Baltimore Sun – Oct 11, 2005 – Brent Jones – Coach opts to stay the course after loss to Lions – As Brian Billick continues to handle the Ravens his way – standing firm in his belief that the team is not out of control despite mounting criticisms to the contrary – the embattled coach is being wise, at least for this week, in staying the course.
That is the opinion of Joel Freeman, who has been a professional counselor, behavior analyst and author for more than 25 years. Freeman, founder of the Freeman Institute (a company that specializes in business and personal development), was also a mentor to the Washington Wizards franchise from 1979 to ’98.
Billick’s insistence to not fine, suspend or publicly sanction any of the players called for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties or ejected in the Ravens’ 35-17 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday is keeping with the standard he has set since arriving in 1999.
“He knows these guys like very few on the planet, including family and relatives. He knows what it takes to keep things going,” said Freeman, a Severn resident. “It’s a judgment call. Maybe a decade later, maybe you look back and say, ‘I should have done this or should have done that.’ But you’ve got to go with your gut, and his gut right now is telling him this is the way to go with it.”
Defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety B.J. Ward were ejected after making contact with the referee, and Suggs is expected to draw a hefty fine from the league. Neither will have to worry about avoiding the coach’s wrath this week.
Cornerback Chris McAlister has drawn a number of personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in his career, but Billick has generally stood by him, and he is again in the wake of McAlister’s taunting call Sunday.
Essentially, it is status quo for the Ravens, which means there will be no added rules and fines by Billick to combat the lack of discipline shown by his team Sunday. Some question that stance, but at a time when the Ravens look as unstable as ever under Billick, stability in the coach is a must, says John F. Murray, a licensed clinical and sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla.
“It all comes back down to a consistent philosophy that the coach is clearly communicating to his team,” said Murray, who has created the Mental Performance Index, a general measure of performance at a high level in sports that includes mental factors. “The team understands and knows what to expect.
“Every coach is going to have their disciplinary measures and how they react to their team. I don’t think there are any steadfast rules. For example, [Don] Shula used to make them run gassers when they had penalties. Some coaches yell, and some coaches are more like Brian Billick.”
The Ravens were called for 21 penalties (one short of tying an NFL record), three of which were unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, against Detroit. The team turned the ball over four times, as well.
But rather than throw a fit, Billick has remained relatively cool, standing up for his players in one of the longest news conferences of his tenure Monday.
It was there where he was forced to verbalize, then defend his coaching methods.
“If all [the players] are doing is responding on this side of the line to all the rules that [we] can lay on them, and micromanage every minute of their day, that minimizes their chance of developing the character and the mind-set that they’ll have to rely on when they go onto the field,” Billick said. “That’s an overlying philosophy with me.
“I could, if I choose to, lay down any number of restrictions, fines, warnings, ‘If you do this again,’ but if that’s the only reason they don’t consider [behaving poorly], then I don’t know that we’ve gotten any better.”
Peter Favaro, a forensics psychologist in Houston who has worked with a number of athletes through the years, disagrees. Favaro, author of Six Critical Steps to a Calmer Life, says because of the money athletes make, coaches have little recourse in punishing their players other than hitting them where it hurts.
“The only thing to force people to act in a sportsmanlike way, are monetary fines. It’s as simple as that,” Favaro said.
Except there is one major component to the Ravens’ story Freeman says cannot be ignored. A few of the calls, specifically the fumble by Lions quarterback Joey Harrington that was picked up and run by Kevin Jones to the Ravens’ 2-yard line to set up a touchdown, appeared to be wrong. Suggs’ roughing-the-passer call that preceded his ejection was also questionable at best.
“Let’s try and climb into [Billick’s] mind and his heart. He strongly believes [these calls] were wrong,” Freeman said. “It’s his way of showing the players, ‘I believe this is wrong, and I’m not going to charge you because of it. I know you play on the edge of rage, and it’s something that we need to take a look at.’ We’re not in the room when he’s talking to the players. He could give them a severe tongue-lashing, and then say I’m not going to punish you for this.”
“Now on a societal issue – we cry out and say there needs to be justice. I would applaud the people that want to see these things addressed. But in the game of football and in this specific case, I don’t know if it’s warranted or required simply because of the context in the perceived or real fairness of the types of calls that were made.”
If it happens again, though, then there could be a problem. Let’s say the Ravens are called for double-digit penalties and see another player get ejected in the coming weeks?
“He’s probably going to have to put the hammer down,” Freeman said. “I think this time he is giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. This is not a normal situation.”
Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.