- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. This just in: Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick says he knows what he's doing.

Billick could have taken the Cleveland Browns job two seasons ago and be like Chris Palmer today unemployed. Billick interviewed with the Browns and impressed their football braintrust so much that general manager Dwight Clark offered him the job of leading the expansion team on the spot.

Billick, however, wasn't ready to commit. He wanted at least to talk to the Ravens before making a decision. So Clark and Browns president Carmen Policy rescinded their offer and hired Palmer, the former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator.

While the Browns went 5-27 with Cleveland, Billick guided a Charm City football revival. In just his second season, the 46-year-old coach has the Ravens (14-4) in Sunday's AFC Championship game against the Oakland Raiders (13-4) at Network Associates Coliseum.

"Somebody asked me the other day what this means to me does this validate what I am as a head coach?" Billick said. "All it really does [is indicate that] I know what I'm doing. You know what? I feel pretty good about that the fact that we've gotten to where we are and it takes a lot of people to do it. At the very least, there is a satisfaction that I kind of know what I'm doing."

Billick, who became the second coach in Ravens history Jan. 19 when he accepted a six-year, $9 million offer, gained a reputation as an offensive genius when he was a highly successful coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings from 1994 to '98.

His 1998 Vikings offense shattered the NFL record for most points in a season (556), breaking the mark of 541 by the Washington Redskins in 1983. The Vikings scored 53 of 56 times they were inside the 20, tied for the NFL lead with 41 touchdown passes and scored more than 100 points in each quarter for the first time in team history.

After three losing seasons, Ravens owner Art Modell was forced to fire quintessential nice-guy coach Ted Marchibroda. Marchibroda, who called the Ravens yesterday and wished the team good luck in the AFC Championship game, was an old-school coach, and the young team needed a refreshing wakeup call.

Enter Billick.

"We started out with a list of about 20 guys," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "We tried to get in the Mike Holmgren sweepstakes, and that didn't work out. We pared our list down to four guys that we actually interviewed: Brian, Chris Palmer, Jim Haslett and Emmitt Thomas. I think it was Brian's charisma [that led to his hiring]. He was a guy that was a forward thinker. He had a big-picture mentality, and just by talking with him, how quick he was with his thinking, led us to know he was the right guy for us."

Newsome and Billick make all personnel decisions together. When Billick took the job, he walked into a good situation. The Ravens' record-breaking defense was intact. His job was to rebuild the offense and add "more explosives" to the attack.

During the offseason, Billick signed seven-time Pro Bowl tight end Shannon Sharpe and drafted star running back Jamal Lewis (Tennessee), wide receiver Travis Taylor (Florida) and quarterback Chris Redman (Louisville).

Jonathan Ogden, the Pro Bowl left tackle who grew up in the District, said Marchibroda already had the pieces in place, and it was up to Billick to fit them together.

As a player, Billick earned all-Western Athletic Conference honors and honorable mention All-America in 1976 as a tight end at Brigham Young. That year he caught 20 passes for 338 yards and a touchdown. He began his college career playing linebacker as a true freshman at Air Force before transferring to BYU.

In 1977, Billick was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 11th round, was released and had a brief stint with the Dallas Cowboys. He began his coaching career as an assistant at the University of the Redlands (Calif.) while helping to coach a local high school team.

Billick spent the following year as a graduate assistant at BYU, working with tight ends and the offensive line. Following that season, Billick became the 49ers assistant director of public relations from 1979 to '80, which explains why he is so good with the media.

Billick coached receivers, tight ends and quarterbacks at San Diego State from 1981 to '85, then spent three seasons as Utah State's offensive coordinator. Before his hiring by the Vikings, Billick was a Stanford assistant (1989-91) under current Minnesota coach Dennis Green and helped develop wide receivers Ed McCaffrey and Chris Walsh and tight ends Ryan Wetnight and Jim Price.

Despite his reputation as an offensive innovator, Billick's Ravens tied the NFL record by going 21 quarters without a touchdown in October and are coming off a game last week in which they produced only 134 yards of total offense. But he's not making any excuses.

"The only people frustrated with the offense are [the media]," Billick said. "There are a lot of ways to do this. We are what we are. We're playing to our strengths. We're going to continue to do that, and we have some capabilities. This is about the game. Last week was about the game. It's the way you win football games."


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