Hitler quip is just Modell's latest bad call

December 29, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

Art Modell apologized. He had to apologize, after making perhaps the dumbest, most inappropriate remark in Baltimore sports history.

Modell, speaking to the media after firing Ted Marchibroda yesterday, was asked what style he would prefer in his next coach.

"If Hitler came back, I'd take him," the Ravens' owner said.

If you know Modell, you know he was only trying to crack a joke, because he's always trying to crack jokes, even on the grimmest occasions.

He isn't another Marge Schott; he's a Jewish philanthropist. He meant no harm with his words; he was just being Art, just running his mouth.

Running it at the largest media gathering of the season at the Ravens' Owings Mills training complex, with tape recorders running and television cameras rolling.

He needs to step down, not as owner of the team, but as its top decision-maker.

He needs to hire the brightest football mind he can find and grant him control of the Ravens' organization -- now.

Modell, 73, plans nothing of the sort.

But if this is the kind of judgment he exercises in a news conference, then how can he be expected to exercise sound judgment in football matters?

That was the biggest question to emerge from yesterday's embarrassing display, not whether Modell is a bigot or some other type of insensitive fool.

"That was a flippant, uncalled for, stupid misspeak on my part," Modell said. "It was ludicrous to say what I did. I knew the second I said it, that was absurd.

"It's not me, not my lifestyle, not my beliefs. I apologize to anybody who might take offense. I'm deeply sorry it happened."

Modell's slip occurred on the 40th anniversary of the Colts-Giants championship game, and the week after he graced the cover of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Will Baltimore's NFL nightmare ever end?

Modell sounded hopelessly out of touch even before he brought the "H" word into the discussion.

He doesn't get it. He's not going to get it. And whoever the next coach is, he will be just as doomed as Marchibroda.

Modell was full of double-talk yesterday, full of contradictions. If you didn't know better, you would have thought his news conference was a spoof.

"We don't have committees that have been alluded to, where we sit down, take a vote," Modell said. "I do ask my people to give me input. I'll make the decision."

So, how will he choose his coach? "By putting together a committee headed by Ozzie Newsome and David Modell, consisting of Kevin Byrne, Jim Bailey and Pat Moriarty to screen all the prospects," Modell said, referring to five Ravens executives.

Realizing that he had forgotten two, he added, "John Wooten and James Harris." The committee will screen candidates, Modell said, then submit between three and five for his approval.

"The initial interview will be by the committee. The final interview can be the whole committee or part of the committee. It may just be myself. But you can be sure I will make the final decision," Modell said.

It's a committee. It's not a committee.

It's low comedy, is what it is.

Basically, the committee will identify the candidate of its choice, then try to convince Modell that the move not only will be brilliant, but also his idea.

Well, at least money won't be an object, or so Modell says.

"Money is not an impediment in this organization, never has been," said the owner who left Cleveland because he wasn't making enough money.

"It's erroneous and fallacious in the extreme to suggest that this organization has ever had a cash-shortage problem. You don't borrow $185 million from a bunch of banks and insurance companies without their knowledge that you can pay it back."

You also don't borrow $185 million if you've got the cash to begin with, but never mind.

What matters now is the identity of the next coach.

The Ravens have no chance of getting Mike Holmgren. And if you're George Seifert, and you once worked for the best front office in the NFL, why would you align with Modell and his minions?

The Ravens' braintrust is a collection of underlings with limited duties, and no accountability. Modell is 16-31-1 in Baltimore. His franchise has never been to a Super Bowl. But heaven forbid he hire a real GM.

"We don't need anybody in the front office. The front office is as good as any in this league," Modell said.

Sure, Art.

And the Ravens were an elite team in '98.

Modell is essentially correct in his belief that a coach shouldn't run the entire operation -- the responsibilities are too diverse. Still, a coach like Bill Parcells brings in his own people, charts his own course, gets everyone on the same page.

Parcells is an exception, capable of transforming an organization through the sheer force of his personality. But a strong GM could accomplish many of the same objectives, and hire another solid football man as coach.

The question is one of leadership, one of vision.

Modell said that he gave Marchibroda and all his previous coaches "anything they wanted." He also said that he hired a number of poor coaches in the '90s. So, how smart was he to listen to them?

You want the man in charge to give your organization an identity. You want him to build a winner. You want him to make your city proud.

Art Modell is the man in charge of the Ravens, and he failed on all of those counts even before yesterday's blunder.

He needs to step aside. Now.

Not quite 'elite'

In Ted Marchibroda's three seasons, the Ravens compiled the fifth-worst record in the NFL. Records of the bottom five teams over the past three seasons:

Club .......... Record Pct.

Chicago ....... 15-33 .313

Indianapolis .. 15-33 .313

New Orleans ... 15-33 .313

St. Louis ..... 15-33 .313

Ravens ...... 16-31-1 .344

Pub Date: 12/29/98

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