As Modell did, owner needs to open up

On the Ravens

December 06, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

There are times when the Ravens miss former majority owner Art Modell, such as when they committed 21 penalties against the Detroit Lions earlier this season and embarrassed the city. Modell would have stepped forward and apologized to Baltimore as well as the league and the offended officials.

Modell was never shy with words. On the opposite end of the spectrum is current team owner Steve Bisciotti. He appears before the media about as often as Halley's comet. But he needs to come around now, because his once-promising team has imploded, and there are some questions that need to be answered.

Will Brian Billick return as coach next season? Are the Ravens about to enter rebuilding mode? What is the team's priority in the draft? Is Chester Taylor or Jamal Lewis the running back of the future? Is quarterback Kyle Boller the man? What can the Ravens do to resolve money issues with prominent players such as Jamal Lewis, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed? What's being done to re-establish a relationship with Jonathan Ogden?

Yet, all we get is silence.

Psst, it's a secret until team officials meet after the season. But we all know Bisciotti has gone through these issues a thousand times in his head. Knock, knock. We just want to come inside for a little while.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talks a lot, and so does the Jacksonville Jaguars' Wayne Weaver and Kansas City Chiefs' Lamar Hunt.

No owner, with maybe the exception of Jones, was more front and center than Modell. He was, and still is, always accessible. At times, his messages were stern, and other times playful. He would painfully try to hold the truth but most of the time couldn't.

Maybe it was Modell's ego that made him so accessible, but he always projected leadership. He felt, especially in time of crisis, it was important to keep the fans informed because they were emotionally vested in his team.

He would apologize when his team got routed. He explained the team's priority in the draft and would offer his own recommendation, even if the opinion was different from that of general manager Ozzie Newsome and head scout Phil Savage.

It's easy to imagine what Modell would have said after the Detroit debacle:

Our behavior was an embarrassment to myself, Pat, the Modell family and the city of Baltimore. I will guarantee you that behavior has never happened before in the history of this franchise, and it will never happen again because it won't be tolerated.

With Modell, you always knew where the team was trying to go. It didn't always get there, but you knew the intentions.

Fans here want to know where the Ravens are headed now other than downward. The Ravens are in limbo. An announced crowd of 69,909 watched the Ravens play the Houston Texans in one of the worst pro games ever, but there were between 12,000 to 15,000 no- shows. It's a statement that they don't like the product on the field, but there's still an interest in the team. This city has always been and will always be a football town.

It's just time for the new owner to step up a little and ease some concerns. We all want to know his feelings. Modell was visible, why not Bisciotti? This isn't a slap at Bisciotti. He appears to be a nice guy, down to earth and always pleasant. He is reserved, intelligent and extremely competitive. From all indications, his passion for the game and success runs as deep as Modell's.

But he declines to be interviewed. He likes working in the background. That's great if you work with a grounds or stage crew, but this is the NFL. Accountability is a major part of the business.

Folks want to know if the Ravens are going to fill the need for offensive linemen in the draft or if getting a big plugger on the defensive line or finding secondary help is more of a priority. They want to know if the Ravens have to clean house and rebuild or can they get immediate help in the offseason through free agency to become a contender right away.

According to a source close to the team, Bisciotti has been working to bridge a gap with Ogden over the issue of cutting his younger brother in training camp, hoping to lure the likely Hall of Famer back onto the field next season instead of possibly going into retirement. The same source says Bisciotti has also been working in the background trying to settle some differences between the team and both Reed and Ray Lewis, who now has mysteriously developed a hamstring injury (previously a thigh bruise).

That's the sign of a good owner, but one who is also aware of the locker room problems and issues.

Bisciotti has probably made a decision on Billick's future. He's been around long enough to know if the coach's act is still effective or has grown stale. It's not all about wins and losses, but also about perception, how this organization is received within the community and throughout the NFL. The Ravens have a reputation for being arrogant.

No more needs to be said.

Owners have a tendency to support their coaches a year too long, and that can be seen in places such as Green Bay, New Orleans and Miami, before the Dolphins hired Nick Saban.

With Bisciotti, he isn't giving a lot of answers. Maybe he will in his own time. But in a league where good public relations are a must, Bisciotti hasn't learned to play the game that his predecessor mastered very well in Baltimore.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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