Bisciotti: 'I have no concerns'

OWINGS MILLS -- Just a year ago, Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick squirmed and frowned uncomfortably while team owner Steve Bisciotti publicly critiqued his management style. It was an entirely different story Tuesday a year removed from Billick being retained under Bisciotti's change-or-go mandate.

Seated side by side at a news conference at the team's training complex, Bisciotti and Billick smiled, traded jokes and expressed confidence in the direction of the franchise two weeks after a bitter playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

This public solidarity followed Billick being granted a contract extension weeks ago to continue to coach the AFC North champions with the team declining to reveal terms or length of the new pact.

"I don't have any concerns," said Bisciotti, breaking his silence with his first remarks to reporters since last year's tense, oft-discussed press conference. "I think that the organization is sound, and I'm very comfortable going forward. I don't really have anything to worry about."

That wasn't the case last year when Bisciotti put Billick on the spot following a 6-10 campaign and demanded that he become more approachable to players and staff, less contentious in his dealings with the media and be willing to adapt to new ideas under a more inclusive, consensus-based model in overseeing the team.

Mission accomplished with a 13-3 season, according to Bisciotti.

"As much progress as you could possibly ask for someone to listen and grow and change," Bisciotti said regarding Billick's progression. "Brian said at one point, ‘It's so hard for me.' I said, ‘I know and I'm not expecting you to be great at it. I'm expecting you to be committed to it.' That was a year ago, and he was committed to it.

"My questions were never whether Brian was capable of making some changes for partners' sake. It was whether he was willing to do it. When we walked in here and said he was going forward as our coach, I was always confident that he was capable of growing still. He's not that much older than me."

Continuing the harmony theme, Billick chimed in by smacking a softball question about what type of boss he had while sitting next to the Anne Arundel County businessman who's listed among Forbes' richest Americans.

"He's still my owner, that's the good thing," Billick said. "We are very comfortable and confident with where we are right now and the way we will continue to grow as an organization. "It stems from the very clear and specific vision Steve has for this organization. You can't ask for more than that because it's very clear what it is he hopes to achieve and the way we can interact to bring that about."

Later, Bisciotti delivered this quip when asked if the Ravens have everything they need to be a perennial contender, "We could use a better owner," before adding, "Yes, I do. We've got a great organization. I came in and took over an organization that the Modells built, and they're all still here. I think we can compete with anybody in the NFL."

Citing privacy reasons, Billick has refused to elaborate on the length of his contract, which was scheduled to expire following the 2007 season prior to his contract extension. With the extension, it's believed he's under contract at least through 2008 with an annual salary in excess of $5 million.

Bisciotti backed up that stance on not disclosing his coach's contract, saying it was a policy originated under former majority owner Art Modell. However, the team's official biography on Billick notes that he signed a six-year contract negotiated with Modell in 1999 and has signed a few contracts subsequently.

"I'm just picking up where Art left off, these guys had those rules when I came in, I'm just playing by the rules," Bisciotti said. "We are comfortable going forward. I told you guys a few years ago I wanted Brian to be my coach for the next 15 years. We put a good chunk of that on the table, and I think he's capable of being that coach."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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