Billick back to his roots

Brian Billick talks about his early NFL days working for the 49ers and facing them on Sunday for the first time as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens.

Q: What are your feelings about facing the 49ers, whom you worked for decades ago, for the first time as Baltimore coach?

Billick: Well, it's been a long time. It's the first time I've faced them since obviously being here in Baltimore. I faced them on a number of occasions in Minnesota, but I'm better than 20 years removed from it. There are only a handful of people still with the organization. Certainly, Bill Walsh most notably. Terry Donahue, who not through the 49ers, but through a personal relationship, I've know Terry for almost 25 years. But, obviously, anytime you play a team that was as much a part of your upbringing as the 49ers were for me, it is going to be a special day for me.

Q: Do you keep in contact with Walsh?

Billick: Bill and I talk periodically. Bill has always been a mentor and great aide for me. Particularly, at pivotal times, he's been a great resource for me and continues to do so.

Q: Can you talk about how your offensive philosophy has evolved?

Billick: After 25 years of coaching, the fundamentals of what I do, not only on the field, but off, can easily be traced to Bill's philosophies. An extension of those via Denny Green and my time with Denny Green. What I've learned from Bill Walsh is too much to cover. More importantly, probably as much off the field. With all the brilliance that Bill has in tactics, strategies and the X's and O's, to me, the true brilliance of Bill Walsh is that I think he is the most brilliant teacher I've ever seen. Of all the things that I've tried to emulate and value the most are those teaching skills. That is what I remember the most and have tried to adapt and take forward as much as anything that I took from those years from the 49ers and subsequently in that style of preparation with Denny Green.

Q: What makes Walsh so good at teaching?

Billick: Just his approach. His intellectual approach, yet very cognizant of the audience he is dealing with and his attention to detail. The painstaking care, and I can't think of a better term to use, the painstaking care you take in preparing and understanding the value of the teaching sequence. That means in the classroom. That means the way you structure training camp. The way you prepare and present materials and game plans during the course of a week. How you lay it out for game day. How it is communicated to the players. The expectations you put on the players, in terms of the preparation. I think again, for all the things that are attributed to Bill, I think that is why you see those who have been able and fortunate enough to work with Bill that have gone forward and the success rate that they have had. Even though every one of them will obviously put their personal imprint on it and take whatever X and O philosophy they have and tweak it based on personnel and changes that happened in the league. I've said many times, if you were to visit the quote on quote, 'West Coast guys', and you look at what they are doing offensively and defensively, yeah, you'll see some similarities, but no more so than from one team to the next. But, you watch the way we prepare, conduct ourselves with our team and the tempo of practice. You come away saying, 'yeah, these guys kind of came all from the same place.'

Q: What kind of public relations employee were you with the 49ers?

Billick: Fortunately, I'm a whole lot better of a coach than I was a PR guy. That was a great opportunity for me to be exposed to every aspect of the organization and the people there in John McVay and Keith Simon. Across the board, they were very gracious in exposing me, too. Nobody had an assistant, so I kind of became everybody's assistant. That exposed me to every aspect of the organization that has served me very well. My only claim to fame was on draft day. In the old days when the draft started at nine o'clock in New York, it meant we were at six o'clock, which means we were in the office at four o'clock. The first duty I was ever given was to provide breakfast for this four o'clock draft day. You hear, Ira knows wines and I know breakfast, bagels and donuts. I had a spread you couldn't believe. But, coming out of BYU, I don't drink coffee, so at four in the morning, it never occurred to me anybody would want coffee. So, two years after that it was, 'hey, coffee boy, come over here.' So, that was my claim to fame. It was my first real task that I was given in that organization and I failed miserably.

Q: How has your offense changed with Anthony Wright at quarterback?

Billick: Fortunately, not a great deal. Obviously, with the rookie, and we made the cognitive decision that when we went with the rookie that we felt like we had enough defensive assets, the ability to run the ball and play good special teams, that we could surround a rookie quarterback and all the foibles that go with that. We were very cognizant of that. Now, having to go and change years and go with Anthony Wright, all but more years in the league, really no more experience, we haven't had to change a great deal because of the original format that we went in with. Anthony, like Kyle, has a very strong arm. He has certain phonetic pace about him. He can make some plays with his legs. That is one of the reasons I decided to go with Anthony, as opposed to Chris Redman. That is not Chris's fault, but what we are right now doesn't really suit his abilities, as much as it does a Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright.

Q: Does starting a rookie quarterback compare at all to the 49ers developing Rattay over years?

Billick: Certainly, they are different circumstances. I've done the homework in starting, not just having to go to a rookie, but starting a rookie quarterback. To start the season and have him go the entire season is not a particularly pretty picture when you look at the 70-plus situations where that has come up since 1961. You look at the numbers, you look at the wins and losses, and it is not particularly pretty. But, given again the assets we have on this team, even though we are a very young team, last year we were the youngest team in the history of the league, and this year we are third youngest in the league, but we are a team that has been together for awhile, and that will be together for awhile. Our cap situation is under full control. We have the majority of our players under long-term contracts. So, as we go forward, this team is going to be together for awhile. That is kind of exciting. That was also one of things that prompted us to go with Kyle as the quarterback. Not only as the guy for now, but the guy for the future. So, you just do that haphazardly. But clearly, in this league you have to have a little bit of an eye to the future and it has worked out well.

Q: What are your feelings about earlier in the year that Jamal Lewis made a guarantee to win heading into Cleveland game and other players guaranteeing wins?

Billick: For those of you not familiar with Jamal, Jamal is a very private person and he is just now getting used to the spotlight. Quite honestly, I was a little irritated, but not with Jamal. That was a comment made to a friend on the Cleveland team, as guys will talk during the week, where his friend said, 'Well, we're going to load the box up and you are going to have a tough day.' He (Jamal) told the friend, 'not only am I going to play well, but I'm going to set the NFL rushing record.' He told that to a friend, who told that to a friend, who told that to the media. So, that is exactly the way it went down. I hate to label Jamal in that type of vein, given the circumstances and the way it came down. Guys do that. That's fine. Jamal is getting used to that kind of spotlight and I don't think he'll make that kind of mistake again.

Q: Is this linebacker Ray Lewis' best year?

Billick: That is saying a lot when you say best year. He's a phenomenal talent. I'm obviously biased, but I don't know you'll find too many people that won't say that he is one of the most dominant defensive players in the game. He's having a phenomenal year. Of all the things that Ray does, and I've said this many times, I think he is the most gifted, natural leader I've ever been around. His ability to express his passion for the game, to raise the level of play of those around him and to communicate to everyone on the team. His ability to communicate with a rookie quarterback from Valencia, California, given the socio and economic differences in the way these kids grew up, yet having an immediate connection with a kid like that. It's amazing to watch.

Q: Does Ray Lewis waste any energy using his emotion to get players fired up?

Billick: No. That is part of Ray's persona and the team feeds off that. A lot of people misinterpret that. I think people are beginning to understand. Initially, people kind of thought it was trash-talking or disrespectful. It is all about his team and the passion for his team. It is never directed at an opponent. It is never disrespectful. It is always about him, the team, the passion and the level of the commitment to the game. As a coach, you just pray to have players like that on your team.

Q: Is that fire just for defense?

Billick: Oh, no. It's a team dynamic. When he has been at his best is when he has had somewhat of a counterpart offensively; a Shannon Sharpe in 2000-2001. A Jamal Lewis now. That is the leadership I'm talking about. He nurtures Jamal Lewis in the relationship. He's nurturing it in a Kyle Boller. He will now transfer it to an Anthony Wright and Todd Heap because he recognizes that it isn't just about Ray Lewis. It's just not about Ray Lewis having a passion. It's about the team having a passion and accountability for one another. It translates to the entire team. This team prepares very well, and they are a joy to be with and coach because they do prepare well. They are consistent. We practice, as is typical of the 49ers-esque, Bill Walsh style, at a very high tempo. You demand that as a coach. If there is anybody that could take the day off or slide a little bit, it would be a Ray Lewis. When these players see Ray Lewis every down and every meeting being focused and professional, it is hard for someone to go, 'if Ray Lewis is doing that, how can I think I can get away with not doing that?'

Q: Is the speed and athleticism of the 49ers defense neutralized by your style of offense running between tackles?

Billick: There are different styles obviously. This game is very simple. It's about numbers and angles. You either get more people at the point of attack than your opponent; more blockers than they have defenders or more defenders than they have blockers. If you can't do that, then you try to supply superior angles or superior size. We are a smashmouth running football team. If you have the size to combat that, then that is a good match-up. If you don't, then you better commit the extra guy with a certain level of athleticism. That is clearly the style of the 49ers and that could be very effective.

Q: Do the 49ers show whether they are going to pass or throw by having Hearst or Barlow in?

Billick: I'm sure there is some balance that you look at there, but I know they are too good of a staff to let that be too strong of an indicator. Like every team, particularly at this time of the season, there are little things that you do that are indicators. There are patterns that you have that are tendencies for a good reason because you're probably pretty good at it. You can't just let the sheer appearance of 'I know the opponent will know this because we have a tendency to do such and such.' You have to make your opponent make you stop doing that. Don't stop doing that just because you know your opponent knows it. So, their balance is very good, like every team. They have an excellent one-two punch with Garrison and Barlow. That is something you have to account for.

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