I'm a hypocrite.
Let me explain.
The one thing that gets to me in my job is criticism from the outside. When a reporter or a fan rips my team, I take it personally and want to lash back. Really lash back.
Tell me John Harbaugh is lacking, and I'm ready to leap in your face and explain to you why you don't know what you're talking about. I've got the ammunition, and I'm ready to rattle all of it at you.
Tell me Cam Cameron can't call plays or that Greg Mattison is not a good defensive coordinator, and I'll give you a look that says, "You're kidding me, right?" I'll give you rights and lefts about Cam's impressive coordinator history. I'll deliver a haymaker about Greg's credentials and skills.
How much does it get to me? I'm a little embarrassed to say.
I was listening to Coach Harbaugh's radio show last Tuesday (6 to 7 p.m. on WBAL Radio) when a caller told the Ravens' head coach that he knew football because he had played nine years of "semi-pro football" and that the Ravens' offense was predictable and the defense too simple. I yelled at the radio: "Great, nine years of semi-pro ball, and you know the game better than John, Cam and Greg, who do this for a career. Hey, I eat every day, but I'm not a chef. I drive a car every day and have no idea how it works or how to fix it. Get a life, man, quit calling the show. Go play in your sandlot games."
Maybe I'm a little tired. Certainly irritable after losing at Green Bay and not sleeping that day and night. Maybe a little nuts. Admittedly, sensitive.
(And, here's my rant against people who say they can predict our plays – and they always speak up when a play fails. "I knew you were going to run. They did, too. That's why the play didn't work." Really. You have a 50/50 chance to be right every play. Two things can happen: we either pass, or we run. As they yell on ESPN on Monday nights: "C'mon, Man!"
My favorite answer regarding run and pass came from former Ravens head coach Ted Marchibroda. After we lost a tough game that included a stop by the opponent on 4th down from the 1-yard line, the Baltimore Sun's Vito Stellino, now covering the Jaguars for the Florida Times Union, asked Ted: "On the 4th down on the one, you passed and didn't make it. Don't you think you should have run the ball?" Ted looked at Vito and replied: "Next time we will, Vito."
*One more story: similar situation after a loss when Brian Billick was our head coach. At the post-game press conference, Brian gave a safe, acceptable answer: "We have to make that play, and we didn't. We thought we made the right play call." After the conference, a frustrated Billick told me: "Here's what I wanted to say: 'I've been a coach for 30 years. I do this for a living. Thirty years of preparation – of game planning and play calling, of study and experience – went into that call. It didn't work. When you spend 30 years preparing, come back and give me your suggestion.'") *
And, here's why I'm a hypocrite.
I was watching my alma mater, Marquette University, play a basketball game against North Carolina State last weekend. My Marquette looked impressive in taking an 8-point halftime lead. (Marquette lost 4 starters from last season's NCAA tournament team and is led by 2nd-year head coach Buzz Williams. Buzz is there, by the way, because Coach Harbaugh's brother-in-law, Tom Crean, left Marquette for some school named Indiana. I still hold that against "Harbs.")
As I watched the 1st half, I was thinking that the new coach knew what he was doing, and some of the guys he recruited looked like they can really play. With about 10 minutes left in the game, NC State roared back and took a double-digit lead. That's when I started coaching Marquette, because I had become smarter than Coach Williams and all of his assistants. (NC State won the game, 77-70.)
In truth, Marquette was now affecting my evening's good feeling. They make me feel good when they win. But, when they weren't doing well, I was – second-guessing and criticizing. I was doing exactly what irritates me in my real life.
It was a good reminder for me – that it's okay to enjoy the Ravens when we do well. And, it's okay to question what we do. That's part of being a fan. There is yin and yang. There is sports talk. There are radio and TV stations dedicated to it. That is part of the fun…discussing what a team does do, should do, etc.
I'll only ask one thing: respect the work and the experience that goes into everything we do. Maybe add a little forgiveness once in awhile. Remember, the ball is not round. It bounces funny at times. And, I promise to be kinder with my thoughts when I watch my alma mater.
Remembering a Head Coach and the Lions
In Ted Marchibroda's final game as the Ravens' head coach, we defeated the Lions at M&T Bank Stadium. It was Dec. 27, 1998, and the score was 19-10. About a month before that, Art Modell had made the decision to replace Ted, and we had already started meetings to discuss who the next coach would be.
(Talk about feeling guilty. Ted is one of the best persons I have ever had the privilege to know. This tough-minded, former NFL quarterback was not only a good head coach, he's an outstanding person dedicated to his family…kind of a good-hearted man's man. We all felt guilty meeting behind his back. A group of us, including Ozzie Newsome, would leave our offices and meet at David Modell's house. Ted is a smart guy. He knew something had to be up.)
At the press conference immediately after the victory over the Lions, that same reporter, Vito Stellino, was aggressively asking Ted if he thought he had just coached his last game for the Ravens. Ted answered politely, saying "That's not my decision. I want to continue coaching the team." Finally Vito asked Ted: "Do you have any meeting with Art Modell this afternoon, or is there one scheduled for tomorrow sometime?"
Coach Marchibroda smiled and replied, "I'm not aware of any meetings." He then turned to me and said: "Kevin might be aware of some, but I haven't been informed." Damn, I felt small. I knew he was about to be fired. He was my friend. He is my friend. This business is so public, and it can be very cold.
And, let's not let the cold get to us. Let's rev it up at the stadium this Sunday. Have some fun and get after Detroit. Let's beat the Lions and start a playoff run.
Talk with you next week.
Kevin Byrne is in his 31st NFL season and is the Ravens' senior vice president of public and community relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis , Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.