For many, the Ravens Ring of Honor is unfortunately a sore spot because its inaugural inductee was Earnest Byner. Byner was a very good player, just not for the Ravens.
Byner’s contributions to the Ravens both on and off the field, were marginal, and his induction into the ROH seems more like a momentary lapse of reasoning by Art Modell. The beloved former Ravens owner seemed to pay homage to Byner for years of dedicated service that reached back to their days in Cleveland. But clearly, it was a mistake to honor him as a Raven. A company Rolex would have sufficed.
Byner’s induction set the bar for inclusion in the Ring artificially low. He is a substandard benchmark and that makes it difficult to deny other long-time Ravens a placard along the façade at M&T Bank Stadium. One such Raven is Brian Billick.
Billick ushered in attitude and swagger to a team that under former head coach Ted Marchibroda, was the NFL’s version of Melba Toast. Within two years of his arrival, the Ravens won the Super Bowl and helped put Baltimore back on the league’s map. His handling of the media leading up to Super Bowl XXXV was arguably his finest achievement. He adeptly shielded Ray Lewis from a blood-thirsty media, looking to rip open a murder trial that ended only months before the 2000 season began.
And who could ever forget this quote from the 2000 season as the Ravens prepared to take on the Tennessee Titans:
“When you go in the lion’s den, you don’t tippy toe in. You carry a spear, you go in screaming like a banshee, you kick whatever doors in, and say, ‘Where’s the son of a bitch!’ If you go in any other way you’re gonna lose.”
For many, those first two seasons alone, given the Byner benchmark, were enough to order the Brian Billick ROH placard. Yet here we are, nearly 10 seasons after his abrupt exit from Baltimore, and there are no plans for a Billick ceremony – not even a whisper.
And it begs the question, “Why?”
During his 9 seasons as the Ravens skipper, Billick registered an 80-64 regular season mark and was 5-3 in the postseason. The Ravens were playoff participants four times under Billick’s guidance.
Apparently, that isn’t good enough and Billick’s detractors certainly have a case.
Outside of the Super Bowl run in 2000 when the team went 4-0, the Ravens were just 1-3 during the postseason, losing twice at home. That wreaks of underachievement given a defense that was regularly among the league’s top 5. Three times during Billick’s tenure the Ravens were a sub-.500 team and despite a franchise best 13-3 in 2006, they were just 24-24 during his last three seasons (2005-2007).
The 2005 and 2007 seasons were absolute embarrassments. The locker room was fractured in part because of an offense that continually failed to hold up its end of the bargain. Things got so bad that owner Steve Bisciotti willingly fired Billick despite having four more seasons at $5M per on his contract. Typically, a Super Bowl winning coach with 80% of his contract still in play isn’t fired unless there are extreme circumstances.
The swagger that Billick brought to the organization morphed into cockiness and brashness when the team lost and fell short of expectations. It’s well known that Billick didn’t have the best of relationships with the scouting department and the vibe in the building wasn’t exactly somber when he left.
Perhaps he just wore out his welcome and his often-repeated belief that coaching cycles run 7 to 8 years because the message wears thin, became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It is interesting that Billick was never seriously pursued by other clubs and that despite some excellent work as a game analyst, Fox Sports decided not to renew his contract in 2014. Maybe that brashness just rubs some folks the wrong way.
The brashness aside the question remains, “Does Brian Billick deserve to be among the ROH inductees?”
He has my vote.
When considering such a distinguished, organizational honor, those who decide on such things must ask, “Can you re-write the team’s history of success without this man?”
And the answer to that question is an unequivocal, “No!”
Obviously Billick left some wounds upon his departure, otherwise we wouldn’t be having such a discussion. He’d already be in the Ring. But time heals wounds. And since that departure he has been an ambassador for the Baltimore Ravens, regularly touting the club’s organizational virtues on a national stage.
It’s time to put down that spear.
It’s time to scream like a banshee: “Put Brian Billick in the Ravens Ring of Honor!”