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Winning the Ravens' hearts and minds paramount

In both today's Sun and on the newspaper's Web site, Ravens beat writer Jamison Hensley has a Q&A with team owner Steve Bisciotti that finally lays to rest some of the lingering questions over the end of the Brian Billick era in Baltimore and helps fans understand better what Bisciotti expects out of his team leader, namely the coach.

Stark in the Q&A for me was this revelation -- although revelation is probably too strong a word because the reporting on the team had already made it abundantly clear -- that the players had substantial influence in Billick's dismissal. In this quote Bisciotti was more specific than he has ever been about what was happening with the team last year and how it impacted his decision.

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"The reports that I got from other executives and team personnel [ranged] everywhere from the disrespect of coaches from players on the sideline to arguments in the locker room and team planes."

Hensley asked a particularly perceptive question when he asked the owner if it was dangerous to allow players to feel empowered.  Bisciotti responded that the players are not running the team but that people preform best when they have trust and confidence in their leaders.

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Which brings us to the now and future.  John Harbaugh is the new coach.  He has already developed a leadership style, and a well-respected one, as a position coach, mainly special teams.  But anyone who understands the dynamics of leadership knows that converting an entire organization to your own style is not easy.  Often, the most effective way to do that is to bring in "your guys."  It works that way in all types of businesses, including sports.

Of course, NFL coaches start by largely hiring their own coaching staffs immediately.  But you'll also see coaches begin to weed out the roster (the Bill Parcells MO).  You want "trust and confidence"?  Have a team full of guys you hand-picked.

And that makes the Ray Lewis situation really interesting.  Sun colleague Kevin Van Valkenberg in his blog already discussed the conundrum of signing an aging star, who also happens to be the best player in Ravens history, to a contract extension that includes lots of guaranteed money (presumably $15 to $20 million) that will be felt on the salary cap for a number of years.  If the Ravens do that, Harbaugh will have a situation where the most vocal critic of the former coach, namely Lewis, continues to have some leverage as the new coach tries to mold this team going forward.

Van Valkenberg used the absolutely correct word when he described the prospect of a longish-term Lewis deal as a conundrum, trying to balance having Lewis retire as a Ravens against the financial liability incurred by the team in making that happen.  I'll add this word as it may apply to Harbaugh, if he has any problem winning over Lewis -- dilemma.


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