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Rob Burnett: Comparing Brian Billick And John Harbaugh

January 25, 2013

Rob Burnett played for the Ravens from 1996-2001, including the team's 2000 Super Bowl-winning squad. He'll be sharing his insights with PressBox through the Super Bowl.

By Rob Burnett

Now that I have shared my Super Bowl prep secrets, I want to give my opinion comparing the two Charm City coaches that have led the Ravens to the big dance. 

Hmmm. Brian Billick and John Harbaugh, let?s see: apples and oranges, cats and dogs, Ali and Frazier. Pick a pair; they're polar opposites, but successful in their own right.

I would like to begin with the coach I know the best: Billick. He was Johnny on the spot, the offensive guru who, during the late '90s, led the Vikings to a million or so total yards as the offensive coordinator of the Vikings. He was a world-champ head coach, who had the best defense in NFL history on his impressive resume. Billick's arrival was a pleasant surprise when the late, great Art Modell and super general manager Ozzie Newsome hired him in 1999.

Brian Billick

I enjoyed talking to Brian; I felt like he listened to what we had to say. For once, I felt like we had a guy who, when you engaged him, everyone was home and the lights were on. I loved his approach to the job as a head coach in the NFL. It was a cool, calm and collective approach to an otherwise violent, aggressive way to make a living. Billick is the epitome of a players' coach -- a grown man who treated grown men like grown men. On and off the field, Billick let men be men. Non-padded practices and filmed walk throughs replaced years and years of ultra-violent 9-on-7 drills and 40-play live team drills. He was a high-mileage, high-character veteran's wet dream. Crisp, clean, efficient meetings and no curfew or lights out replaced long, drawn-out, repetitive skull sessions followed by getting in rooms by 10 p.m. and lights out at 11 p.m. sharp.

Billick, never mistaken for low self-esteem and ego, was willing to evolve and listen to his players. He was a man who understood you have to work with what you have to work with. That's something a lot of first-time head coaches have problems with. They think it?s about them and their system. Billick was not like that.

Such as all things in life, things run their course. Billick's style no longer fit the makeup of the Ravens' roster. Enter Steve Bisciotti, a man of enormous success and a proven sound decision maker -- the minority owner of the 2000 world champ Ravens. It was his team now, and he was no longer happy with where his franchise was heading. Not many men are as fit as Bisciotti to make the right choice for the next head coach for Baltimore. Pick a hand, any hand. He opened up both with nothing in the right or left. Instead, he pulled Harbaugh out of his ear. The same ear the bullhorn was screaming for -- Rex Ryan to take over.

John Harbaugh

Next question was, John who? Eagles? Special teams coach? It didn?t take long for Harbaugh to make his mark. I arrived after the first week of his first camp and saw the training room full to capacity and an ex-teammate of mine, a man who only knew the Billick way, who looked at me in a state of shock and said, "I can?t feel my feet." Point taken.

Well, Bisciotti and Newsome hit the nail on the head again. Harbaugh is the right man for the job, just like Billick was in 1999. Love him or hate him, Harbaugh's record speaks for itself. He has led the Ravens deep into the playoffs just about every year he has been the head coach. All he has left to do is beat his brother in the Super Bowl, and he will be firmly established as one of the top-tier head coaches in the NFL.

So, when asked to compare, Harbaugh will be tougher both in practice and with his demands. But, either way, he has proven to be the right man for the job.
Posted Jan. 25, 2013