Coach can we just keep these answers brief. Remember word association.
BB: Oh sorry. I’m really enjoying this.
TL: Orlando Brown
BB: Bull fighter
TL: Ozzie Newsome
BB: Tight end
BB: (sings) When you’re gone, how can I even try to go on? My favorite band, not even a close second.
TL: 2005 expectations
BB: I’m not allowing the “P” word just yet.
TL: One thing people don’t know about you.
BB: I’m really not an offensive guru.
TL: Match Game
TL: Who would play you in a film about your life?
BB: Without beard, Alan Alda…with beard, Foster Brooks
TL: Beatles or Stones?
BB: Actually I prefer ABBA
TL: Beer or wine?
BB: I could use both after that game.
TL: Baltimore fans
TL: Scoring 20 points in a game.
BB: Unrealistic! Did I say that?
Programming Note: This interview is not based upon facts or actual representations and did not take place within the parameters of reality.