Ravens owner Art Modell headed off a raid of his management team yesterday, saying he would not grant the Chicago Bears permission to interview Ozzie Newsome or James Harris about a prospective general manager's job.
The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that an executive search firm representing the Bears "has either contacted or made inquiries" about Newsome, the vice president of player personnel for the Ravens.
Newsome said he has not spoken to anyone regarding the Bears' opening. While Harris acknowledged he had been contacted about the vacancy, the Ravens' director of pro personnel refused to characterize himself as a candidate.
Five months after winning Super Bowl XXXV, the Ravens still are playing stonewall defense.
"Every Super Bowl winner gets attacked," Modell said. "They think we have the key to success. Maybe we do. [But] the key and lock are staying here."
The Ravens, however, may be losing a third valuable member of a personnel team that has emerged as one of the NFL's finest. Modell said he has encouraged Phil Savage, the director of college scouting, to explore career opportunities.
After being mentioned as a candidate for the Bears' job, Savage, 35, reportedly has become the front-runner for the Philadelphia Eagles' pro personnel director's job. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Savage became the team's top choice when John Dorsey opted to remain with the Green Bay Packers rather than join the Eagles this week.
"I've encouraged Phil to go out and interview and get the feel of it," Modell said. "He will rely heavily on my recommendation. If it's right, I will tell him so."
The Ravens' front office is being recognized around the league in the wake of its searing Super Bowl run. Until the 2000 season, the team's best days were draft days. Savage's legwork at the college level and Newsome's vision produced four Pro Bowl players and 11 Super Bowl starters in five drafts since the team moved here from Cleveland.
Harris, a low-key but highly efficient evaluator of pro talent, is widely respected in personnel circles.
Modell said that no one from the Bears or Russell Reynolds Associates, Inc., in New York - the search firm - had contacted him. He also said the idea that the Bears could circumvent league protocol for getting ownership approval before interviewing was "ridiculous."
"Ozzie is going nowhere, James Harris is going nowhere," he said. "Phil might if he gets a situation that is appealing to him."
Modell indicated he might reconsider his position if a job opportunity was "especially meaningful" to Newsome or Harris.
Bears president Ted Phillips, unavailable to comment, wants to restructure the team's front office after reaching a mutual termination with Mark Hatley, who was vice president of player personnel. Phillips' plan is to empower the new man with control over all football operations, most likely with the title of general manager.
Tom Modrak, ousted as director of football operations in Philadelphia, is regarded as the No. 1 candidate.
A Bears spokesman, meanwhile, declined to confirm or deny the Tribune report about Newsome, who would be the first African-American in the NFL with hiring and firing power over a coach if he were to get the job.
Newsome, 45, was adamant in his stance before leaving for a three-day charity golfing affair in Mobile, Ala., yesterday.
"I have a very good job and we just won a Super Bowl and I'm very happy," he said. "I'm not in the market looking for a job because I have a very good job."
Newsome said that he had missed phone calls from Joe Bailey, a former executive with the Dallas Cowboys who works for the search firm. "But I was assuming [the calls were] about James and Phil," he said.
Harris said he spoke only briefly to Bailey and described it as "more along the lines of touching base."
Bailey did not return a message left at his New York office.
NOTES: The Ravens signed offensive guard Orlando Bobo to a one-year, $477,000 minimum contract, effectively ending the four-year stay of backup tackle Spencer Folau here. "We took the center/guard rather than the tackle," said coach Brian Billick, who said salary-cap implications prevent both players from returning. ... The Ravens made a quantum leap from 30th in licensed merchandise sales in 1999 to 10th in 2000. Ravens merchandise sales nearly quadrupled in 2000, when they achieved the high-water mark in the team's five-year existence. The top three best-selling teams last season were the Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings.