Billick back in 2006

OWINGS MILLS -- Inside the Baltimore Ravens' locker room after being informed by owner Steve Bisciotti during a brief meeting that Brian Billick will return as head coach next season, veteran kicker Matt Stover was adamant that continuity, not a shake-up, was the correct response to a dismal season.

Despite Baltimore (6-9) not making the playoffs for the third time in the past four seasons, Bisciotti concluded after meeting with players and assistants that retaining Billick was his top option. Bisciotti's written statement didn't mention a lack of viable, available coaching alternatives or the $9 million it could have cost him if he had fired Billick, who's under contract through 2007.

"The majority of the guys are happy he's back, I don't know of anyone that's not happy about it," said Stover, who wasn't surprised by the decision. "Some people say that change for the sake of change -- new blood or a new voice -- is a good thing. I disagree.

"He's got the understanding of what it takes to be a Super Bowl-winning coach. Brian knows where he may have fallen short. As a man, personally and professionally, we always have to be willing to change. I think Brian will do that."

It's unclear how close Billick, 51, came to being fired or how tenuous his job security is going forward after this public vote of confidence. Meanwhile, an unconfirmed report immediately surfaced that offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, special-teams coach Gary Zauner, secondary coach Johnnie Lynn and receivers coach David Shaw are unlikely to be back.

"We have an ongoing and extensive process to find a way to win," read the statement of Bisciotti, who will speak with reporters Tuesday. "This included a thorough evaluation of Brian Billick. Collectively, we concluded that continuing with Brian as head coach gives us the best opportunity to win."

Bisciotti's announcement during a 10-minute meeting was met with a subdued, quiet reaction from players. There were no cheers.

Billick appeared visibly relieved to be retained for an eighth year after his third losing season in Baltimore.

"I'm very thankful and appreciative to be part of an organization and a group of people that we have here," Billick said. "The ability to deal and go through the difficulties that a team and an organization does and to deal with it the way we have is very important to me. That's why I covet being here.

"It just seemed like the right thing to do for us, to move forward in the way we have to. The thing I'm most appreciative of is that I'm a part of that process. That's unique."

Billick has an overall mark of 67-51 (.568) and owns a Super Bowl ring. Four wins in the past six games includes consecutive victories over Green Bay and Minnesota by a 78-26 margin.

"Everybody deserves a second chance," said running back Jamal Lewis, whose unproductive season was preceded by a federal prison sentence and ankle surgery. "If there's one person that knows that, it sure is me. When things go wrong, everybody wants to point fingers. It's not just about one person."

Billick is tied for fourth in NFL seniority with his current team with Philadelphia's Andy Reid, trailing only Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher (14 years), Tennessee's Jeff Fisher (12) and Denver's Mike Shanahan (11).

"The important word is stability," linebacker Bart Scott said.

Offensive standouts encouraged by quarterback Kyle Boller's recent progress were especially enthused about the decision.

"I've always been a fan of coach Billick," tight end Todd Heap said. "I think he runs his program the right way."

The Ravens fired Ted Marchibroda after the 1998 season and hired Billick after a record-setting run as the Vikings' offensive coordinator, which hasn't come close to being duplicated in Baltimore.

"With Ted, I don't think we were headed in the right direction," linebacker Peter Boulware said. "With Brian, it seems like we are. I think he'll crack the whip if he thinks he has to."

Stover alluded to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick learning from his autocratic ways in Cleveland, which alienated many and represents a stark contrast to Billick.

"A lot of guys who have never been in another system don't know how good they have it," Stover said. "The system requires you to be a man."

Billick has repeatedly acknowledged failing his team by underestimating how much he needed to alter his management style and made a commitment to rededicate himself.

Billick has drawn criticism for his extremely player-friendly training camps: no curfew for veterans shortly after reporting, few heavy contact drills or other demanding regimens.

"I think he'll put his foot down a little bit more," Lewis predicted. "He might be a little more aggressive with us, training camp-wise and practice-wise. I don't mind."

Wide receiver Derrick Mason vehemently disagreed with Billick's unsuccessful fourth-down decision in Denver and was the only player to publicly criticize Boller. He exchanged heated words with Billick on Sunday when he refused to challenge an incompletion, tossing the football in frustration.

However, Mason expressed confidence that Billick's return won't signal a status quo of another losing campaign.

"I'm an optimist, so things to me are going to change," Mason said. "Why not be optimistic about them bringing coach Billick back and him envisioning a better season? We all need to envision a better season if we're going to have one."

 


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