Steve Bisciotti, in his own words

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens team owner Steve Bisciotti discusses why he fired coach Brian Billick after nine years and a terrible final season as the former AFC North champions skidded into last place in the division:



Opening Statement (Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti): "As all of you know already, we made the very difficult decision to fire Brian [Billick] this morning. I am where every other owner in the NFL has been before. I sought a lot of advice from my partners in the league that have been through this before. It is, for the most part, a very difficult decision for any one of them. I talked with Ozzie [Newsome] and Dick [Cass] a long time about this, and we came to the conclusion that we felt [this decision is] in our best interest, in the Ravens' best interest.

It was made extremely difficult, obviously, because of our personal relationship with Brian. He's a tireless worker, and he's very dedicated to his craft.

Unfortunately, I am in the position to have to make a very difficult [choice]. He's a very good friend of mine, and he was very gracious to me when we met today.

He understood – at least he gave me the confidence that I was true to go with my gut. I believed that it was time for a change. 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.

But I do want to say, again, that he was very gracious to me in the way that he handled it. Like he had to do with Jim Fassel last year, [he] believes that in time, we will remain friends forever.

"I want to thank him for everything that he brought Baltimore. Brian made history, Baltimore football history, by bringing a Super Bowl back to Baltimore. All of us that have been here know from our Colts days, how few and far between they are. We are competing every year with a statistical three-percent chance to do that, with 32 teams.

Unfortunately, the coach is the one that takes the fall. Sometimes it transcends just wins and losses. I'm very confident that with the experience Ozzie has in the league, and what Dick and I bring, that we can do a thorough search. I said to my wife last night that there is a Hall of Fame coach out there, and it's our job to find him.

Ozzie is going to be the lead, play the lead role in that search process. He's been there before; he was instrumental in bringing Brian here. I'm going to lean on him and the advice of my fellow owners, who will help me and guide me and counsel me through this. Dick has helped lead a successful law firm for 30 years, and I've had some experience myself.

So I believe that with [senior vice president of public and community relations] Kevin Byrne's help, the three of us will do a very thorough and professional job in finding the next coach that will bring the next Super Bowl to Baltimore."

What played the biggest factor in the decision? (Steve Bisciotti): "Something that I've had to get used to, I guess, is that this is a very visible job. I built a very successful business, and when I made difficult decisions, it was behind closed doors. I never had to go face 40 people asking me where someone fell short.

As much as I know that you deserve answers, I can't get into the specifics because we're talking about a man that I admire and flaws in his game. I think we're in the same position with players. We move on.

We don't sit there and tell you why we cut a receiver; you have to kind of let it speak for itself. We have been losing more than winning lately. I've had full control of this team for four years, and we [have had] one playoff season out of those four. So, as much as I know you deserve more, 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. The clichés about ‘losing the locker room' and ‘message getting stale' and all those things, I didn't know I would ever have to address. I was hoping that Brian would win a couple more and retire, and I'd hire another one and he'd last 15 years, and I could ride off into the sunset never having to fire somebody in a public environment. It wasn't easy for me at Aerotek, even when it was a private environment.

I can't talk about the specifics about Brian, other than to say that he gave his heart and soul to this thing, and he gets a disproportionate amount of blame for the position that we're in, and the three of us here are as responsible as him. We are, collectively, a 5-11 team."

What happened over the last few weeks to change your mind about brining him back, and did you talk to players to gauge their opinion on the matter? (Steve Bisciotti): "I didn't talk to players. I talked to other personnel in the organization.

Quite honestly, I had every intention of giving Brian another crack at this thing. He was willing to get a new offensive coordinator and turn over the play-calling. He was willing to do that, actually, weeks ago, and we recommended against it because the person that was going to get that charge was Rick Neuheisel.

And we knew that Rick had half an eye on the college job openings. We said, ‘You can't give up the play-calling with six or seven weeks left because Rick will spend half his time looking for jobs, and he could get a job when we still have three games left. So he's just not a good candidate.'

That changed and people became vocal. Some came to me and encouraged me to seek out and Ozzie to seek out and Dick to seek out some other opinions, and we did.

"I want to say two things. No. 1: I have never gone into the locker room. The last time I've been in the locker room, I think I was walking a couple kids in while the players were outside. I rely on the support personnel around here to be my eyes and ears, and that's what I did.

The other rumor was that I had interviewed coach [Bill] Cowher. It was all over the place. I have never met Bill Cowher. If I shook his hand one time five years ago at an NFL meeting, I don't remember it. But I did not talk with him, and I did not look for candidates. I have not spent one minute thinking about Brian's replacement. That's not something that I'm qualified to do without Ozzie's lead. So, that process starts now."

When did you reach this decision? (Steve Bisciotti): "Yesterday. Yesterday morning."

What happens to the rest of Brian's staff, and was the length of his contract a consideration at all? (Steve Bisciotti): "No, it was not. Brian gets what he deserves; his contract will be paid. He's building that farm on the eastern shore, and he told me that he is wealthy enough to treat me to dinner over there when the house is done."

I was also wondering about his staff… (Steve Bisciotti): "His entire staff signed two-year contracts last year. They are going to be honored. I would anticipate that 80 percent of them would get jobs right away. We've told them that they're welcome to stay in their offices and call around. There are going to be jobs open. We want them to get them; we certainly can't guarantee that they will have a job here with a new head coach.

They will be paid for a year if they decide to take a year off. I'm sure a few of them might want to take that year. It's a grinding business, and if you've been doing it for 20 years, a one-year paid vacation might be just what the doctor ordered for some of them. Others are going to dive right in.

Hopefully, we find a coach that can evaluate and we can retain some of our assistants, but they're certainly welcome to go look for other jobs."

Ozzie, do you approve of this? Obviously, you just heard about it yesterday, and you haven't had a lot of time to digest it, but you're the guy that's supposed to be running the football team… (General Manager Ozzie Newsome): "First of all, I did not just hear about this yesterday. Steve and I have dialogue constantly throughout the year, whether it's him evaluating me, me evaluating my staff, me evaluating the players, and me, him and Brian evaluating the coaches.

It's been an ongoing dialogue. Steve and I have spent countless hours talking about this situation and what was best for the Ravens, what was best for this organization. I view myself just as I view the scouts. The scouts' job is to provide me with the best information, so that I can make the best decision.

My job was to provide Steve with as much information as I could to help him make the best decision for this organization. But it's been an ongoing thing, the dialogue that he and I had, and it wasn't just this morning or yesterday morning that I found out about it."

Are there a couple of guys you want to focus in on, and is Rex Ryan one of those guys? (Ozzie Newsome): "I'll go ahead and answer. We just started the process. Is Rex someone that we will interview to be our head coach? Yes. But we're going to be very thorough.

We want to select the best guy, and if Rex is the best guy, then he will be the third coach in the history of the Baltimore Ravens. But we're going to be calling and talking to a lot of people so that we can get the best coach."

Is this indicative of a need to change how this team is coached? (Steve Bisciotti): "It has to be. That's the end result of a very difficult decision, is that yes, we believe that we will be better with fresh blood, or we wouldn't have made this decision. So that's the best I can tell you. We obviously wouldn't fire Brian if we were where we thought we needed to be."

What was your message to the players when you talked to them? (Steve Bisciotti): "That we have a very talented group of players. That because of our talent, we think that we will be on any potential head coach's list at the very top. I think that we have a very good organization.

I think that any potential head coach that looks at Ozzie's history of drafting Pro Bowl players and sees the Pro Bowlers that right now are not in uniform – they were on our sideline for the most part this year – when they're all healthy, I think that these potential candidates will look at ours and put us on top of their list.

As far as what other coaching vacancies open here in the next couple weeks, there probably should be a few, but less than there has been in the past. I think that you guys know that we've had 16 new coaches in the last 24 months.

So of the 32 teams, 16 of my partners have fired their coach in the last one or two years, and I think seven in 2004. The average tenure is four years, and hopefully we're going to find one for at least another nine years."

What was the itinerary for all of this? When was Brian told? When were the players told? When were the assistant coaches told? (Steve Bisciotti): "All today. Brian, obviously, had a meeting with Dick and I this morning and he wanted the opportunity to tell his coaches. We then took the opportunity to the players and then the support staff right after that and then you. Brian got an opportunity to talk to the coaches and then he wanted to go, obviously, straight home and talk to his wife."

Two years ago you went through a similar evaluation process of Brian. What was different then as opposed to now in evaluating coach Billick? (Steve Bisciotti): "That's a very, very difficult question. Brian made a sincere effort. I brought a very different style of open communication into this business, and I felt that as the leader he lacked some of the leadership skills, I guess, to make people comfortable to maybe give him advice.

He really made an effort to change that. I had given him some certain goals that I wanted him to try and achieve, and for the most part, he did. I guess what I can say now is that it wasn't enough, and I – reluctantly, but convincingly – made the decision to give him another stab.

So I hope I'm not here again for a long time, but I have to take chances. You have to take chances in life in order to succeed, and unfortunately, as Brian told me this morning, that's why he gets the big bucks – the most money and the least security.

I wish him the best, and I hope that our fans out there know that there was a lot of thought going into this and that we will work tirelessly to find that next coach to win us another Super Bowl or two."

Brian often talked about having continuity with the roster. Is that something that you think will continue, and what is the future of QB Steve McNair? (Ozzie Newsome): "First of all, it's going to be important that we get the new coach, we get the new staff, and we let them evaluate the football team.

That's going to be first and foremost before we start to make any decisions about who is going to be on our team in 2008. We need to get the advice of those people, which we don't have right now. Steve [McNair] is two weeks, three weeks post-surgery and is due back at the end of the month, end of January, for a checkup.

At that point, we will be given a report from our medical staff as to where he is.

But you leave here knowing that whoever the next head coach is going to be, next offensive coordinator is going to be, next defensive coordinator is going to be, it's going to have a lot of input as to what to make of the 2008 roster."

Did you both, Dick and Ozzie, recommend that Brian be fired, and Dick, what was your role in this? (Dick Cass): "We had a lot of meetings together, the three of us together, sometimes, just the two of us, sometimes Ozzie and Steve met. And over many, many hours, I did recommend to Steve that he go ahead and fire Brian. So I agreed with the recommendation, yes."

(Ozzie Newsome): "The same. And two, is that Steve and I have spent a lot of time talking about it. Brian and I spent some time talking about it, and when we got to the point of all of the information, then it was very easy for me to say to Steve that it's time for us to change, and I went along with him 100 percent."

What one thing stood out the most in this thought process? (Steve Bisciotti): "Again, I started my business at 23 years old, and in order to be successful, you have to take chances. And in order to take chances, you have to listen to your heart, you have to listen to your gut.

You believe with a track record that when you get the answer, you go with it. And it doesn't mean that you don't pray on it and it doesn't mean that you don't fear being wrong, because I do fear being wrong. There is no chance. I could be three coaches past Brian Billick nine years from now and trying to solve this puzzle.

It's such a difficult business. All I have to be is better than my competitors in the other industry that I've spent 20-some years in. In this [business], I've got 32 [teams] going for one prize every year, and how much blame you put on different people and how much you hold yourself responsible is something that is new to me.

And I hope that over time, Baltimore views me as a quality of an owner as Brian Billick was a head football coach.

So, I've got some catching up to do for the man that I just asked to step down today. And the jury's out on me. Brian's already got his Super Bowl, so I'll try and make you all proud."

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