Newsome builds name with quick talent haul Ravens' personnel VP gets 3-year extension

March 05, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens owner Art Modell slowly pulls out a long list of Ozzie Newsome's acquisitions during the past two years, and he sees the present turning into a bright future.

Modell points out the free agents that his vice president of player personnel has signed who are now prominent players. Defensive end Michael McCrary. Defensive tackles Tony Siragusa and James Jones. Tight end Eric Green. Right guard Jeff Blackshear.

And then Modell sounds even prouder when he talks about the past two drafts, which included Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Jermaine Lewis, Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper, Kim Herring

"Enough?" says Modell.

"Ozzie is as good a man in that job as any in the NFL, even though he doesn't get the recognition or notoriety as others. There is not a better judge of talent around, and the proof is in what we have done the last two years despite our record. The wins will come. I have every confidence in Ozzie, his judgment to talk with people and get things done."

So much, in fact, that Modell gave Newsome, 41, a three-year contract extension yesterday. (Terms were not disclosed.) And apparently, there are a number of people around the league who regularly deal with Newsome who feel the same way as Modell.

New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi said Newsome displayed the innate ability to recognize talent when he was still a tight end with the Cleveland Browns.

"I've always had a special feeling for Ozzie Newsome," said Accorsi, who was the executive vice president in charge of football operations with the Browns from 1985 through 1992. "When he was playing, after a draft, he would come up and tell us which guys could play. Even in his first year with the Browns as a scout, he was so well-prepared for his first draft, extremely organized.

"So far, he has done an excellent job in Baltimore. With talent evaluation, you have to learn the craft of your trade, but you have to have it in your stomach. All the great ones do. But I've never been around anyone before who has picked this up faster than Ozzie."

There were a number of critics of Modell and Newsome in Cleveland when Newsome went from scout after retiring in 1990 to his current position in five years. He had little front-office experience.

Certainly, there were other, more qualified candidates available, even Accorsi himself.

But Modell wanted Newsome.

"He always had a good work ethic and worked hard to be successful as a player," said Modell. "I thought somehow he could channel that over into a front-office position."

Newsome has made his share of mistakes. There was the time the team didn't turn in receiver Floyd Turner's contract on time to the league. There was the Brock Marion fiasco -- the free-agent safety was ready to be introduced as a Raven when it was discovered he was hurt -- last March. The experiment with running back Bam Morris wasn't successful, and the acquisition of left guard Leo Goeas turned out to be a stinker, too.

Agents have said the Ravens' decision-by-committee approach has slowed negotiations and the team needs to give Newsome more authority to make quicker decisions. Some of his critics say Newsome is a great talent evaluator, but needs to brush up on the technical aspects of the job, such as league rules, guidelines and the collective bargaining agreement.

"Take a look at his drafts," said Mel Kiper, ESPN's draft analyst. "When you start finding players like Jermaine Lewis, Jay Graham, a Ralph Staten in the later rounds, that's when you know you have done your job.

"Is he going to make a mistake on a player? Sure he is. We all do. But because of the Browns' move to Baltimore, every time the Ravens make a mistake it's going to be criticized nationally. But the same people who are laughing at him publicly secretly fear what he is building in Baltimore."

Baltimore-based agent Tony Agnone said: "Ozzie was a gunslinger who came to town with only two bullets in his chamber because of the team's financial situation. He said they were going to clean it up, and he stayed with his convictions. If Ozzie is going to leave a mark on this town, it's going to start now, because he has some room under the salary cap to make some moves."

But don't expect much change. Newsome's front-office style matches his personality. He has always been methodical, deliberate and organized. He is in his office every morning about 8: 30. He runs several miles every day, regardless of the weather, at lunch time. He gets a haircut every Friday at 2 p.m.

Newsome seldom misses practice. Heck, he has probably attended more than tight end Eric Green in the past two years. Forget the white-collar stuff. Newsome is a sports-shirt kind of guy. It goes with the golf game.

And he hates media attention.

"Ozzie is a very religious guy, but he is not the type to push it on people," said Eagles coach Ray Rhodes, one of Newsome's best friends. "He is a family man. It's important to him. He is a very serious person, extremely deep, which people find unusual because he is a former player.

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