Quiet Newsome silences critics

January 16, 2009|By MIKE PRESTON

In August, critics of Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome were flooding radio talk shows wondering why he had not been fired when head coach Brian Billick was let go.

They were a team, so they should have been dismissed at the same time. That was their logic back then.

Now?

Oops, we haven't heard a peep from them since the Ravens lost three in a row earlier this season. They've gone underground.

Back then, Newsome declined to defend himself. He never said a word. Now, with his team within one game of playing in a second Super Bowl, Newsome still won't give an interview.

That's just his style. He is the quiet force of the Ravens, the architect of a team that almost everyone thought would barely win six games this season. Credit has gone to owner Steve Bisciotti, new head coach John Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and even rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. Few mention Newsome.

But Harbaugh knows better. He just shakes his head in amazement when he talks about the things he has learned from Newsome during his rookie season as a head coach.

"There has been a list," Harbaugh said. "He is a guy that is so patient, so meticulous. When everyone else is anxious or nervous, Ozzie has the ability to sit back, give a strong analysis and see things through. He just doesn't jump into it."

Maybe his critics should have been as patient. They were ready to run him out of town with Billick. It was guilt by association because Billick's problems became Newsome's problems.

Newsome couldn't draft a quarterback. He couldn't draft a good wide receiver. Why weren't there any good, young offensive linemen on the roster? The reasons the offense struggled were that Newsome could evaluate only defensive talent and had invested most of the team's salary on that side of the ball.

It was ridiculous and extremely unfair.

There is a process when things go wrong. You start looking at assistant coaches first and coordinators next. Then it moves up to the head coach and then the general manager. The bull's-eye should have been put on Newsome's back, but he should have been given two more years to solve any problems.

But it doesn't matter now because a strong foundation has been laid for what appears to be a promising future. The Ravens have a good young coach in Harbaugh and perhaps the best coaching staff in the NFL, one Newsome helped assemble.

The Ravens have their quarterback of the future in rookie Joe Flacco and a young, strong group of offensive linemen who should be able to protect him for years to come. By most NFL standards, April's draft was an overwhelming success with players such as Flacco, Ray Rice, Haruki Nakamura, Tavares Gooden and Tom Zbikowski.

As the Ravens go deeper into the playoffs, it becomes even more of an indictment of Billick than of Newsome, whose fingerprints are all over this season's team.

With so much young talent on offense, Newsome went out and signed veteran free agents such as fullback Lorenzo Neal and right offensive tackle Willie Anderson. Both still have skills but also strong leadership ability.

In a watered-down league, Newsome still was able to find - and acquire - cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Frank Walker. They aren't better than Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister, but they upgraded a secondary that was horrible a season ago. Newsome also signed free-agent safety Jim Leonhard, who never played this well in Buffalo.

Why not?

Newsome learned from former Ravens head coach Ted Marchibroda about signing and drafting players with a strong work ethic and a big heart. Leonhard is a prototype.

Through the years, especially in Baltimore, Newsome hasn't received the credit he deserves. There were always whispers that Phil Savage was the real brains behind the Ravens and that Newsome couldn't find his way around the league without James "Shack" Harris. They moved on.

Savage and Harris parted ways with their teams at the end of the regular season, Savage getting fired by the Cleveland Browns and Harris resigning from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The man left standing is Newsome.

I've had many conversations with Newsome through the years, and never has he said one bad word about Savage or Harris. They formed a good team when all three were in Baltimore, just as Newsome does with current front office personnel George Kokinis and Eric DeCosta.

Newsome has spent a lot of time pumping both of those guys up for jobs around the league. Yet at the same time, he hasn't said much publicly at all. He is no Jerry Jones. He is reserved and quiet. It's a style he learned growing up as a child near the heart of the civil rights movement in Muscle Shoals, Ala.

It's a style that has served him well.

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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