Man with the plan

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome sets the tone for the organization with his patient, deliberate approach

Ravens Extra

January 08, 2007|By John Eisenberg | John Eisenberg,Sun Reporter

Like many NFL teams, the Ravens have a public image and then another in the private corridors where the league operates.

The public image is a blend of Ray Lewis and Brian Billick: tough, swaggering and, to some, arrogant. But the Ravens' behind-closed-doors image is markedly different. They're regarded as methodical and patient, smart drafters and solid salary cap managers.

A number of factors contribute to that organizational personality, but more than anyone, it's a reflection of Ozzie Newsome, the team's general manager.

"He's very deliberate, very calculating," said former Ravens owner Art Modell, who put Newsome in charge of the team's football operation when the franchise moved from Cleveland to Baltimore 11 years ago.

"Ozzie is more patient than anyone I've ever worked for or with," said Eric DeCosta, the team's director of college scouting. "He doesn't get flustered, doesn't panic, always has a plan. He lets things come together. That's his best quality along with the fact that he's a great talent evaluator."

Newsome, 50, is the rare Hall of Fame player who has made a successful transition to running a football operation. Most top players become coaches or scouts if they continue in the game after retiring. Few even try to run a team, the Detroit Lions' much-maligned Matt Millen being an exception (and perhaps an example of why so few try). A GM needs different skills that aren't necessarily honed by years in uniform.

After catching 662 passes as a Cleveland Browns tight end from 1978 to 1990, Newsome now navigates a sea of salary cap rules, oversees scouts and serves as the Ravens' primary team builder and big-picture thinker.

Born and raised in Muscle Shoals, Ala., where his father ran a restaurant and his mother worked as a domestic, Newsome surely never contemplated becoming a GM during his years with the Browns, or before that, when he was a star receiver at the University of Alabama.

"But you know what? It's not really surprising he has proved to be good at that [GM] job, too," said Hanford Dixon, a former Cleveland Browns cornerback who played with Newsome and is one of his closest friends. "You kind of always knew he was special. He had such passion for football, and he was such a perfectionist."

Modell said: "All along, I saw in Ozzie a certain maturity, a quality of deliberation before he makes a decision. I felt that could translate into running an organization as a GM. I took a shot. It wasn't much of a shot."

As the Ravens have piled up wins this season, Newsome - who lives in Cockeysville with his wife, Gloria, and their son, Michael, a high school freshman - has been out of the public eye. He declined to be interviewed for this article, saying he was uncomfortable with the spotlight being on him as the team prepares for the playoffs.

He is usually relatively available to reporters - in 2005, he won a Pro Football Writers Association award given to a league or club official who helps the media - but his least favorite subject is himself.

"He's just tremendously humble, has no ego whatsoever. He believes the credit should go to the players," DeCosta said.

Browns GM Phil Savage, who worked with Newsome in Baltimore until 2005, added: "He doesn't need to tell people he is good at this. He is a Hall of Famer. He has gotten the acclaim. At this point, he would rather let his actions and his team do the talking for him."

When Newsome was 11, he was the only African-American in his grade and "learned to bite my tongue," he told The Plain Dealer of Cleveland in 1999. When he became the NFL's first African-American GM upon being promoted to that title in 2002, he said he knew it was "historically significant" but low-keyed the achievement.

"Ozzie doesn't like attention," DeCosta said. "He likes to win. You may not see it now that he's out of uniform, but he wants to win more than anyone. That's all he cares about."

Varied influences

His philosophy is a patchwork of influences.

From his college coach, Alabama's legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant, he learned to put the team first; numerous photographs of Bryant, who died in 1983, hang on Newsome's office walls.

"To him, football is about the players and coaches working together, not the individual. Bryant influenced him that way," DeCosta said.

Another influence was Bill Belichick, the cerebral head coach who has won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. He was the Browns' coach when Newsome retired and started looking around for a new career in the early 1990s. At Modell's urging, Newsome tried scouting and coaching before deciding he felt at home in the personnel office. He was strongly affected by Belichick's approach to personnel. Most NFL teams belonged to one of two scouting services, in which teams share information. Belichick preferred to rely strictly on the opinions of Cleveland's staff scouts.

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