You can hardly mention the Eagles or open up a local sports
section these days without the name Jon Gruden popping up somewhere. The
reverend Bill Cowher would instantly climb to the top of any head coaching wish
list if he could ever quit being so indecisive about his willingness to get
back on the sidelines. Heck, Lovie Smith is a popular choice, and his teams
only made the playoffs three out of nine years – and he doesn’t even have a
Yet for whatever reason, Brian Billick enters the
conversation, and many fans act like he’s not even in the same league as these
other coaches. We are talking about a Super Bowl-winning head coach here. Why
so much mystique surrounding Gruden and Cowher, but so little enthusiasm for
Are they not all members of the same club, especially
considering their three championships came just six years apart? The answer
obviously is yes, and the circumstances under which Billick won his are
arguably the most impressive.
For starters, he got it done in his second season as a head
coach. It took Cowher 14 years to win the big one, and Gruden was already on to
his second team – a ready-made contender he inherited from Tony Dungy by the
way. Billick also did something that is almost unthinkable in this era, winning
not only without a franchise quarterback, but without so much as competent quarterback
play at all as long as we’re being blunt thanks in large part to their
Though that probably works as the biggest indictment of
Billick as well.
He arrived in Baltimore with a reputation for offense having
previously served as the offensive coordinator in Minnesota. The Vikings had
just set a then-NFL record for points scored in a season with a 35-year-old
Randall Cunningham under center.
That success did not follow Billick to the Ravens, at least
in part because he didn’t have a pair of Hall-of-Fame-caliber wide receivers in
Cris Carter and Randy Moss. The biggest reason however was the franchise’s
failure to develop a quarterback, jumping from Tony Banks to Dilfer, then
signing Elvis Grbac the same offseason they won the Super Bowl, followed one
year later by Chris Redman, before finally wasting a first-round pick on Kyle
Boller next April.
Not surprisingly, Billick couldn’t continue winning hardware
with slop at the most important position on the field. The one year the Ravens
finally did land a quality passer that managed to stay healthy – Steve McNair
in 2006 – they went 13-3 and earned a first-round bye in the tournament.
The obvious drawback is Billick has demonstrated little
ability to develop a quarterback at the pro level – though Gruden’s QB at Tampa
Bay was Brad Johnson, who got his start with Minnesota. Anybody can see how
that might be worrisome to anybody hopeful the Eagles can groom Nick Foles to
lead the franchise for the foreseeable future.
But what have Gruden or Cowher done that is so much better?
Is it because of their personalities? In Gruden’s case, is it his ties to the
Eagles in the past? What is it exactly that sets them apart? Because in terms of rings
on fingers, neither of them has one-upped Billick yet.
There’s something to be said for bringing in one of the
bright young minds from around the league, but as far as retreads go, Billick
is every bit as qualified as those other broadcasters. Somehow if he were to get hired as the next head coach of the Eagles however, I get the feeling the general public would not be nearly as satisfied.
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