For Ravens players, Harry Swayne's office is unavoidable.
It sits a couple of yards from a side entrance to the locker room and almost directly across from the lounge where players watch television, get haircuts or take naps during rare down time amid the NFL grind.
Swayne played 15 years in the NFL and has four Super Bowl rings, but his work space, aside from mementos and a Ray Rice figurine in the center of his desk, more resembles the office of a high school guidance counselor than a long-time football man.
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A poster of the Ravens' college graduates hangs over his desk. Information on post-playing career opportunities and important phone numbers are displayed prominently. Motivational and spiritual messages dot the room, along with pictures of Swayne's wife and five kids.
"I might be the only one in the building — at least on the football side — that doesn't care as much about how they play on Sundays," Swayne said. "I'm more concerned with how they react to how they play on Sundays."
Swayne is 48 years old and 55 pounds lighter than he was during a playing career that included a stint at starting right tackle on the Ravens' Super Bowl XXXV team. These days, he is in his fourth year as the Ravens' director of player development, a role that calls for Swayne to build relationships not only with players, coaches, team executives and their families, but also with corporate sponsors and business and community leaders.
It's a tireless, yet rewarding job that has come under scrutiny recently with the slew of offseason arrests of NFL players, most notably the murder charge against former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. The arrests, including one involving linebacker Rolando McClain, who retired less than a month after joining the Ravens, have spurred questions about the level of responsibility NFL teams have in recognizing and preventing destructive off-the-field behavior.
Swayne didn't comment on individual cases, but he was more than willing to address what he feels is the biggest misconception about player development directors.
"If there is a problem off the field with players — and there always is and always has been — [people say] what's going on with player development?" Swayne said. "One thing we are not is behaviorists. In my line of work and this is for all 32 player engagement directors, we don't babysit 20-something-year-olds. They are going to do what 20-something-year-olds do across all cultural groups, across this whole country. Their parents can't keep them from going out and doing some stupid stuff. Certainly, the player development director isn't going to be able to either.
"But in that same respect, what we are is proactive individuals who like to approach things where it puts us out in front of some cloudy decisions before they even get an opportunity to make a bad choice. All 32 player engagement directors kind of have that approach."
Wearing many hats
Swayne returned to the Ravens in 2008 as the caregiver to his former teammate O.J. Brigance, the Ravens executive who is fighting Lou Gehrig's disease. Now, he's the guy who usually sits closest to potential draft picks when Ravens officials are interviewing them, trying to determine whether the prospect has the types of characteristics the organization is seeking in its players. He's the guy whose opinion is sought by everyone from owner Steve Bisciotti to general manager Ozzie Newsome to coach John Harbaugh to star players like Rice. He's the guy who along with Brigance helped develop and maintain a four-tiered player development program that is regarded in league circles as one of the NFL's best.
That program focuses on continuing education, financial education, player assistance services and transitions to post-NFL life.
"People ask if I can give them information, what should the structure look like, how much involvement should this individual have, who should they report to. I just tell them, 'I'd like for you to speak to Harry Swayne, who is in Baltimore.' That's the winning model," said Troy Vincent, the 15-year NFL cornerback who runs the NFL Player Engagement Organization. "He has it all. He's the benchmark."
On any given day, Swayne will help a Ravens rookie enroll in classes to get him closer to finishing his degree, field a call from the wife of one of the team's newer players about living in the area, edit the resume of a former Raven looking to break into the business world, and talk to a business leader about whether his company has any internship opportunities available for players.
"They think they'll play forever, [so] they take it with a little more [of a] grain of salt when we talk about the importance of finishing, getting your degree and getting yourself ready to enter into your second career," Swayne said. "We really only have two or three guys — [Joe Flacco] of course, and Terrell Suggs — who could make an argument that they won't have to work another day in their life. Even the Ray Rices of the world, it's hit or miss. We're talking about 60 some odd years after you last played in the NFL. Most of them just on sanity alone will be working somewhere. So getting them prepared for that, getting them interested in that, getting them ready for that, that's the lion's share of my time."
Swayne meets at least once a year with Ravens veterans to discuss career development and has 10 required meetings with rookies, expanding on what they learned at the league's mandatory rookie symposium in June. During the offseason, Swayne says, he has 21 to 22 daily meetings with first-year players and that doesn't include the phone calls and dinners that he has with their parents, partly to remind them that their job hasn't ended now that their son is in the NFL.
"One thing that's nice about Harry is he really doesn't look at the football side. He looks at the 'you as a person' side," said Ravens rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk, a fourth-round draft pick out of Harvard. "It helps to have a guy like that around. Everyone else is evaluating you and what kind of football player you are. He's just here to help you as a person, to help you grow."
Getting the call
Swayne has been awakened in the middle of the night numerous times over the years by phone calls from players in a bind or facing a tough decision. He prefers those rather than calls from the team's director of security Darren Sanders informing him that there was a serious incident involving a Raven.