Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's see you later, not goodbye for Brian Billick

Brian Billick has his strengths and he has his faults and judging from the number of interviews yesterday, clearly one of his strengths is public relations. He’s a Rembrandt when it comes to PR.

If you missed his 3 hour interview which includes interaction with callers on The Mark Viviano Show, we’ve got it here for you commercial free. If you did hear the interview and either of the others on Steve Davis’ show and with Mark Viviano again last night on the highly promoted Eyewitness News segment, Billick’s class, grace and style (and I’m not surprised) came through glowingly.

As he has for years with his players, Billick was careful not to throw anyone under the proverbial bus, particularly Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti. To his credit, he took time to exhale following his sudden dismissal and avoided cameras and the media for awhile so that he could digest what had happened and then respond appropriately.

He was eloquent and articulate. He was humble and at times slightly self deprecating. The setting in his home for the Eyewitness News interview made me wonder where Billick’s pipe was. It had the feel of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Yet through all of Billick’s carefully chosen and seemingly sincere words, I couldn’t determine if his apparent surprise over his firing was the work of arrogance or naivety. Billick seemed shocked by Steve Bisciotti’s decision to fire him and he could not conclusively determine why the firing took place. I couldn’t help but think that the same stubbornness and arrogance that tortured fans for years and manifested itself in his play calling and clock management was rearing its ugly head once again during these interviews.

But then I wondered while watching the look of surprise on his face, “Is he just na├»ve?” Could he be so close to the situation – his nose stuck so far in that playbook that the reality of his failures was somewhat invisible to him? Could he not see the forest for the trees?

For most of Brian Billick’s tenure in Baltimore, I was in his corner. I greatly admired the way he handled the 2000 season. I liked the swagger he brought to the organization. He plucked my nerves in 2001 when he was hell-bent on sticking with Elvis Grbac despite the fact that Randall Cunningham was available to him – arguably the best quarterback to ever wear a Ravens’ uniform.

But I kicked that frustration to the curb the following season and like most of you I enjoyed how Billick guided the league’s youngest team of all time through the 2002 season and kept the club in the playoff hunt through the season’s first 15 weeks.

But then came Kyle Boller…

I stuck with Billick through the Boller years rationalizing that he had no other good alternative at QB and it was never clear where the deficiencies in the offense came from – him or Matt Cavanaugh or Jim Fassel.

We all know the rest of the story…

But Billick lost me for good after the Ravens fourth win in 2007 against the Rams. That abysmal offensive performance against a rather suspect rushing defense was the proverbial straw for me. I was done with him at that point.

It was then I also realized that my personal feelings about Brian Billick affected my objectivity. I liked Brian Billick. I still like the man named Brian Billick. I just don’t like the coach named Brian Billick – at least not for the Baltimore Ravens.

Some may still feel that Billick is crass and arrogant and that the interviews just illustrated how slick he is and how he can manipulate the media. If that shoe fits, let me share a personal experience with Brian Billick.

It has always been widely known that Billick is plugged into the media and paid attention to the various talk shows in and around town. Our show GAMETIME did not escape his attention.

During one of our summer shows back in 2005, I mentioned that a dear friend of mine named Jimmy Bullington was in a very serious accident. I also made it clear what a wonderful and giving person Jimmy is and how he was involved in many humanitarian efforts in the community and how instrumental he was in creating Ravens Roost 50 one of the more prominent Roosts throughout the Ravens history here in Baltimore.

Brian Billick took note…

The next day at Ravens’ training camp, I was pulled aside by Chad Steele, the Ravens Director of Media Relations. Chad asked a few details about Jimmy and how the Ravens might be able to get in touch with him. I shared Jimmy’s contact info not knowing at the time what the Ravens had in mind.

As I left camp that day, Jimmy’s brother Mark called me and said, “Well you went and did it now!”

I was a bit confused and asked Mark to clarify. Mark told me that Brian Billick had already called Jimmy at the hospital to wish him well and a speedy recovery, thanking Jimmy for his role in the community and his support of the Ravens.

The next day at camp, a day that was moved to Owings Mills’ indoor field due to the weather, I pulled Brian Billick aside to thank him for reaching out to Jimmy. He told me that he heard me discussing Jimmy on our show and that he thought it would be a nice thing to do. I told Brian that Jimmy didn’t answer his cell phone because he didn’t really want to talk to anyone whose phone number he didn’t recognize, Billick’s included. I added that Jimmy was glad that he got Brian’s voice mail instead of a live call because he then had recorded proof that Brian had indeed called him.

Coach chuckled over that and we went our separate ways after I thanked him again.

My first inclination was to tell the world what Brian had done. I thought that it could show a different side of him that not many had seen before and fans might view Billick differently if they were aware of his reaching out to Jimmy. But then I thought if I did that, it might open Pandora’s Box for the Ravens – everyone might then want Brian to do the same for folks they know. So I sat on the story sharing it only with friends and family.

I will miss Brian Billick, the man not the coach. It was time for the later to go. Yet I hope that as time passes he again becomes more visible and that he remains a relevant contributor to the fabric of our community.


Harryos29 said...

Harry o 29 Feb 26th
...Tony having heard and seen a lot of the interview with the Ex-Coach I like what you wrote. I feel the same way about the man. While working on the security force in 2004 at Mc Daniel, I interacted with the coach on an impersonal basis every day and i observed him treat me; co-workers and Fans with the ut most respect.
However...why didn't you go for it in the MIAMI game on Fourth and Inches?