OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When Brian Billick was the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, he was often described as arrogant, charismatic and verbose.
The word that best fits Billick since his departure from the Ravens — under-appreciated.
When the Ravens won their first Super Bowl, the headliner was Ray Lewis and the record-setting defense. After Billick was fired in Baltimore, John Harbaugh guided the Ravens to the playoffs in five straight seasons, winning the franchise’s second Super Bowl.
That’s why it was so important for owner Steve Bisciotti to make the announcement Wednesday that Billick is being inducted into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor this year. This long overdue tribute recognizes Billick as one of the most pivotal figures in franchise history, putting his name rightfully alongside the likes of Lewis, Jonathan Ogden and Ed Reed on the facade of M&T Bank Stadium.
“I don’t know what the Ravens are if he doesn’t come in and do what he did,” Bisciotti said. “He took a very young franchise and he very quickly turned us into a feared team.”
The Ravens rank among the top franchises over the past two decades, and this legacy of success traces back to Billick.
The Ravens’ first draft produced two Hall of Fame players in Lewis and Ogden, but the team managed 16 wins in three seasons, never finishing higher than fourth in their division. Two years after being hired as coach, Billick had them celebrating their first Super Bowl triumph.
A great motivator, Billick changed the culture and mindset of the franchise. In one of his first team meetings, he set the tone by asking the players whether they wanted to continue attending Pro Bowls or win a Super Bowl. An underachieving team with great players soon became a great team with a unified goal.
His brashness rubbed off on his players; Billick brought much-needed attitude. After upsetting top-seeded Tennessee, Billick defended his team’s swagger by exclaiming: “When you go into the lion’s den, you don’t tippy-toe in. You carry a spear. You go in screaming like a banshee and say, ‘Where’s the son of a b—-?'”
His biggest accomplishment was becoming the glue during the most tumultuous time of the 2000 Super Bowl season. While the Baltimore defense was on its way to set the record for fewest points allowed, the offense went five games — 0 for October — without a touchdown.
“During that Super Bowl run, because of his leadership, not one time did we as a team descend on each other,” longtime kicker Matt Stover said moments after the Ravens announced Billick was going into the Ring. “We could have easily done that. It was because of Brian’s leadership to not allow that to happen in the locker room and understand that this is who we are. World against us, let’s go.”
Critics note that Billick only won one playoff game after capturing the Super Bowl. Others point out how he reportedly lost the locker room in his final season in 2007, when the Ravens suffered through a nine-game losing streak and set the team record for most consecutive losses during a 5-11 campaign.
What can’t be ignored is that Billick guided the Ravens to their first Super Bowl victory and led them to their best regular season (13-3 in 2006) to date. He changed the course of a franchise that had previously been known as the transplanted Browns.
Still, it took 19 years since hoisting up that first Lombardi Trophy and 12 years since his firing for Billick to gain the type of respect from the Ravens that he deserved.
Did Billick ever wonder when he would get into the Ring of Honor?
“It’s not something you really think about,” said Billick, who turned 65 earlier this year. “Part of it is, because you think, that only happens to old guys. But when Steve called, it really was a surprise.”
Billick isn’t bitter about being fired. After being dismissed, he suggested to Ozzie Newsome that the team needs to look at Harbaugh as his replacement.
Billick said he no longer thinks about coaching again. He spends his time around the draft on a boat drinking a beer, which beats bunkering himself in a draft room looking at film of an offensive tackle.
And Billick is happy about his decision to make his home in Maryland, especially when he gets to interact with gracious fans.
“I’m in and out of the airport all the time going to L.A. to do my [TV] shows, and people — when they don’t come up and say ‘Oh Coach Belichick, you’re my favorite,’ — I have not had a single bad incident,” Billick said. Nothing but ‘Coach, thanks for the Super Bowl’ and on and on and on. It is a special place.”
Billick’s homecoming with the Ravens is now complete.
In 2015, Billick received his first invitation from Harbaugh to speak to the team after a training-camp practice. In 2017, he was named to the Ravens’ preseason broadcast team.
Now, two years after that, Billick finds himself in select company. He is only the second contributor to go into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor, joining late owner Art Modell.
“When Steve called, I just can’t tell you how humbled I am,” Billick said. “It’s 20 years since Art and Pat [Modell] and Ozzie [Newsome] and David [Modell] brought us in. Coaching years are like dog years. You’ve got to multiply it. For the organization to reach out, it means a great deal to us. It really does. To be a part of the organization back then to know that it’s going to be a permanent fixture means a great deal to me.”