Ravens Dismiss Billick

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Baltimore Ravens fired Coach Brian Billick yesterday, less than 24 hours after they completed a disappointing 5-11 season and less than a month after Billick said he would be back for another year.

"I believed that it was time for a change," owner Steve Bisciotti said during a news conference at the team's training facility in Owings Mills, Md. "I believe 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."

Billick, who won the 2001 Super Bowl and had a record of 80-64 in nine seasons with the Ravens, was one of the longest-tenured coaches in the NFL, behind Tennessee's Jeff Fisher (14 seasons) and Denver's Mike Shanahan (13).

But since Bisciotti became the team's primary owner in April 2004, the Ravens were 33-31 with one playoff appearance. Baltimore began the 2007 season with Super Bowl aspirations, but injuries, ineffective offensive play and overall sloppiness combined to doom the Ravens, who endured a franchise-record nine-game losing streak.

Over the past month, Billick had told his players as well as reporters he believed he would be back for his 10th season. The Baltimore Sun, citing a high-ranking team official, reported Billick had received a vote of confidence from Bisciotti, who does not grant interviews during the season.

But Bisciotti changed his mind after consulting with team president Dick Cass and General Manager Ozzie Newsome, both of whom recommended Billick be fired. The owner said he made his decision Sunday, before the Ravens' season-ending 27-21 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and then informed Billick yesterday morning. Bisciotti informed the players at an afternoon meeting.

"It was shocking, but the organization had to make a decision, and they felt this was the best decision for this team to move forward," wide receiver Derrick Mason told reporters as players packed up for the offseason.

Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and the rest of Billick's coaching staff also were dismissed. Ryan, who has spent the past nine years with the organization, will be interviewed for the head coaching job, but Newsome added "we're going to be calling and talking to a lot of people so that we can get the best coach."

Ryan, 45, is popular with the players, and in his three seasons as coordinator he directed a defense that was among the league's best. This season, Baltimore's defense ranked sixth, despite losing its top pass rusher and both of its starting cornerbacks to injuries. Yesterday, linebacker Terrell Suggs and cornerback Samari Rolle, two former Pro Bowl performers, lobbied for Ryan to get the job.

"Not to disrespect Coach Billick or anything," said Rolle, "but I'm sure everybody around here would love that."

Billick, 53, was named the second coach in franchise history in January 1999, taking over for the fired Ted Marchibroda. He came to Baltimore with the reputation as an offensive whiz, but his Ravens teams regularly struggled to score points and were marked by inconsistent quarterback play.

In his first season, Billick led Baltimore to what was then a franchise-best 8-8 record, and the following year he oversaw a team that had a record-setting defense, posted 12 regular season victories and won Super Bowl XXXV. The Ravens went to the playoffs in 2001, 2003 and 2006 -- winning AFC North titles in the latter two years -- but they hadn't won a playoff game since the 2001 season.

Billick held on to his job following a 6-10 record during the 2005 season, but only after agreeing to make some changes to his managerial style. The Ravens won a franchise-record 13 games in 2006, but suffered a disappointing loss -- in which they failed to score a touchdown -- to the Indianapolis Colts in the conference semifinals. That was followed by this dismal season, in which Baltimore did not win a game between Oct. 14 and Dec. 29, and became the only team to lose to 1-15 Miami.

Bisciotti said Billick was willing to turn over play-calling duties to a new offensive coordinator -- Rick Neuheisel left to become the head coach at UCLA -- but that he and Newsome decided to go in a different direction.

"We have been losing more than winning lately," Bisciotti said. "I have to tell you it's a gut feeling. It just comes down to yes or no. I have one job here, and that's to have a leader that I think gives us the best chance."

Bisciotti said he did not consult with players before making his decision, but talked to other personnel within the organization. He also denied rumors he has interviewed Bill Cowher, the former Pittsburgh Steelers coach who is currently a television analyst.

Billick has three years left on his contract, which is believed to be worth $5 million a year, and Bisciotti said the Ravens will pay the remainder. Billick said he intends to remain in the area with his family, and he is currently building a house on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

"I believe in the partnership that Steve Bisciotti has assembled," Billick said in a statement. "The process does work. I was part of that. He had to make a hard decision, and he did what he believes is best for the Ravens. We are friends and will remain friends."

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