Q: Ozzie has talked about your influence when you were both in Cleveland. Was there something about him that stuck out that you knew he'd be a great personnel evaluator?
BB: Yeah, no question. My first year in Cleveland was Ozzie's first year not playing. He had retired after the '90 season and we sat down, it's one the first things I did when I took the job. We sat down, talked to Ozzie about his future. He wanted to have a future in the organization, he wasn't sure if it was in coaching or scouting or some other aspect of public relations or player development or whatever it was. He did a number of different things for me there. He coached, he was in the scouting department – similar kind of maybe to what Nick [Caserio] has done here, kind of going a little bit back and forth. I think in the end probably all those experiences benefitted him because he got an appreciation of the scouting end, the player end of it – of course he had been a player so he had great familiarity of what it was like to be a player in the NFL – but scouting players, developing players, being a coach, creating game plans, making personnel decisions from a coach, as opposed to as a scout, and all those things. He did a great job for me and I learned an awful lot from him, again because of his experience as a player and how his playing career – he was a wide receiver in college and then he became a tight end so there was a lot of development and progression of his career. Like every player, had a great career, peaked and at the end was at a different point in his career and how that whole transition worked for him. He taught me an awful lot about that and just the whole passing game, receiving, being a receiver, playing for different quarterbacks, playing in different offensive systems as he did and so forth. He was a great resource for me. He taught me an awful lot and he's been very complimentary about his comments of what he learned from me but I think I probably learned more from him than he learned from me. He's a very astute, sometimes quiet kind of guy, but the wheels are always turning, he's taking a lot in. when he speaks, you listen because you respect him and you know that he's just not saying things to hear himself talk. He's saying them because he's given it a lot of thought and he has a very important observation or opinion to share. He's had a great career. I can't think of many people that did what he did as a player and then in his current position and all the other things along the way – as a scout, as an assistant coach and so forth. He's a pretty special person, special football person too.
Q: How's your relationship with John Harbaugh?
BB: It would be a lot better if we didn't have to play each other every year. I have a lot of respect for John. John's another guy that kind of started like I did – started as a special teams coach. As he and I have talked about, I think that's a great way to learn the game of football. You learn situation football, you learn the kicking game, you learn how field position and all those things relate to the other aspects of the game. If you're an offensive coach, you know defense. If you're a defensive coach, you know offense. You have to learn those things as part of knowing what's going on on the other side of the ball. The kicking game is kind of its own entity. John, obviously again had a great background – football family. He grew up with it, as I did. He's really paid his dues. He's been a good coach in this league, whether it was on special teams or defense or obviously as a head coach. I have a lot of respect for John. I'd love to have a closer relationship with John if we weren't in the same competition. It's kind of similar to, I'd say different but similar to my relationship with Bill Cowher. Before I got to Cleveland when Bill was at Kansas City with Marty [Schottenheimer], we spent a lot of time together, we talked, we visited each other, shared ideas. We were both young coaches anxious to learn and feed off the other guy and get some ideas and techniques and things like that. It was great. Then I'm the head coach at Cleveland, he's the head coach at Pittsburgh and we play each other twice a year. I love Bill, but you're playing him twice a year, you're trying to do everything you can to find a way to beat him. As that situation changed, and then ultimately now with not having to compete against him in the league, it's a lot easier to have a relationship that isn't based on the direct competition that you're in. Different, but there are some similarities there.
Q: Sort of similar when Nick Saban went to Miami.
BB: Exactly. Oh, yeah. Yeah.
BB: Two Croatians in the same division. Yeah, it's crazy. Yeah, I mean Nick, I've had as close a relationship with Nick professionally and personally through the years, even before when he was at Ohio State, when he was at Navy, when he was at Michigan State and then obviously the four years in Cleveland and Michigan State again and LSU and then at Miami – that was hard, for both of us because we had a great personal relationship but we're trying to win, trying to beat each other. I love that he's at Alabama and he's not in our division. He's not shutting us out like he did the last time we played him down there in Miami. But it's so much better that way on a personal level.
Q: When you put together your 46-man game day roster, part of it is injuries and you have a good feel of the guys you can count on, maybe he has a foot injury versus a player who has a concussion and it's harder to gauge. How does that affect putting together the roster? Do you add another layer of depth because you're not as certain as you would be about a guy coming back from a physical thing. Do you get what I'm saying?
BB: I understand the question. It's probably a lot longer answer than we have time for. First of all, there's no discussion until a player is medically cleared. So if a player's not medically cleared, he's out of the game, it doesn't matter. There's no discussion. Then there's another part of a player being cleared but he's not 100 percent, which that's probably true of everybody in the locker room. But there is a degree of, he can play, he's not injured, nobody is concerned about him being re-injured or putting himself in jeopardy. It's just a question of how effective he can be. At that point, it becomes a coaching decision as to, OK, he can play, just how effective do you think he'll be. A big part of that obviously is practice. We practice – Wednesday is a big day for us, Thursday is a big day for us and Friday is more of a mental review day, it's not as big of a physical day. By the time you get to Friday, it's not always all that clear because a player can go out there and perform well on Wednesday, he can perform well on Thursday but then those two days maybe take a toll on the player and whatever situation he's managing and then on Friday he's not so good. Then there are other situations where guys will go Wednesday and then Thursday and then Friday and that's easy because you know then, ‘OK, that player has responded to every increased level of activity and come back stronger.' So you feel confident that he's ready to go. The player that goes out there, competes, performs and then the result of that is, I don't want to say maybe it's a setback or maybe it's just, can he really sustain it at that level or is it still going to take another week. Those are the ones on Friday and Saturday that are really questionable. That's the bottom line, is they're questionable. How are they going to respond to the week of work and then where do you think they'll be Sunday. I know everybody thinks that all this is all figured out, but truly it isn't. A lot of it is waiting to see just like the doctors and the trainers are. I know you're trying to find that out too, but I'm waiting to see that as well. I don't know until a player goes out there and does it or even after he does it, what's the result of that going to be? Those decisions are made a lot of times when we know or when we feel pretty confident what they are. But a lot of times those decisions really go right down to Sunday morning or sometimes even Saturday afternoon. You just have to make a call at that point, you just have to decide what you're going to do: this is what we've got and we either go with it or wait until next week. Again, specifically to answer your question, each case is different. But until a player is cleared, there's no discussion, there's no decision to make. Once he's cleared, then it becomes a coaching decision as to how effective you think the player can be or you think can be effective for a certain number of plays. Like, OK, this guy can play, we don't think he can play the whole game but he can definitely go out there and play so we need to monitor his snaps. So, it's some combination of all those things.
Q: How much input does the player have?
BB: It depends. It would depend on the player, it would depend on the nature of his situation. In some cases, a lot. In some cases, I would say, minimal. In some cases, kind of more in the middle. Look, the players want to play. So not very often is a player going to tell you, ‘I don't want to play.' Usually it's more along the lines of, ‘I want to play, I can do these things.' Sometimes they tell you, ‘I can't do these other things.' Sometimes you have to figure that out for yourself. Because again, a player wants to play, he won't mention, ‘I don't really feel confident cutting to my left – I can play, I'll be alright' or whatever it happens to be, because they want to play. Again, my job is just to do what I feel like is best for the team and try to figure out if what he can do is good enough or if we're going to be able to accept that for the good of the team. Not that he won't give us his best, just what is it.
Q: Can you talk about Joe Flacco and the challenges he presents for an opposition?
BB: Plenty. First of all, Joe is a real smart guy. They've put a lot of responsibility for him on play-calling at the line of scrimmage. You don't really see them run very many bad plays. If you have a defense, he can usually recognize what you're in and not run something right into the teeth of the defense. You have to do a good job disguising whatever it is that you're doing. He's effective on the deep balls. He's effective on the intermediate throws: in-cuts, comebacks, seam routes, things like that. He's good at being patient, taking the check-downs and using his backs – [Ray] Rice, [Bernard] Pierce, [Dennis] Pitta, guys like that. He's got good field vision, he's got good accuracy, he's obviously got a good arm. He's a good decision-maker and he does a good job of running the team, whether it's at the line of scrimmage, whether it's managing the clock, making end-of-the-game type decisions. Things like that, he's a guy that's obviously very well prepared and is a good decision-maker under pressure. He's shown that multiple, multiple times. And I'd say he's tough. He's a tough guy. He's not one to back down from challenges or pressure. He'll step up there, throw the ball, take a hit. If he needs a yard, he'll put his shoulder down and try to get it. He's not always looking to slide or run out of bounds, that kind of thing. If it's a situation where he needs it, he's a tough guy, he'll go in there and physically make the play. I don't think that should go unmentioned. I think that's significant to – one of his many good qualities as a quarterback.
Q: Do expect this knee injury to affect him?
BB: I think he's a good competitor. I think he'll go out there and do the very best he can. I wouldn't expect anything less than his best. In this type of game, I think, look, you [can] put a lot of players in that category on both teams. There will be a lot of guys out there that will be less than 100 percent but because of the game, the competitiveness of the game, the competitiveness of the opponents – it's two good football teams, there's a lot at stake in the game – I think you're going to have a lot of guys out there that are going to give it all they got. It may be less than 100 percent, but they'll be giving it all they've got. That's really the nature, I would say, of both teams. That's the way it's been all year from both teams.
BB: No, we definitely noticed him. He was on and off of Seattle's roster from the practice squad. If you sign a player off the practice squad, then you have to keep him for three weeks. You can do it, but there's a little bit of a commitment there. Then we kind of found a time when he was off the practice squad and I think they had some injuries and they were kind of rotating a few guys and they didn't bring him back and we were able to get him back on our practice squad so we could get an opportunity to work with him. He showed up and improved and then got an opportunity to play and took advantage of that opportunity. It was kind of a sequence of things. I'd say different but similar to
Q: Specific to
BB: I'd say absolutely. I think that's the perfect way to put it actually. That's the balance they're trying to strike. I think that's true probably every day of the football season, let's put it that way. Every day of the football season, including OTAs, including training camp. Everybody has to understand that there's a below the line level. When it's below the line, we can't live with it. It hurts the team. Now, we're all going to make mistakes and nobody makes more of them than I do. I understand that mistakes are part of the game. I've been in it long enough to know there's no perfect player, no perfect game or practice. If you go out there and compete against high level competition, that they're going to make some plays too. But there's a below the line and we just can't live with that and expect to win. That's the bottom line. Things are going to happen that are below the line that we have to correct but we have to stay above the line. It's as simple as that. That line is drawn at every position with various criteria that apply to those players at those positions. It's not scientific, there's no textbook on it, on how to handle each situation. Those are decisions you have to make on a daily basis and ultimately on a weekly basis and ultimately on your decisions to keep or not keep certain players. Things like that come into play. How each decision gets made, that's a whole other discussion. That's a critical part, I think, of coaching in any sport, particularly football but any sport.
Q: Is it a huge challenge for a coach to set that line? I remember Jimmy Johnson saying, ‘If Troy Aikman walks into the meeting late, I'm not cutting him.'
BB: I think what Jimmy is referring to, and I certainly would agree with that, is that there are different levels and players earn different levels of status, if you will, on the team. I mean, everybody on the team has the same status to a certain degree but we all know it's not quite the same for everybody. That being said, I think that there's a certain way to deal with different players on the team. But as far as below the line, or above the line, I don't think there's really too much doubt about that. Whatever the position is, if you're playing defensive back, you can't have the ball thrown over your head for an 80-yard touchdown. It's not acceptable. I don't care if the guy is a Hall of Fame player or if he's a rookie free agent in his first practice. We can't play like that. We can't throw a pass into a team meeting where there's four defenders there and try to jam the ball in there and get it picked off when they have four guys standing there. It's unacceptable. We can't win doing that. I don't care who the quarterback is. It doesn't make any difference. We can't jump offside and false start and be in first-and-15s and first-and-fives and let them convert third downs and third-and-fours because we jump offside. You can't play like that. It doesn't matter who the player is, it's still below the line. We just can't play like that and expect to win with those kind of mistakes. Now, is that going to happen? Yeah, it's going to happen, sure. I understand that. But if it happens too often, we can't play like that. And there's going to be a new coach up here too if it happens too often. I know that too. The things that cause you to lose, you have to eliminate. Before you can win, you can't lose. When you do things as a coach or as a player that cause you to lose, then you won't be in this job long.
Q: How does a guy get above that line?
BB: By performing. You go out there and perform. You don't drop below the line. Take Ozzie Newsome. There's a good example right there. When Ozzie was a rookie, he played 13 years, when he was rookie, he fumbled, lost the ball, team lost the game. Never fumbled again the rest of his career. Never fumbled again the rest of his career – 600 and 700 [662 receptions] passes, however many passes it was, however many times he touched the ball the rest of his career, never fumbled again. Why is Ozzie Newsome in the Hall of Fame? That's why. That kind of commitment, that kind of performance. It was important enough to him. Fumbled once, didn't fumble again the rest of his entire career. Now think about that. Want to know how a guy gets in the Hall of Fame? That's one reason. Lawrence Taylor. How many sacks did he have? How many times was he offside? Go back and look how many times he was offside. It wasn't very many. There's a guy that hit the quarterback, made as many plays defensively as any player in football, certainly any player I've ever coached but any player in football – I'd put him up against anybody in terms of big plays, hitting the quarterback, tackles beyond the line of scrimmage. I don't care what the stats are, a lot of plays that he made, that somebody else made, but he was an impact, dynamic, as disruptive a player defensively as there's probably ever been in the National Football League. How many times was he offside? Was he offside? Yeah, but he was a pretty disruptive player without doing that. I think those are examples of what I'm talking about – for all of us. We all make mistakes, even the great ones, but they don't repeat them, they don't make very many of them, they correct it, it's important enough to them to move on and get it right. That's how you do it. You get it right.