Newsome is Ravens' GM in everything but title

January 03, 1999|By JOHN STEADMAN

General manager is an impressive-sounding job title that football coaches covet. It puffs their egos and allows them to believe they are the mighty lords of all they survey.

Baloney.

The Ravens are being broadsided with recommendations and a stated urgency for naming a general manager.

In case the Ravens haven't realized it, there's an easy solution.

All owner Art Modell need do is change the designation of Ozzie Newsome from vice president of player personnel to general manager, and the problem, if there is one, has been immediately resolved.

If public perception insists a general manager is needed, then pick one. Newsome handles the role now, although he functions under a different designation.

It's a question of semantics. In all sports, the general manager's office is far different from what it used to be.

In the past, general managers were what the term implied: in charge of the entire operation, including scaling ticket prices, making the field ready, picking the head coach, overseeing the draft, hiring the publicity director, talking at banquets, devising a budget, and making sure the secretaries showed up on time.

It took someone with special abilities, a diversified individual, to carry out the enormous requirements.

That's the way it once was -- but not anymore. Now the general manager focuses entirely on his working relationship with the head coach, making trades, evaluating and signing personnel and concentrating on the makeup of the team roster, which is what Newsome already does for the Ravens.

Coaching mentality is such that most of the "X's and O's" designers desire as much power and influence as the owner of the franchise will allow them to have. This is why they crave the climb to being the general manager -- so called. It allows them the feeling of being the mighty master of the ship, and they don't have to take orders.

It's a feeling that goes back to when George Halas was coach, general manager and owner of the Chicago Bears. And then Paul Brown, coach-general manager of the Cleveland Browns, had similar jurisdiction.

Both were exceptional men, successful in the dual position, which meant their coaching competitors were envious of the vast authority they were able to exert.

Others wanted the same for themselves, even if they weren't capable of handling the complexities that came with the double-duty responsibilities of coach and general manager.

Newsome, as a case in point, does for the Ravens what any general manager or coach-general manager is able to do elsewhere.

The only difference is he's not called the general manager. As director of player personnel, Newsome knows a football player when he sees one, doesn't stand around taking bows and is highly respected in his business.

The title of general manager had its sports inception in baseball, where the job description has been altered dramatically. Some owners want the right to be involved, even if they are considered an impediment to progress.

With the Ravens and other teams, important decisions are taken up with ownership. It's always going to be that way.

Since he doesn't have another job, Modell is a hands-on operator. He's there every day monitoring practices and being involved with the coaches. The atmosphere charges him, which is the reason he enjoys the role of supreme commander.

If the Ravens are looking for someone with general managing experience, they only need to be aware that George Young, who held the position with the New York Giants for 19 seasons, plans to return to his native Baltimore next year. He's now serving as senior vice president of football operations for the NFL and, per usual, is doing a grand job.

Young worked for Modell's friend, Wellington Mara, who stepped aside and let Young do it in 1979. Young, with all his exceptional success, had two sterling coaches in Bill Parcells and Dan Reeves.

But neither was content to answer to Young. They wanted the role of chief potentate, even if they had to go to other teams to achieve such a niche: Parcells to the New England Patriots and New York Jets and Reeves to the Atlanta Falcons.

Modell, in announcing ambitions to make the Ravens more respectable, mentioned something that brought criticism when he referred to Hitler. This is something that's never going to be acceptable in any part of the free world, even if you are joking.

But in sports, owners and general managers have long mentioned in conversational asides that they'd hire Hitler if they thought it would make their teams a winner. They never intended that literally -- only a figure of speech to stress how desperate they were to find a winning formula.

Modell apologized after falling into the Hitler reference. It was something he regretted saying because it was a situation where he was being facetious, not that he was advocating bringing a depraved ex-paperhanger back from the grave after all the pain he inflicted on humanity.

Returning to the subject of fun and games, the Ravens are a team with three defenders, one offensive lineman and a special teams player elected to the Pro Bowl.

A 6-10 finish with that defensive talent was not a reflection on Ted Marchibroda, the outgoing coach, or an indictment of his ability. The correlation is all wrong.

Where the Ravens are up against it is in the offensive production. They have too few weapons and tend to overrate their own talent, which is a dangerous trap. You don't have to be a player personnel director, or even a general manager, to discern the need.

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