Billick: 'I was shocked'

OWINGS MILLS -- On the eve of his final game as the Baltimore Ravens' coach, Brian Billick told his family he thought there would be more kickoffs in his immediate future. Granted a late-season vote of confidence by team owner Steve Bisciotti that he would be retained, Billick assured his oldest daughter, Aubree, that she didn't need to attend the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

One day later, Billick was fired following a 5-11 season.

"She understands the business and she asked me, 'Dad, do I need to be there for the last game?" Billick said Monday during a three-hour interview with WJFK-1300, breaking his silence with his first extensive local comments since being fired Dec. 31. "I said, 'No, we made these decisions together. We're going forward.'

"For that to change, it was hard on her, on all of them. They rebounded fairly quickly. Aubree called and joked, 'Well, dad, since I'm the only one with a job in the family, do I need to start mailing some checks home?' I told her, ' I think we're OK.'"

Bisciotti had decided to fire Billick hours prior to the last game, and informed the coach he was out the next day at the Ravens' headquarters.

In Billick's view, it was a "shocking" development following nine seasons and one Super Bowl title. Billick claimed that Bisciotti didn't explain the reasoning behind his decision, adding that he had been told days before the last game that he would be back.

"The commitment, I felt very good about it," Billick said. "It did change, and it changed in a day. Don't know why. Haven't had that conversation, and don't know if I ever will.

"But I certainly respect that Steve Bisciotti has that right, and it did catch me off-guard because of what had been said before both privately and publicly. But I very much understand that is the right of an owner, and he's doing what he thinks is in the best interest of the organization, and that has to be respected."

Billick was asked whether he felt betrayed by Bisciotti, who replaced him with former Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach John Harbaugh last month.

"No," said Billick, whose contract will be honored with at least $15 million owed over the next three years. "There are several reasons you can point to for why a change has been made. I'm not naïve to that. I could see very readily that Steve had made up his mind.

"It was firm. For whatever reason, he had the conviction he did about making the change. I could see it in his eyes. It was a shock in that regard simply because of the way we had gotten to that point."

Billick, who said it was a short meeting when he learned he was being fired, said he hasn't spoken to Bisciotti since that day. Bisciotti has said that no promises were made to Billick, but acknowledged he did give indications that he would be retained.

"Steve Bisciotti has been a mentor and a partner, and there will be the appropriate time that Steve and I will interact," Billick said. "I obviously don't agree with the decision. I will always respect what he has done for me and my family."

Billick reiterated many of the same points during a two-hour radio interview Monday night on WBAL.

Dismissed after going 80-64 as the winningest coach in Baltimore NFL history, Billick denied rumors that he had lost the locker room.

"I think the players as a whole, regardless of what their particular perspective was to a man, will tell you that I treated them like men, that I had their best interest in mind both professionally and individually," Billick said. "It's understood and it's predictable that there are going to be some players that see that differently and may very well voice that."

When asked to respond to reports that players had talked to the front office to recommend he be fired, Billick replied: "That's typical when you go through some of the difficulties. It's part of the game. It's not something I'm going to dwell on."

Billick referenced injuries to several key veterans as a major factor in the Ravens' downward spiral after dominating the AFC North in 2006.

"I don't mean to make the injuries an excuse, but you can't ignore what it meant," Billick said. "That kept us from fulfilling the promise of 13-3."

Billick praised Harbaugh as his replacement.

"John Harbaugh is a good man," he said. "He will do well here."

Billick, who still lives in Maryland and plans to eventually retire on the Eastern Shore, has been staying busy. He recently made a trip to Iraq to visit U.S. troops, is collaborating on a book project about today's NFL and is contemplating television and radio opportunities.

"I wasn't going to slink off and hide the rest of my life," Billick said. "This is my home now. Kim and I, we're not going anywhere. We plan on having a presence in this town. Out of respect to the Ravens, I wanted to give them a chance to get that thing going before I stepped back into the limelight."

Billick was self-deprecating when asked about being labeled an offensive guru based on his high-scoring stint as the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator, which he was unable to duplicate in Baltimore.

"I've never heard one coach call another coach a guru," he said. "I've never pretended I was a genius or that I was brilliant. Mine was a very eclectic approach."

Billick was adamant that he still had the desire to coach again as soon as 2009.

"The instinct is to say I'm not done coaching," Billick said. "Whether I'll be sought after, whether someone will think my abilities warrant looking at or whether there's the right match for me out there, we don't know. I've got to take the approach going forward to find something that can engage my background as a teacher. I'm going to be around the game in one form or fashion. I do love the game."

NOTES: Billick said he's convinced that quarterback Steve McNair can rebound from an injury-plagued season where he threw just two touchdown passes and lost seven fumbles.

"Steve is a hard worker, but the groin injury was substantial," Billick said. "It plagued him the whole year and had a huge effect. I think Steve can still play. He's got to commit to getting his weight down to where he can sustain it and rehab his injuries a little better, but that goes for any veteran." …

The Ravens met with University of Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco, one of the fastest rising players in the draft, at the NFL scouting combine. ... Billick reacted to former Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel blaming his firing in Baltimore as the reason why he has been unable to land a head-coaching position. Fassel called the Ravens, "a mess," and said it was a mistake to take the position during several interviews since he wasn't hired by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to replace Joe Gibbs.

"I understand because as it turned out and with the subsequent releasing of Jim and what we did on offense afterward, yeah, it was a mistake," Billick said. "His ability to get a head-coaching job was severely impaired. I knew that when I made the decision. I didn't do that on a whim. I didn't think it was fair to Jim to hear it from anybody but me. I understand Jim's perspective, and he's probably right."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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