Mon., Jan. 15: Optimistic Billick Promotes Neuheisel
By Joe Platania
Monday, January 15 -- When Rick Neuheisel was the head coach at the University of Washington, the weather on most days was overcast and rainy.
On the day, Neuheisel was brought on board as the Ravens' quarterback coach in early 2005, the weather was overcast and rainy.
That's why it was no surprise that on the occasion of Ravens head coach Brian Billick elevating Neuheisel to offensive coordinator, the weather was overcast and rainy.
Despite the conditions, the direction of the team -- a 13-3 squad that won its second AFC North Division title and earned its first-ever first-round playoff bye -- couldn't be more clear.
In his final Monday press conference of a season cut all too short by a 15-6 Divisional Playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Billick expressed perhaps more optimism about the team's fortunes than at any time in his tenure.
There is good roster balance as far as the experience is concerned on the roster. There are 11 players over the age of 30 as well as 11 rookies.
"When you think about where we've come in one year, Saturday notwithstanding," Billick said, "it's something to be excited about."
Billick pointed out two other main sources of the optimism: the lack of uncertainty about his job status and the small amount of roster turnover, for there are only four free-agent starters at the end of their contracts.
Running backs Jamal Lewis and Ovie Mughelli, right tackle Tony Pashos and linebacker Adalius Thomas are the ones that could be a part of the free-agent pool when the signing period begins in early March.
The status of Thomas is the biggest key to the top-ranked defense, with Lewis' fortunes holding the key to a run-first offensive philosophy. However, the Ravens' run game finished 25th in the league.
"Do we need more production out of the running game? Probably so," Billick opined.
That's going to be a mere part of Neuheisel's responsibilities as the 46-year-old quarterbacks coach -- who turns 47 next month -- assumes the offensive mantle with Billick remaining as the play-caller.
Neuheisel spent six years in a similar post at his alma mater, UCLA, mentoring future Dallas standout Troy Aikman during that time, before moving on to Colorado for one season as an assistant to Bill McCartney.
Neuheisel took over the Buffs' program in 1995 and stayed four seasons before coaching at Washington for four years and taking the Huskies to four bowls, including Washington's first Rose Bowl win in ten years in 2000.
"The continuity (Neuheisel) will provide is important," Billick said. "The (play-calling) has provided me a way to stay connected to the players. That's not something I would readily give up, and I enjoyed myself.
"Rick's abilities are well-documented. He's well-connected to (quarterbacks) Kyle Boller and Steve McNair, as well as the rest of the coaching staff."
Speaking of the staff, highly-touted defensive coordinator Rex Ryan should be an offseason focus for teams looking to hire head coaches, but he has not yet been interviewed by anyone with a vacancy.
As for Billick, he is entering the final year of his contract, but he is not allowing any public dialogue about it, lest it become a distraction.
"It's a non-issue," he said firmly.
"I had a hell of a time with this team," Billick said. "I'm being robbed of another week of walking out on that football field with 53 guys and 14 coaches.
"It's a group I had a lot of fun with."
In the wake of a sudden and frustrating end to the season, that much was clear.
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME: For the final time, we're going to test your Super Bowl knowledge. Don't expect any prizes except a big cyber-pat on the back from us.
The answer appears at the end of this column, right after the Quote of the Day.
In every Super Bowl, key mistakes and untimely penalties are often pointed out time and again after the game. Out of 40 Super Bowls, how many of them had no turnovers by either team?
OGDEN TALK: For all the hysteria sweeping Ravens' fans about left tackle Jonathan Ogden's rumored retirement, let's get a few things straight:
- First, this is something that has been hinted at many times in the past. Ogden is a level-headed, multi-dimensional kind of man who doesn't need football to define him, and he's made note of that before.
- Secondly, it's important to remember how exhausting a season this has been for him, mentally and physically.
Ogden's father, one of the true rocks of his life, passed away just before training camp. That was tough enough to deal with outside of the knocking around he usually finds in the trenches each and every season.
Despite that, he managed to silence pass rushers such as Willie McGinest, Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice in the season's first month alone, putting a kibosh on doubters who thought that one bad game against Dwight Freeney two years ago had ruined him for good.
That scrutiny, plus the toe injury -- for which there will be no surgery -- and the premature playoff exit, has got to weigh on someone more heavily than anyone could ever imagine.
- Finally, let's draw a parallel between this situation and Tiki Barber's.
When word of Barber's planned retirement leaked out, he told a couple of the New York papers that he was surprised such an outcry was raised, since he had told some of the press in training camp that this was going to be his last year.
Whenever Ogden does retire, neither we in the press nor any fan should treat it as the end of the world, nor should we be surprised.
We're predicting that Ogden will be back next year, but whatever happens, he will do what he wants to do -- when he wants to do it -- without any fanfare.
WHISENHUNT HIRED: Wade Harman should start polishing his resume.
Harman is the Ravens' tight ends coach, and his predecessors in that job have gone on to much bigger and better things.
The first-ever man to hold the position, Pat Hill, has been Fresno State's successful head coach for the last few years.
The man who succeeded him, Ken Whisenhunt, moved on to become Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator and won a Super Bowl ring while at that post.
Sunday, he was unveiled as the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
For now, let's hold off on the jokes about not being able to win in the desert and instead congratulate Whisenhunt, a knowledgeable offensive mind who has paid his dues and rightfully earned a place in the sun (no pun intended).
Whisenhunt becomes the fifth NFL head coach to have worked for the Ravens at one time or another, following Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati), Jack Del Rio (Jacksonville), Eric Mangini (New York Jets) and Mike Nolan (San Francisco).
Mangini and Whisenhunt were the only two on that list to have worked for the first-ever Ravens head coach, Ted Marchibroda. The other three were Billick assistants.
In other Ravens coaching alumni news, the team's first-ever special teams coach, Scott O'Brien, worked as Miami's football operations coordinator this year, answering to head coach Nick Saban.
As if Saban's abrasiveness and truth-stretching weren't bad enough, there are reports that O'Brien wasn't the easiest guy to get along with, either, and the Dolphins might be asking him to move on this offseason.
O'Brien had that same aggressive style while on the Ravens' staff and he didn't change when he coached Carolina's special teams in a 2003 season that saw the Panthers reach Super Bowl XXXVIII.
RAVENS DRAFTING 30TH: It's official: barring any trades