Unsung son D. Modell key to Ravens' rise as a franchise

October 07, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

David Modell will leave as the Ravens' president after the season as Steve Bisciotti takes over for Art Modell as team owner.

TEAM PRESIDENT David Modell will never get the credit he deserves for building the Ravens into a quality organization, because he is the owner's son and can't escape stereotypes.

You know the stuff. The rich and spoiled kid who never worked a day in his life. He works for a franchise that is nothing more than a hobby or toy.

In this case, it's not true.

Here's one truth about David Modell: He was the unsung hero of the Ravens' Super Bowl championship run in 2000-2001.

Here's another one: He has been just as important in building this franchise as anyone, including players Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden, general manager Ozzie Newsome, director of player personnel Phil Savage, and even owner and father Art Modell himself.

So when David Modell gets replaced as president by incoming owner Steve Bisciotti shortly after the season, the Ravens will bid farewell to one of their top architects.

"I think in most instances, when the son is part of the business that the father owned, operated and ran, they never get the credit," Newsome said. "That's not a negative thing toward David, but I think it's a negative thing as a whole from a social standpoint. You're coming in, and so what, your dad did this, your dad did that, and you never get the credit."

Ravens coach Brian Billick said: "There is coaching, personnel and the administrative side of [running a franchise]. David has been at the center of the administrative side. I couldn't have asked more from an organization. At every turn, whatever it is I thought I needed, or whatever structure that needed to be set, David has been right there. I owe David a great deal heading up the group that brought me here."

You won't hear much about David Modell's contributions. But it was Modell who included the fans and NFL Properties in choosing the team name and colors. It was Modell who used fans and focus groups to find out what fans wanted the most at M&T Bank Stadium, one of the best, if not the best, in the NFL.

It was also Modell who was bold enough to make tough decisions for a financially troubled organization in 1998, and eventually lure Billick from Minnesota for the 1999 season. Like him or dislike him, Billick is one of the league's top coaches and has a Super Bowl ring.

And so does Modell, who has been with the organization for 27 years and president since 1998. He talked about a Super Bowl championship since Day One, back in the days when it appeared to be far-fetched. That was in the Ravens' first two seasons here when players complained about the franchise move, and the Ravens had cash-flow problems. They couldn't afford a developmental squad, and assistant coaches were members of the scout team.

The training complex was a dump and smelled like an old warehouse. Ceilings leaked, and there were holes in the wall. The tiny weight room couldn't hold the entire offensive line, and Bill Tessendorf doubled as trainer and repairman. At one point, the Ravens were the laughingstock of the NFL.

Winning games was mission impossible. But Modell was on the streets selling the Ravens to a lukewarm Baltimore public like a politician days before the election. The Ravens are now the hottest ticket in town.

"I will never forget this," said Newsome. "The first time David asked me to speak to our marketing people, I repeated what our former strength coach Jerry Simmons said: `We didn't worry about reaching the mountain when we came here, we just started climbing.'

"David always felt like he was going to make this a first-class operation, and he puts steps in to keep it that way."

Modell can make a rough first impression. He can be loud and use big words. He often puffs on big cigars. He is seen on the sidelines wearing designer suits and chewing tobacco, and is often bent over with his hands on his knees as if he is a wannabe coach or just enjoying his toy.

But he sincerely has a passion for the game, the league and winning. Clearly, he always has looked for innovative ideas.

Before the opening of the new stadium, he sent a group of executives, ushers, parking attendants and maintenance people to Disney World for training because of Disney's great atmosphere and hospitality, which he hoped to create in Baltimore. He hired J.D. Power to survey fans at the first home game.

For the '01 Super Bowl, Modell brought the players cameras and camcorders so they could enjoy the week as much as the fans. Around the team offices, Modell would pay $50 to $100 to employees who could recite the team mission statement.

He was instrumental in bridging the gap between Art Modell and former Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis after Lewis was fired with Ted Marchibroda after the 1998 season, only to be retained by Billick and build one of the best defenses in NFL history.

But his legacy will be linked to Billick, to whom he made job overtures during a game here in 1998 against Minnesota when Billick was still the offensive coordinator of the Vikings. Modell compiled one of the most extensive and thorough job searches ever, one that is used as a model by the NFL Workplace Diversity Committee for hiring head coaches and administrators.

The track record is pretty impressive. No one can question his passion for the game or his dedication to fans. But he won't be back, and you can't blame Bisciotti. He has invested nearly $650 million to purchase this team and deserves to bring in his own people.

And you can't feel too sorry for David Modell, either. He is going to eventually walk away with about $35 million. That will buy him a lot of tobacco. But more importantly, he has fulfilled his legacy in Baltimore, that of rebuilding a franchise with a winning tradition and winning a Super Bowl title that his family and this city had coveted for so long.

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