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Brian Billick of the Baltimore Ravens was hired as an offensive guru, but the Ravens became best known for defence under his nine-year tenure, which ended Monday. ((Doug Pensinger/Getty Images))

Less than a month after reportedly receiving assurances he would return in 2008, longtime Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick was fired on Monday.

"I just changed my mind. I can't explain it to you," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti told the Baltimore Sun. "It's the toughest decision I've had to make."

Baltimore won the AFC North Division with a 13-3 record last season and won five of their first seven this season before ending their campaignwith nine consecutive losses.

The worst defeat occurred Dec. 16, when the Ravens were beaten by the 0-13 Miami Dolphins.

The Ravens were beset with injuries on defence, while veteran quarterback Steve McNair did not resemble the player who was impressive last season.

Billick, 53, coached the club for nine seasons, the same length as Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles. Only Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans (13 seasons) and Denver's Mike Shanahan (12) have enjoyed longer tenures.

Billickhad an overall85-67 record and led the club to a dominant Super Bowl win in 2001. The Ravens have gone just 1-3 in the playoffs since, with the victorycoming in2002.

The departing coach released a statement on Monday, praising Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome.

"It has been a great ride with the Ravens and the fans here. My family and I have grown to love this area, and this is where we will continue to live," Billick said.

"I've always bragged that this is the best organization, and it is because of the people here. They are the most competent. They made my job easier because of the support they give to make sure the focus is always about finding a way to win."

Bisciotti extended Billick's contract through 2010 after last season's impressive performance, which ended with the team losing in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.

The puzzling aspect of Billick's tenure was the team's offensive woes.

Hired for his reputation as an offensive guru after he was co-ordinator when the Minnesota Vikings racked up a then record 556 points in 1998, Billick's Baltimore teams were largely known for ferocious defence and inconsistent offensive play.

The Ravens finally appeared settled with McNair after going through a host of unimpressive quarterbacks during Billick's tenure.