By: Matt Jergensen (@Mattjergs)
The announcement was made yesterday that former Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick would be returning to Baltimore, this time as a member of the preseason broadcast team.
Any time Billick's name is brought up, local media and fans will reflect upon his time in Charm City and ponder his legacy. Almost immediately talk of Billick being inducted into the controversial Ravens Ring of Honor comes up, so it's time for me to weigh in.
It's been almost ten years since Billick was relieved of his duties as the Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens and in that time its become clear to me that he was an integral part of what has become a very successful pro franchise. When assessing a player or a coach, context is always important as it provides a frame of reference of time and place that make actions all the more relevant and important.
Billick was hired in 1999, and was the second coach in team history replacing Ted Marchibroda. For those not old enough to know, Marchibroda was an important figure in Baltimore football history. He coached the Colts twice, both in Baltimore and Indianapolis and is the only man to have ever coached both Baltimore franchises. During his first tenure in Baltimore in 1975 he led the Colts to three consecutive AFC East titles and when he left the city in 1979 his career was just getting started. He would be an assistant with several clubs most notably Buffalo in 1987 where he introduced the famed K-Gun offense that took the Bills to four straight Super Bowl appearances. Later he'd get a second chance with the Colts almost pulling off an improbable run to the big game in 1995 with Jim Harbaugh as his quarterback.
The irony of Marchibroda being the first man under the headset for a new Baltimore franchise wasn't lost on the old guard of faithful fans. He was the right man and face to lead a new team forward and one that some people were uncertain of given how they came to Baltimore. But the realities of the league are about winning and even though he'd had a lot of success in his career the team did not have enough talent on the roster. After three seasons with a record of 14-31-1, it was time for a change.
Billick had earned the pedigree of being called an "offensive guru" as his offenses in Minnesota broke records as they were a perennial playoff contender. But Billick's hiring was more about a culture and attitude change than mere Xs and Os. His brashness rubbed off on the players as he seemed to encourage tough talk with a need to back it up as the Ravens defense become one of the most feared in the league. Billick was an excellent motivator and engineered an 8-8 campaign his first season and then took the giant leap forward in 2000 as the team went 12-4.
It was that magical season that he used terms like Festivus and "screaming like a banshee" to capture the imagination of the team and the city as they hoisted the Lombardi trophy that season. After nine seasons, he finished 85-67 with a 5-3 record in the playoffs.
The team's Ring of Honor should be about players and personnel who had a major impact on the franchise. Some names like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are no-brainers and there's no question that Billick should be honored too. Billick was the right man, at the right time, in the right place to help deliver the city a championship and for that the Ravens fans should be grateful.