March 30, 2004
In his lengthiest interview since joining the Ravens, Bisciotti talked yesterday with Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley at the owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., about the structure of the organization, his expectations for the team and the off-the-field troubles with his players.
Q. After serving as the team's minority owner for four years, what are your emotions just two weeks from becoming the sole owner? Are you nervous or excited?
A. I have a little apprehension with the notoriety aspect of it. I probably underestimated that on my way in. I never went out of my way to get to know Peter Angelos because he was owner of the Orioles, and I was a major fan. I'm not terribly excited about that aspect of how my world is changing.
Q. In many ownership changes - most notably the transition with Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and Orioles owner Peter Angelos - there is significant turnover. Are there any significant changes planned?
A. I'm one and done on that issue. Just the Modells leaving and me coming is the major move. I've learned how the Modells do business and have been in agreement with so many things that it wasn't like I was sitting here with a list of changes. I don't have anything in my mind that I've got to do going forward. I think fans will find it boring.
Q. Many owners prefer to be hands-on and take an active role in personnel decisions. How much influence will you have in shaping the roster?
A. When people ask me what's the greatest part of this new experience for me, I say without hesitation, "Being able to walk into [general manager] Ozzie Newsome's office and ask him exactly what he's thinking. And he has to tell me." That's what every fan would like to do. To me, you don't stop being a fan when you become an owner.
Q. Will there come a point where you hear of a free agent and ask Newsome, "Can we get this player?"
A. "Can we get him?" is the key. I am absolutely going to go in there and say, "We got to get this guy." But Ozzie knows that it's not a directive. It's a wish.
Q. Do you ever foresee a time when the wishes turn into directives?
A. No, I don't see that coming. I never ever envisioned this as being the centerpiece of my life. Nothing has changed in those four years. I have never gotten one bit closer to that design of an owner that's going to be making personnel decisions. I'm so unqualified to do that relative to the kind of people that are out there. Even if all my people left, I would have so many talented people in the league that I could tap to put into those jobs that immediately would be much more qualified than me. So, I don't ever see that happening. I never want my ownership marked by whatever you want to define what a hands-on owner is. You want to be involved. You want to be included. You want to be educated. But in the end, you want somebody else that is qualified to do that job to make the ultimate decision and then judge them on a series of decisions.
Q. In the structure of your organization, where do you fit in the chain of command?
A. Ultimately, I would have the responsibility for the hiring and firing of the general manager and the coach. Brian [Billick] would have the authority over all the coaches, and Ozzie would have the authority over all the personnel. I assume that would be the only two people that would need my approval. I think I am extremely fortunate to be walking into my hometown team with a coach like Brian and a GM like Ozzie.
Q. You were involved in signing Newsome and Billick to extensions through the 2006 and 2005 seasons, respectively. How do you see their tenure under your ownership?
A. Ozzie can stay here as long as he wants. The tenure of a GM in the league is longer than the coach, because the coach is the one out on the firing line. In my interaction with Brian, I'm going to be more patient than the average fan, because I know what limitations we are setting in place that he has to live by. I'm very, very comfortable with him, and I hope that I have the longest-tenured coach in the league. I would love for Brian to be here 15 years, and he chuckles and says that there's no way that can happen. All I want is a coach that wants to grow. If he is willing to grow, we could stay here forever. I think Brian is a remarkable guy because he is very easy to deal with.
Q. There has been a growing concern among fans regarding the team's problems on offense. Do you share that frustration?
A. To me, nothing bothers me more than a lack of defense. As an owner, I truly would rather have a great defense and an average offense, because you can't have both [because of the salary cap]. If that is indeed the case, is it fair to criticize [offensive coordinator] Matt Cavanaugh, who is a very intelligent, committed guy? If we gave him everything we needed, we would have 60 percent of the salary cap on his side, and our defense would be giving up 14-point leads in the fourth quarter.
Q. With the Ravens' off-the-field troubles, this franchise has been labeled by many as the Raiders of the East. Is that fair?
A. I think that label is inevitable with the situations we've had. But I also know in my four years I've been more impressed from a character standpoint of people like Ray Lewis and Jamal Lewis than anybody else in the organization. They are not bad guys. They are great guys. When these kind of situations arise, a picture is going to be painted that is going to take you a long time to change. Having said that, I think a majority of this comes from a defense-first philosophy. They don't look at offensive-minded teams as being bad guys.
Q. What's your threshold for those players who are arrested or get caught up in trouble?
A. I have an enormous amount of tolerance for mistakes and very little tolerance for a lack of character. I think there is a very big difference there. We are dealing with a lot of young men who have been given an enormous amount of talent, notoriety and money. They are experiencing things that the average person doesn't. There are people trying to manipulate these wealthy, famous young men every day of their life. So, I think in getting to know the organization that you should build a tolerance for young men to make mistakes.
Q. What are your expectations on the field? When do you expect to win a Super Bowl title?
A. I think we have proven with the parity in the league that you can be a very good team and come up short over and over again like the Buffalo Bills ... and Philadelphia Eagles. I think with our coaching staff and our personnel staff that we will continually overachieve on the average of the NFL teams. That's what I'm very excited about. Whether we win or get back to a Super Bowl, a single bounce of the ball can change that.
Q. With most of the teams in the AFC North in a rebuilding mode, what are the chances of building a dynasty in the division?
A. I would like to say yes to make everybody happy. But I see [coach] Marvin Lewis and what he is doing with Cincinnati. Cleveland brought in [quarterback] Jeff Garcia and has great receivers and a young defense. I don't look at our division [as] easy to dominate. I think if we can get to the top of our division, we've prepared ourselves to beat just about anybody.
Q. Because Paul Tagliabue once said Baltimore should use its money to build a museum and not buy an NFL team, many believe the commissioner has been against this city. In your dealings with Tagliabue, is there any validity to that claim?
A. My relationship with the commissioner has been fabulous. He has been very supportive of the Modells, myself and Baltimore in general. That's a comment that burned me, too. But at the same time, it was taken out of context. And we were bruised and angry. It didn't take much to make Baltimore mad at the NFL. It was a series of unfortunate events with the Colts leaving and us missing out on expansion. I think it's a misnomer that the league has it in for us. That's part of the beauty of Baltimore. We live with a chip on our shoulder and let's not confuse the story with the facts.
Q. You sometimes talk with players after practice and have taken Ray Lewis to your courtside seats at Maryland basketball games. How close have you become with the players?
A. I think I'm an attractive owner to the players because I'm younger than most owners. So, there's a natural inclination for us to interact and communicate more. Certainly, there's a limit to that for the health of the organization. When you draft these guys and they're giving you their heart and soul, it's hard not to develop a relationship with them. I don't see that developing into much of a social relationship.
Q. What's the biggest difference between you and Modell?
A. I'm probably more inclined to the business side than the football side. Art got into this business and lived and breathed it for 40 years. As you get older, you get bored with the business side and get much more interested in the football side because that becomes your legacy. But I do anticipate that probably changing as I gain more experiences.
Q. What's your biggest fear as an owner?
A. My biggest fear is losing. You can be primed for a Super Bowl run and a couple of key injuries can obliterate it. You saw what happened to the Broncos after they lost Terrell Davis, and you saw what happened to the Atlanta Falcons after they lost Jamal Anderson.
Q. How much time will you spend with the Ravens?
A. I can see myself at 50 percent of the practices two to three days a week. My involvement is year-round, but not full time. I've worked 70 hours a week, and that's what [new team president] Dick Cass is for.
Q. There has been a distance between the Ravens and the Orioles. Will that change?
A. That was between Peter and Art. Peter didn't have to share this town with anybody at first. Then, all of a sudden, he had competition across the parking lot for sponsors and everything else. There is naturally going to be tension. Peter has been very gracious to me and my family. He invited me to dinner after the deal was done, and he has had my family to a suite for a game. I anticipate our relationship going forward to be great. I think we'll work well together.
Q. How long do you plan to own the team?
A. Maybe 10 years to life. How's that for a sentence? In some ways, it is. The obligation is very big, and I underestimated getting into it that it was 100 employees, but it was really a million stockholders. Everybody that loves this team and sets aside three hours on Sunday to watch this team is invested in it. My obligation is to them but clearly to me and my family first. I didn't want this to become my whole life. [But] I want to spend my life owning the Baltimore Ravens. I just need to make sure that I create a balance that keeps me happy, because this is not a sentence and I am not forced to do this. I'm hoping that I can integrate this major change in my life without disrupting my own quality of life. If it gets to the point where it disrupts my quality of life, it's not worth being in it. That's the only reason I can see me changing. I'm hopeful and encouraged that the Bisciotti family will be happy owning this team.
Q. Do you plan on passing this team down to your sons one day?
A. Sure. I can't say that there isn't. I probably would not want my boys to get out of college and come to work for their dad. When I dream of will my boys ever be in it, I think I would probably want them to go do something on their own and explore the world first. Then, maybe they come back to the business when they're 35 if they have the desire to.
Steve Bisciotti file
Bisciotti on ...
A weak offense
"I truly would rather have a great defense and an average offense because you can't have both [under the salary cap]."
"I have an enormous amount of tolerance for mistakes and very little tolerance for a lack of character."
Evaluating football talent
"I'm so unqualified to do that relative to the kind of people that are out there."
Anti-Baltimore bias in NFL
"I think it's a misnomer that the league has it in for us."
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