OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Brian Billick never came close to
duplicating the success he enjoyed early in his career as head
coach of the Baltimore Ravens, and it finally cost him his job.
Billick was fired Monday, less than 24 hours after his team
concluded a season of high expectations with a disappointing 5-11
record. His entire staff, including defensive coordinator Rex Ryan,
also was dismissed.
"I believed that it was time for a change, I believed that we
have the nucleus of a team that can get back to the Super Bowl, and
we felt that in the next five years we had a better chance with a
new coach than leaving Brian in that position," said owner Steve
Bisciotti, who made the decision after consulting with team
president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome.
Billick won the 2001 Super Bowl in his second season with the
Ravens, but since Bisciotti took over full ownership in 2004,
Baltimore was 33-33. That included two losing seasons and only one
playoff appearance, a one-and-out performance in 2006.
"It's a gut feeling. I have one job here, and that's to have a
leader that I think gives us the best chance," Bisciotti said.
"We have been losing more than winning lately."
Billick led the Ravens to a franchise-best 13-3 record in 2006.
But Baltimore lost a team-record nine consecutive games this season
before ending the skid Sunday with a 27-21 win over Pittsburgh.
Baltimore offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel didn't have to
worry about losing his job; he already had agreed to become head
coach at his alma mater, UCLA. He remained with the Ravens for
their final game, and was surprised that Billick was let go.
"I left believing that the Raven thing was going to turn
around," Neuheisel said Monday. "We had a tough season two years
ago and came back and finished 13-3."
Bisciotti said he made the decision to fire Billick hours before
kickoff, and carried out the move Monday morning in a meeting at
the team's practice facility.
"He had to make a hard decision, and he did what he believes is
best for the Ravens," Billick said in a statement. "We are
friends and will remain friends."
Billick had three years left on a contract that pays $5 million
per season. Bisciotti determined a few weeks ago that he would give
Billick a chance to right things in 2008, but changed his mind
after talking with Cass, Newsome and other NFL owners.
"We believe that we will be better with fresh blood or we
wouldn't have made this decision," Bisciotti said. "We obviously
wouldn't fire Brian if we thought we were where we needed to be."
Ryan will be considered for the head coaching job, but Newsome
said he will "be calling and talking to a lot of people."
Billick's nine seasons with Baltimore was tied with
Philadelphia's Andy Reid as the third-longest current run with the
same team and behind Tennessee's Jeff Fisher and Denver's Mike Shanahan. He took the Ravens to the playoffs in 2000, 2001, 2003
and 2006 and finished with an 80-64 record.
"Sometimes the message can get repetitive after a while,"
12-year offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said.
The Ravens expected to compete for a world championship this
season after bringing back almost every starter from last year's
AFC North champions. But injuries and a turnover-prone offense
contributed to a complete collapse after a 4-2 start, and Baltimore
finished in sole possession of last place in the division for the
first time since 1997.
Bisciotti knows there are no guarantees that the Ravens' next
coach will get better results than Billick. But he figured making a
change was worth the risk.
"In order to be successful you have to take chances, and in
order to take chances you have to listen to your heart. You have to
go with your gut," the owner said. "It doesn't mean that you
don't fear being wrong, because I do fear being wrong. I could be
three coaches past Brian Billick nine years from now trying to
solve this puzzle."
Billick was the offensive coordinator of the Vikings
before coming to Baltimore. He was deemed to be an offensive genius
when he got to the Ravens -- in his last season (1998) with Minnesota, Billick's offense scored a then-NFL record 556 points -- but the team became known for its
staunch defense and never had an attack that was remotely as
productive as that of the Vikings in the late 1990s.
"I'm not saying I agree with it," kicker Matt Stover said of
Billick's dismissal, "but sometimes things have to change."
Billick, 53, was hired as Baltimore's second head coach in
January 1999, succeeding Ted Marchibroda. In Billick's first
season, the Ravens reached .500 (8-8) for the first time. Then he
led Baltimore to a 12-4 record and a berth in the Super Bowl, where
the Ravens beat the New York Giants 34-7.
But after he failed to build on last year's 13-3 record, Billick
wasn't afforded the opportunity to bounce back from a season in
which the Ravens went from Oct. 14 to the end of December without a
"For all we went through as a team, I think coach Billick stood
in there. And for all the verbal lashings from the fans and the
media, he stood in there and took it," wide receiver Derrick Mason
said. "That says a lot for the man, for his character. Yes, it was
shocking, but the organization had to make a decision, and they
felt in was the best decision for this team to move forward."
But was it the right decision? Bisciotti couldn't say for sure.
"How much blame you put on different people, and how much you
hold yourself responsible is new to me," he said. "I hope that
over time that Baltimore views me as [good] an owner as Brian
Billick was a head football coach.
"I've got some catching up to do to the man that I asked to
step down today. The jury's out on me. Brian's already got his
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.