Monday, April 07, 2008

Harbaugh shakes things up...Ravens' Nation loses one of its own

Last year while hosting The Bart Scott Show on ESPN Radio, one question that I often asked myself after digesting the things I heard from Bart and his guest teammates was, “Who is really running the Ravens?”

I heard from the players just as you have about how Brian Billick treated them with respect and treated them like men. I heard it so often, it became rather boring.

Then one day when Bart was joined by Terrell Suggs I posed the question as they prepared for their bye week, “What if Brian Billick decided to make you guys practice during the bye?”

The look on their faces said it all – there was no way that they would allow Billick to do that and to do so would incite the equivalent of a mutiny. When I reminded them that Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin had the Steelers practice during their bye despite a then impressive record, Bart said, “Well that’s because he’s new. When you’re new you can do those things.”

With that response I knew who was running the team and it wasn’t Brian Billick. The veteran players ran the team. It was a slow process but Billick’s philosophies and the liberties he extended to his players eventually came full circle to the point where he was merely a puppet and a mouthpiece not too unlike Bud Selig is to baseball.

That’s not a slight to Billick. It’s just an opinion on how his administration evolved. It was a slow death that rightfully ended with a mercy killing that in the long run will benefit all involved, including Billick.

Today there’s a new sheriff in town as evidenced by the energy and activity in the gym at One Winning Drive.

"There is a lot of positive energy in the building," Bart Scott said. "Coach is young and enthusiastic. He is visible and in your face. He seems like a player, but he has something to prove. He has to prove he can become a successful head coach.”

So like Tomlin was to Pittsburgh in 2007, John Harbaugh is to the Ravens in 2008 – new and capable of implementing a new attitude and work ethic. The players don’t own Harbaugh like they did Billick and in retrospect Harbaugh’s arrival seems almost past due.

"He is in the same situation as the players," Scott continued. "We're all in this green mile together. Was last year the end of our run? Are we too old to make another run? Do they blow this thing up after this season? We're all trying to find the right answer, but right now, I like what I see.”

Winning over the players with a more hard-nosed philosophy than his predecessor was a battle that Harbaugh needed to win. Early indications are that he’s well on his way. It is important for him to stay the course and not buckle to the veteran pressure as a rookie head coach, something that in part did in Brian Billick.

Ironically, Harbaugh’s first game will come against the same team that delivered Brian Billick to the Ravens back in 1999 -- the Minnesota Vikings. Until that time it will be interesting to see how the players continue to respond to Harbaugh in mini-camps and ultimately summer camp which promises to be light years apart from anything many of the Ravens’ vets have ever experienced.

And that’s a good thing!

Speaking of good things, one of the great byproducts of having an NFL team in town is the friendships that blossom as a result of a common interest. Many have re-acquainted themselves with family and friends as a result of the Baltimore Ravens. Many have forged new friendships for the very same reason. One Ravens’ fan who did exactly that is Ron Cucina. Ron fell after a valiant battle against lung cancer.

I never had the privilege of meeting Ron but from what I can gather his strength, perseverance and gritty determination when defending against this mighty foe was not unlike that of his favorite defense. The Ravens' Nation is down one decorated soldier.

Ron, aka Sock Dolager, one of the original members of Extreme Ravens will be greatly missed by those who were fortunate enough to have known him. Ron died at the age of 66 at home and in the presence of his devoted wife. Our deepest condolences go out to all those who knew Ron, particularly his family, friends and co-members of Extreme Ravens.


Harryos29 said...

Harry O 29 4/9/08
Tony, good observations all. First ...HOW BOUT DEM O"s HUN? Normally by the second week of the Baseball Season the Ravens Draft news has wiped the baseball team off the front page of the paper: not this year.
... I agree that a new Sheriff was badly needed. Somtimes, change is needed for Change sake alone.
... Billicks offense stunk; Period; in his defense he didn't have the players that were available to him in his VIKINGS DAYS. However, it will be refreshing to see Willis in there catching passes on third down this year.
...Lets just hope that Matt Ryan drops down to # 8, and the Ravens have the intestinal fortitude to select him with the 8th pick.
...I am very excited about the draft and the direction of the team under the new coach.
....RAVE ON...

Anonymous said...

The fact that you felt the need to qualify your take on Billick by saying that your opinion is not a slight to him really detracts, IMO, from the potency of your observation. He and he alone is responsible for the team running rampant and out of control. It was a combination of his inept offense and his ridiculous lack of discipline in all things Ravens -- except, of course, for his dog house -- that was his undoing. It's not a slight to point that out -- it's reality. And as such, it shouldn't have to be qualified or mollified.

But you always seem to feel the need to try to balance things when it comes to Billick. And in a perfect world, there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, there's a lot right with that. Unfortunately, when it comes to Brian Billick, his ways were so horribly and painfully out of balance, any attempt to try to cast them in a balanced light just appears grotesque; at least to my eye.

Like when you said a while back that he wasn't really arrogant, he was just misunderstood. Baloney. His elitism (i.e. slapdick this, and slapdick that) and his wholesale inability to see the errors of his ways is the epitome of arrogance. And ignorance.

As I've said here before -- a truly intelligent man SEES his shortcomings (i.e. the need for an OC with full authority) and responds accordingly. An intelligent man doesn't say, on the one hand, "I'm really not a great X'x and O's kind of guy" and then turn around and yank the offense away from the OC.

That sort of stupidity is the exact reason Brian Billick is no longer here. He slighted the team; he slighted the fans; and he slighted himself -- by engaging in behaviors contrary to improvement and moving forward. The more he parroted that "moving forward" line, the more absurd it became -- to the point where his pressers became insufferable. So please -- don't apologize for calling it like it really is. Or was. Fortunately, the owner made the right call at the right call, even if not necessarily in the best way. Now, with Billick gone, we actually can move forward. Ironic. And just. And long overdue.