Brian Billick on NFL Coaching Hires — “They’re Looking For ‘Young’ and ‘Cheap’”
In the wake of the Baltimore Ravens’ thrilling Super Bowl win over the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans, GuySpeed had the chance to talk with Fox and NFL Network broadcaster Brian Billick, who coached the Ravens to their first Super Bowl championship in Super Bowl XXXV twelve years ago.
We talked to Coach Billick about his possible return to coaching, Ray Lewis, his recent work with a company that connects fans with their favorite sports stars and the worst part about winning a Super Bowl.
You coached the Ravens to their first championship. When does winning the Super Bowl actually sink in?
Billick: I tell you what it’s such an overwhelming process for me kind of in an odd way. In the infinite wisdom of the NFL, they make the winning coach the next morning after three of the most gut-wrenching, emotional hours of your life and then literally a party that goes all night long, they make you at eight o’clock in the morning get up in front of a couple thousand of the national media. So at about 6 o’clock in the morning I extracted myself from the party and went up to the suite to take a shower and try to refresh myself and had for lack of a better term a panic attack. I had won it in my second year and there was that sense of the enormity of it and, “My god what do I do now? How do you follow up with this?” So yeah it can be overwhelming and you recognize very early that it has changed your life. I don’t know if it’s better or worse, but clearly different.
Does a player or coach ever really get over losing?
Billick: It’s so hard because until you’ve been in a championship game or until you’ve been to the Super Bowl you don’t really fully understand just how hard it is to get there, just how many things have to happen. I’m not going to say it’s fate or luck but that certainly has a role and fate will take a hand and you question, “Boy, can I do this again? Can I go through this long arduous trek again? Can all the things align the way they did this year again?” It’s a little overwhelming because you recognize even if you win it, those with any kind of experience at all have the sense of “Boy, can I ever get back here again?”
What’s been your biggest challenge in transitioning from the sidelines to the broadcast booth?
Brian Bilick: Well for me it was a good transition in the sense that being involved with Fox and doing the games on the weekends and then my shows I do for the NFL Network it keeps me involved on a day-to-day basis not only on game day but during the course of the week. It keeps me absorbed with all of the teams in the league — not just the two teams that I’m preparing for — and then the good thing is that when the season’s over, as it is now, your off-season is your own compared to these other coaches.
I promise you both the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers once they get past today and tomorrow will be about the league business going forward for next year. The combine’s coming up at the end of the month, then you have the draft, you have OTAs. We’re closer to the beginning of next season than we are to the beginning of this last season and that’s a little sobering to recognizing that the grind never stops. For me it’s nice in that my offseason is a little bit more relaxed than it was when I was coaching.
Your name comes up in coaching rumors frequently. Will you ever leave the booth?
Brian Billick: No, I don’t think so. I’m at the point in my life where I’ve got a new 10-month old grandson and the league has moved in a certain direction. My patented line is, “They’re looking for young and cheap and I’m neither.” And so I think this is a good transition for me. There’s a lot of excellent coaches out there and rather than chase that or get back into that grind, I’m more than satisfied with what I’m doing now.
You’re currently working with Thuzio, a new online platform that allows sports fans to book one-on-one experiences with athletes, coaches and sports figures. Why did you decide to participate in Thuzio?
Brian Billick: Thuzio is a great concept. I do a great deal of corporate speaking which tends to be larger events and obviously more orchestrated and many times more costly events. What Thuzio does is it gives the common fan a chance to tap into over 500 athletes and coaches on a very personal or smaller scale. If you want someone to leave a voice message on your phone, if you want one of your sports heroes or a local or national sports figure to come to your son’s baseball game or to give a tennis lesson to your daughter or to meet with a small group of friends over a lunch or dinner when you’re in New York or anything of that nature. Or maybe your business — just a small, intimate meeting with a small business. This gives you access to an incredible array of athletes and coaches and professional people that can enhance whatever your personal or professional event may be.
Would it be kind of awkward to hang out with a player who just happened to lose a Super Bowl?
Brian Billick: I don’t think so. Once you get into the off-season these players do this type of thing all the time. It’s fully vetted by Thuzio so you make sure you’re going to get what you pay for, the price is all up front. You’d be surprised at how willing the athletes, coaches and sports personalities are to do these types of little events. If I’m in New York and happen to be in the city for a week and someone wants to have a lunch while I’m there on other business, fabulous. It’s a way of maximizing the travel and the things that you do. I think people would be surprised at how affordable it may be on a very small scale to have some of your sports personalities come to your event.
How do you think players and coaches differ in how they recover from the Super Bowl experience, whether a win or a loss?
Brian Billick: By nature I think players get over those types of things much quicker than coaches, particularly during the season. It lingers with you as a coach because it’s part of your DNA, it’s part of your job to second-guess. Is there something I could have done differently, what if this play had been different, what if that play had been different? Players usually move on very readily and that’s probably a good thing. It stays with us coaches way too long, it’s kind of what drives you out of the business eventually. But players get over it pretty quickly.
How do you think this year’s Ravens Super Bowl winning team will be remembered compared with the 2000 version?
Brian Billick: They’re such dramatically different teams obviously and made up different ways and the span of time I think it’s great. For me it’s been very enjoyable because when I was involved with it — you tend to have your blinders on, it’s about you, your circumstance, your team — and now to be just kind of a fan. I live in the greater Baltimore area to get swept up in the emotion of it all it’s been great and the fans have to have the span of better than a decade. The fans are fired up and they fully appreciate it because they know it’s been 12 years since the last time they’ve been able to celebrate this. It’s fabulous for the city, it’s fabulous for the players. Ray Lewis is the only remaining player from that 2000 team that won the Super Bowl so certainly it’s a new experience for everybody.
Speaking of Ray Lewis, he has played his final NFL game and retires on the ultimate winning note. You coached him from 1999-2007 with the Ravens. What’s it like to coach him?
Brian Billick: What you see in Ray Lewis on Sunday is what you get every day in each practice. Something that I always tell people, I think Ray is one of the most compelling natural leaders I’ve ever seen because his passion, his focus, his intensity for the game is so consistent. That’s the thing that’s going to be his hallmark and the fact that he’s been able to bookend his career in almost a storybook fashion. Certainly Ray’s career will go down as one of the great defensive players in the history of this game.
What do Ravens fans say to you when they see you, knowing what you’ve done for that franchise?
Brian Billick: It’s humbling. It’s amazing how people to this day whether I’m at the airport or a venue like that come up constantly and are so appreciative and thankful for the championship and will express that and you can see the heartfelt emotion in their eyes. You’ve got to remember these fans were without football for 13 years when the Colts left and went to Indianapolis so I think they have a heightened sense of appreciation for what it is to have a good team like the Ravens organization is right now. They just love their Ravens.
Looking ahead to next season, who do you think we might be seeing in next year’s Super Bowl?
Brian Billick: Oh gosh we’re so far from that. Obviously I think you can begin with both these teams [San Francisco and Baltimore] because I think they’re both teams that can extend what they’ve done this year. They’ve both got good young quarterbacks and that’s basically what you’re saying at this point in the season because there’s so much that will transpire via the draft, free agency, injuries before we get to the beginning of next season so when you rate the teams going into next year’s Super Bowl you’re really rating the quarterbacks. I think these two quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco will rate as high as anybody in the league.
Speaking of young quarterbacks, who are some of the players that have stood out to you this year, especially on the offensive side?
Brian Billick: You’ve got to begin with the quarterback position. RGIII, Russell Wilson, obviously, and then Colin Kaepernick isn’t a rookie but he’s only in his second year and some of the really good young quarterbacks and have played so well and gotten their team in a position to be successful. There will be another rush of quarterbacks this year that come in, the expectations seem to be going higher and higher because of the success of the quarterbacks today. Of course Andrew Luck with Indianapolis — who expected Indianapolis to be that good? The quarterbacking future of this league is very good, it’s exciting, and the next crop of quarterbacks will be in and there will be another handful of quarterbacks that will be put in position to start as rookies and we’ll see if they can duplicate the success of an Andrew Luck, an RGIII and a Russell Wilson.