Brian Billick's Name Oddly Absent From NFL's Coaching Buzz
Which coach has the most Super Bowl rings: Mike Holmgren, Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, Brian Billick or Jon Gruden?
Answer: All of the above. They each have one.
Yet, when the Dallas Cowboys have an opening, the names that surface immediately include Dungy, Gruden and Cowher. Dungy stated on Dan Patrick's radio show he was not interested and added that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones needed a name like Cowher or Gruden or Holmgren, now working as president of the Cleveland Browns.
The buzz never seems to find Billick, whether it's Dallas or Denver or Des Moines. Since he was fired as coach of the Baltimore Ravens following the 2007 season, he has had only a couple opportunities to return to coaching, despite a resume that warrants another chance.
Billick won a Super Bowl, went to the playoffs four times and was .500 or better six of his nine seasons with the Ravens. He is direct and open with players. He communicates well with the media, and understands the media better now that he has worked in TV for two-plus seasons. In that time, he's spent hours interviewing and talking to coaches and players, both for TV and for his book "More Than A Game," which has added to his knowledge of the game.
He coordinated offenses as an assistant in Minnesota, and coached a top defense in Baltimore. Seven of his assistants became head coaches, including Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville, Mike Singletary in San Francisco, Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati and Mike Smith in Atlanta.
And he is more than willing to accept a role as coach only. He is not a coach interested in total control over anything but coaching.
"It's transitioned to a general manager's league," Billick said. "They call more of the shots, so naturally they lean toward a guy who they can say to: 'Don't worry about personnel, the cap, the budget. Worry about football. And quite frankly if you don't want to talk to the media, the less the better.' To seek out somebody who has a Super Bowl ring on his finger is ambitious for a GM, but that's part of the equation."
Dallas now has an opening, and Jerry Jones said he had heard from a Super Bowl winning coach about the job. Billick said it was not him.
"I have not talked to Jerry Jones," Billick said. "I have not talked to anybody in Dallas."
Nor has he done the old end run of talking to someone's associates about the job.
His won-lost percentage of .556 is not as good as Cowher (.623), Dungy (.668) or Holmgren (.592). But it's better than Gruden's (.540). Billick's overall record of 80-64? The exact same as Jimmy Johnson's.
Yes, Billick was fired. But so was Gruden. Some might say, too, that Dungy's overall won-lost percentage is higher because he coached Peyton Manning for years while Billick went through quarterbacks like water. Billick would not argue. But he won without a quarterback -- and won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer. If working in TV has helped the stock of Cowher and Gruden, it should help Billick as well.
Yet the buzz avoids him.
"I don't know why," Billick said this week from Los Angeles, where he was driving to visit his aging mother outside L.A. after doing his weekly coaches show on FOXSports.com. "I've had conversations with people, with teams. Same for Jon and Bill, I'm sure. But why my name doesn't get buzzed around, that's really not for me to answer."
If a man can shrug through the phone, Billick did just that. He said he'd like to coach again, but only if the opportunity is right.
"When you have a ring, it's a different perspective," Billick said. "When you've been in the right situation with the right people and you have a ring, it really is all about the partnership. You can win anywhere, but it's really about what kind of partnership does a team want to put together? The conversations I've had -- initial conversations with a couple teams -- it was apparent the partnership they were looking for was not a good fit, for them or for me."
Billick admits the great situation he had in Baltimore working with Ozzie Newsome affects his thinking.
"That's a high bar to set," he said.
Billick declined to say what teams called him, but it was widely reported Buffalo contacted him before hiring Chan Gailey after last season. Since Billick was fired following the 2007 season, 14 teams have changed coaches and a 15th -- Seattle -- changed twice. Indianapolis and Seattle had succession plans in place when Jim Caldwell and Jim Mora Jr. took over. San Francisco and Tampa Bay promoted assistants. Miami went with a Bill Parcells disciple in Tony Sparano. But Cleveland, Buffalo, the Jets, Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, Detroit, Atlanta, Washington and Seattle (again) passed on Billick.
Why does he wait? Why is he not hired? Perhaps because his strengths become perceived as his weaknesses. Taken in no particular order:
• He's too friendly with the media
Billick let his assistant coaches talk to the media without restrictions. He also let the trainer talk, a policy considered heresy in some NFL circles. Asked a question, Billick answered. Billick was never too insecure to worry that the truth would hurt him or his team.
• He's arrogant
"I am arrogant; I am egotistical," he said. "You know a coach who isn't?"
Billick wrote in "More Than a Game" about the time in 2007 when then-Patriots safety Rodney Harrison swore at him and his team during a Monday night game. Billick gave Harrison -- a guy he calls one of his favorite players -- a pantomime kiss "just to let Rodney know I loved him and that he could kiss my ass."
Players love that brash attitude; owners might shy from it.
"What some people arrogance, I call convictions," Billick said. "What some call ego, I call passion. Within a certain context, I don't know a coach who isn't arrogant. You better believe you have the answer, or at least know the questions.
"It's all style. You're either a good coach or you're not, whatever your style is."
• He could never find a quarterback in Baltimore
"That's a legitimate criticism," Billick said. "That's an important part of hiring a good coach."
But he's not exactly the Lone Ranger in that regard. Gruden won with Rich Gannon in Oakland, then had Brad Johnson as his Super Bowl quarterback in Tampa Bay. Neither were drafted under Gruden's watch. The same reality that states Billick did not have a quarterback could turn the thinking around and say it's impressive he won a Super Bowl without one.
"It's perception vs. reality," Billick said. "The process they used to get Joe Flacco in Baltimore was the exact same process we used to get Kyle Boller. There's no better coach than (Ravens offensive coordinator) Cam Cameron, and he's the guy who drafted John Beck."
All factors, all considerations. But the bottom line is what kind of coach a team wants and whether Billick fits in their plan.
So he waits.
But he will not define his career or his future if he doesn't coach again. Right now he said he's "all in" as a broadcaster.
If his name isn't part of the buzz, he can live with it.
"My ego has long since passed that," he said. "I know what my credentials are."