OK, Ravens need new coach, but they need GM even more

December 23, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

The Ravens are going to make a coaching change after this season, but that's not what they need most after three losing seasons.

What they need most is a general manager.

They can use any title they want. Director of football operations. Vice president. Godfather of on-field personnel. Whatever. By any name, he'd be in charge of the football side of the organization. His vision of the Ravens, and his vision alone, would count.

Sure, he'd have a staff of lieutenants to help make decisions -- scouting director, pro personnel director, etc. And the coach would be close to his equal. But key personnel decisions would be his in the end. Win or lose, he'd be accountable.

Such clarity at the top would give the Ravens a better chance of winning, as opposed to the current "committee" arrangement, a muddle of the visions and opinions of various coaches, coordinators and front office executives.

Ravens owner Art Modell is unlikely to grant such power to one person, of course. GMs? "I don't believe in them," he once said. He declined to comment yesterday.

Maybe he should check his franchise's record and re-evaluate.

The Browns/Ravens are 17 games under .500 since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. They have won only four playoff games and no AFC titles in that span. Worst of all, they're 34 games under .500 in the '90s, including 15-31-1 in Baltimore.

In other words, it's time to try doing business another way. This way isn't working.

Replacing Ted Marchibroda might be necessary, but it will have minimal impact in the long run unless it is part of a broader change in the way the Ravens operate. They need to clean up their room and clear up their chain of command. Accountability is an important part of any successful business model. The Ravens have almost none. We don't know who is making decisions other than Ozzie Newsome on draft day. That has to end.

True, NFL teams operate differently than major-league clubs, with more voices in the mix. These days, there's usually a legal guy, a salary cap guy, a personnel guy and a coach. The Ravens aren't unusual in that regard.

But in the end, the fewer voices heard, the better the team fares. The last time Modell had consecutive winning seasons (1988-1989), he had Ernie Accorsi making decisions as a de facto GM, along with coach Marty Schottenheimer. It's time to go back to that. Time to hire a sharp, well-connected architect and let him go to work along with a new coach.

No, there's no certainty it would work. But the chances are better than the chances with the current, indecipherable blueprint. And since the current blueprint isn't working, what's to lose?

There are three ways the Ravens could find their architect. They could promote Newsome, their vice president of player personnel. They could hire a top coach such as George Seifert or Mike Holmgren and give him a GM's authority. Or they could hire a top executive from elsewhere such as Rick Reiprish, director of player personnel for the Jaguars, or Ted Thompson, who has worked under esteemed Packers GM Ron Wolf for six years.

Promoting Newsome would make as much sense as any move. He is already a semi-GM now, without full authority. It would be interesting to see what would happen if his opinions were made immune to those of others. He has done well here, particularly with his first two drafts. Yes, he's still learning on the job, but he's well- connected with league insiders, familiar with the Ravens and has a nice eye for talent. That's a lot to recommend him.

Bringing in a big-time coach/GM such as Seifert or Holmgren also would make sense. Only a handful of coaches are capable of handling such a burden, and those are two from top organizations. The Falcons, Broncos, Jets and Dolphins certainly haven't regretted granting such widespread authority to one guy.

And that third option, one of those unknown executives from elsewhere? That's fine, too, if Modell wants it. All that matters is that he makes the move one way or another and the Ravens become a product of one vision instead of a mishmash.

It's not hard to figure out why Modell has refrained from doing it all these years. He's a personable man who enjoys the spotlight. He wants some of the credit if and when his team wins. He wouldn't get much with a GM running the team.

But it's time for him to lay that aside and get serious about backing up his boast of being "committed" to winning. If he's really so committed, he should hire a GM.

Modell, more than anyone, should realize how much is at stake. He is already in somewhat desperate circumstances here, new stadium and all. The Ravens' TV ratings are among the worst in the NFL. The general public hasn't embraced the team with fervor. There's a vague feeling of apathy in the air. It all traces to one source -- losing.

With the attraction of a new stadium about to dwindle and the city's honeymoon with pro football's return about to end, Modell had better do all he can to change those losses to wins or he's going to be looking at a lot of empty purple seats sometime soon.

Changing his coach is fine. But putting his team in a GM's hands, one way or another, is the move he really needs to make.

It's the move that would result in real and lasting change.

Pub Date: 12/23/98

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