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Bills Coaching Candidate Report: Brian Billick

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Following Buddy Nix's hiring as General Manager, several names popped up in the Buffalo Bills' coaching search. All the information we've presented and will present in the coaching search is available at that link. Yesterday, word came that Bill Cowher spoke with the team last week, and of the names leaked to this point, only two could be hired this week - Cowher and former Ravens coach Brian Billick. Let's examine the road that reportedly will bring Brian Billick to Nix's office.

Playing Career
Billick was a linebacker for one year at the Air Force Academy before transferring to Brigham Young University where he became a tight end. He was drafted in the Round 11 of the 1977 NFL Draft, but never played in the league. After he left the NFL, he appeared on the Match Game. It's pretty funny to watch, actually.

Coaching Career
In 1977, he split time between a local high school and college as a volunteer assistant coach. In 1978, he became a graduate assistant at BYU, and the following season joined the San Fransisco 49ers, the team that drafted him in '77, as assistant director of public relations - a job he performed for two years. He returned to coaching with San Diego State University, serving as the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator for five seasons (1981-1985). After being named the offensive coordinator of Utah State University, Billick improved the second-worst offense in Division I-A into a top-ten offense in only three seasons (1986-1988). Billick was then hired as the assistant head coach and tight ends coach at Stanford by Dennis Green, serving both roles for three seasons (1989-91).

When Green was hired by the Minnesota Vikings to be their head coach, he took Billick with him as his offensive coordinator. During his seven years with the Vikings, the team made the playoffs six times, and in 1998 the team set the NFL record for most points scored in a season. Following his very successful stint, he was named head coach of the Baltimore Ravens on January 19, 1999.

Billick took over a Ravens team that went 6-10 under former Bills offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda. Jim Harbuagh led the 26th-ranked Ravens offense in '98, and Billick was brought in to jump start the offense. In one year, the Ravens scored 65 more points (324) than the year before (265). Baltimore went on a run of three playoff appearances in Billick's first three years, with three different starting quarterbacks - Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, and rookie Kyle Boller. In just his second season, the Ravens rode their top-ranked defense to the Super Bowl championship. The Ravens failed to make the playoffs in three of Billick's last four years, and in his final season at the helm went 5-11 and were the only team to lose to the 1-15 Dolphins. He finished 80-64 as head coach. For the past two years, Billick has worked as a studio analyst for the FOX network.

Pros
My favorite thing about Billick is his ability to restock excellent coordinators and assistants. He retained Marvin Lewis as defensive coordinator when he was hired in Baltimore. When Lewis left to take a head coaching job, Billick promoted Mike Nolan to the job. When Nolan left after the 2004 season to coach the Niners, Rex Ryan was hired to run the defense. Falcons coach Mike Smith, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio and Niners current boss Mike Singletary worked as linebacker coaches for the Ravens during Billick's tenure as well. On the offensive side, former Giants coach Jim Fassel and current UCLA Bruins head coach Rick Neuheisel both worked for the Ravens during Billick's tenure. The head coaches are important, but the ability to attract quality assistants is the big unknown about unproven head coaches and one of Billick's greatest assets.

All of Billick's teams have run an aggressive 4-3 defense. That would make the transition an easier one than switching to a 3-4 defense, and Jairus Byrd could turn into the next Ed Reed at free safety.

Cons
Billick's label when he left Minnesota was as an offensive genius of some sort. In Baltimore, that never materialized. He was never able to develop a long term answer at the quarterback position.

What Others Are Saying
[Ed. note: the Ravens' blogger, Bruce, has emailed me back and I am going to include some of his more pertinent thoughts below - MRW]

Positives of Billick

In the Super Bowl years of the Ravens, Billick was a great motivator and always has been a great speaker as well, as evidenced by looking and sounding real good on the NFL Network. He's a super defender of his guys and their personal lives on and off the field and handles press real well. He stood up for Ray Lewis during that tough time in his life and I repsect him so much for that. He will defend your players like his own kids.

Negatives of Billick

I question his coaching abilities in a couple of areas. Clock management was horrible, as was his playcalling, if he was involved at all and even if not. There were limited changes that improved our woeful offense while he was here. The so-called "offensive guru" label he had was BS, as that was when he was in Minnesota with Cunningham and Culpepper as his QB throwing to Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed. Even Ryan Fitzpatrick could be an All-Pro with that set of wideouts! His bond with Kyle Boller will always be his downfall and reluctance to look elsewhere for a better option killed him here in Baltimore. I cringed at his lack of stones to go for it when we were in Miami and they were on their way to a winless season. It was fourth and six inches at the goal line with seconds on the game clock. I'd have told the Dolphins "we're coming up the middle and if you can stop us, we deserve to lose." So what does the gutless Billick do? He kicks the 17 yard, six inch FG to tie the game and we lose in OT for Miami's only win of the year. There were other plays that year that cost us games and to me that is the main reason I was glad to see him go after supporting him all those other years.

Thanks Bruce! And head over to Baltimore Beatdown for all your Ravens commentary.