Bisciotti: Billick must change

OWINGS MILLS -- Despite a brutally bad season that owner Steve Bisciotti hated so much it made him absolutely miserable, Brian Billick was retained as the Baltimore Ravens' head coach last week after accepting a change-or-go mandate.

In his first public comments since announcing that Billick would return, Bisciotti outlined his demands that Billick alter his management style with players and assistants to become more approachable and also be less contentious and high-handed in his dealings with reporters. Bisciotti termed this his hardest ownership decision.

The Ravens (6-10) missed the playoffs for the second straight year since Bisciotti assumed majority control from Art Modell, and have lost 11 consecutive road games for the NFL's longest streak.

"This is the first year I think that Brian underachieved," Bisciotti said at a news conference while flanked by Billick and general manager Ozzie Newsome. "I think the Ravens underachieved, but this is not a trend. I think we exposed some weaknesses that we have as an organization, and Brian was willing to listen to that.

"The more Brian was willing to be open to change that helped Ozzie and I make the decision that we thought an improved Brian Billick was better than the alternatives out there. It wasn't done with huge threats like, ‘You are going to be out on the street.' It was simply, ‘Look at the changes you need to make and decide whether you'd like to change and stay here or don't change and go somewhere else.'"

For Billick, who won Super Bowl XXXV but has only one subsequent playoff victory, returning for an eighth season meant enduring a humbling critique. He acknowledged needing to develop better relationships with his players and assistants, many of whom were consulted by Bisciotti during his evaluation.

"I have to get back to being a head coach, and that involves the relationship with your players albeit understanding that the relationship between player and head coach is well-defined," Billick said. "That doesn't mean you can't pull yourself back into that environment more effectively. I have to be more responsive and helpful to my assistant coaches to give them the platform and the resources that they need to be successful.

"I have to more responsive to the dictates of both Ozzie and Steve and the synergy that Steve wants. The way I've approached my job with [reporters] has always been to be responsive and open. In a lot of instances, evidently, I haven't succeeded in that."

Billick, who's under contract through 2007 with a reported annual salary of $4.5 million, would have easily gotten another head coaching job, according to Bisciotti. Billick acknowledged that at age 51 it's unrealistic to think that he can change immediately.

"As we went through this process, it became very clear both on their part and on my part that there were other options," Billick said. "It would have been easier for me to say, ‘I'm going to take this someplace else and go about doing business the way I think I should.' It certainly could have been a lot easier for them to say, ‘Let's go find somebody else.'"

After a franchise-worst 2-7 start, Billick was deemed to be on the hot seat. There were rumors that Billick, who has a 62-50 regular-season mark, wanted to be bought out of his contract. He lobbied for his job in the final weeks in his online diary, promising he had rededicated himself.

"I think that Brian has earned that right," Bisciotti said of fixing the situation. "I admire the character. I'm trying to change subtleties in a personality, not trying to change the character of a man. If I thought that I was dealing with a guy that had subpar character or character flaws that we weren't willing to live with, then that would have been a no-brainer for me.

"If Ozzie and I are pleased with his growth, so will the players be. They will be excited and inspired by his willingness to make changes that make them happier, make them want to come to work a little more, compete a little harder, listen a little more and maybe make them sweat a little more."

It appears that Bisciotti wants Billick to tone down his often-colorful act which has been criticized by many as arrogant and condescending.

"I want him to focus more on the players and less on the press," Bisciotti said.

Meanwhile, Bisciotti is demanding upgraded communication inside the Ravens' $31 million offices. That begins with Billick being willing to accept colleagues and bosses' advice and counsel.

"Brian said to me two years ago that he thought the communication in this building was as good as he's seen it in any team he's been involved with in the league," Bisciotti said. "I said to him last year, ‘If this is the best in the league, then I think this league has problems because I've been involved in business for 20 years and I don't see the interaction that I think is conducive for a well-run organization.'"

Although Billick escaped being fired, it's unlikely to quiet speculation about his job security. Especially if the team doesn't get off to a strong start, or if Billick doesn't reinvent himself to meet Bisciotti's standards.

"His security comes from his willingness to change," Bisciotti said. "If he's unwilling to change, then he doesn't have job security. If he's willing to change, then he does. This job is insecure. It's not a secure job."
 

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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