Man with the plan

The Baltimore Sun

Like many NFL teams, the Ravens have a public image and then another in the private corridors where the league operates.

The public image is a blend of Ray Lewis and Brian Billick: tough, swaggering and, to some, arrogant. But the Ravens' behind-closed-doors image is markedly different. They're regarded as methodical and patient, smart drafters and solid salary cap managers.

A number of factors contribute to that organizational personality, but more than anyone, it's a reflection of Ozzie Newsome, the team's general manager.

"He's very deliberate, very calculating," said former Ravens owner Art Modell, who put Newsome in charge of the team's football operation when the franchise moved from Cleveland to Baltimore 11 years ago.

"Ozzie is more patient than anyone I've ever worked for or with," said Eric DeCosta, the team's director of college scouting. "He doesn't get flustered, doesn't panic, always has a plan. He lets things come together. That's his best quality along with the fact that he's a great talent evaluator."

Newsome, 50, is the rare Hall of Fame player who has made a successful transition to running a football operation. Most top players become coaches or scouts if they continue in the game after retiring. Few even try to run a team, the Detroit Lions' much-maligned Matt Millen being an exception (and perhaps an example of why so few try). A GM needs different skills that aren't necessarily honed by years in uniform.

After catching 662 passes as a Cleveland Browns tight end from 1978 to 1990, Newsome now navigates a sea of salary cap rules, oversees scouts and serves as the Ravens' primary team builder and big-picture thinker.

Born and raised in Muscle Shoals, Ala., where his father ran a restaurant and his mother worked as a domestic, Newsome surely never contemplated becoming a GM during his years with the Browns, or before that, when he was a star receiver at the University of Alabama.

"But you know what? It's not really surprising he has proved to be good at that [GM] job, too," said Hanford Dixon, a former Cleveland Browns cornerback who played with Newsome and is one of his closest friends. "You kind of always knew he was special. He had such passion for football, and he was such a perfectionist."

Modell said: "All along, I saw in Ozzie a certain maturity, a quality of deliberation before he makes a decision. I felt that could translate into running an organization as a GM. I took a shot. It wasn't much of a shot."

As the Ravens have piled up wins this season, Newsome - who lives in Cockeysville with his wife, Gloria, and their son, Michael, a high school freshman - has been out of the public eye. He declined to be interviewed for this article, saying he was uncomfortable with the spotlight being on him as the team prepares for the playoffs.

He is usually relatively available to reporters - in 2005, he won a Pro Football Writers Association award given to a league or club official who helps the media - but his least favorite subject is himself.

"He's just tremendously humble, has no ego whatsoever. He believes the credit should go to the players," DeCosta said.

Browns GM Phil Savage, who worked with Newsome in Baltimore until 2005, added: "He doesn't need to tell people he is good at this. He is a Hall of Famer. He has gotten the acclaim. At this point, he would rather let his actions and his team do the talking for him."

When Newsome was 11, he was the only African-American in his grade and "learned to bite my tongue," he told The Plain Dealer of Cleveland in 1999. When he became the NFL's first African-American GM upon being promoted to that title in 2002, he said he knew it was "historically significant" but low-keyed the achievement.

"Ozzie doesn't like attention," DeCosta said. "He likes to win. You may not see it now that he's out of uniform, but he wants to win more than anyone. That's all he cares about."

Varied influences

His philosophy is a patchwork of influences.

From his college coach, Alabama's legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant, he learned to put the team first; numerous photographs of Bryant, who died in 1983, hang on Newsome's office walls.

"To him, football is about the players and coaches working together, not the individual. Bryant influenced him that way," DeCosta said.

Another influence was Bill Belichick, the cerebral head coach who has won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. He was the Browns' coach when Newsome retired and started looking around for a new career in the early 1990s. At Modell's urging, Newsome tried scouting and coaching before deciding he felt at home in the personnel office. He was strongly affected by Belichick's approach to personnel. Most NFL teams belonged to one of two scouting services, in which teams share information. Belichick preferred to rely strictly on the opinions of Cleveland's staff scouts.

When Newsome took over the Ravens' scouting and personnel operation in 1996, he also elected to go it alone, and the Ravens have since become well-known in NFL circles as one of the few teams that operate independently of the scouting services. (The Patriots and Colts do, too, DeCosta said, and the Bears recently went independent.)

"Ozzie has a lot of respect for the way Belichick does things," said Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne, who added that Newsome is one of the few officials from another team whom Belichick speaks to regularly.

Independence means extra work for the Ravens' scouts, but Newsome mostly eschews middle-aged former players and coaches and hires young scouts-in-waiting straight out of college. Known as Newsome's "20-20 Club" (for being 20 years old and earning $20,000 in annual salary), they're willing to work long hours and are trained to look for what Newsome wants.

A typical Ravens scout spends two or three years in Baltimore as a glorified intern and then is given a region to scout when one opens and he is deemed ready. DeCosta is among those who have come through the ranks.

"The extra work is tough on the scouts but it has been a secret to our success because it allows us to know players better," DeCosta said. "We would never have gotten [linebacker] Bart Scott if we belonged to one of the scouting services. He wasn't on their lists. But we went to Southern Illinois [Scott's school] to see what was there.

A sound approach

The Ravens' drafting success under Newsome is well-known. Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden were selected in the first round in 1996. The Ravens have also scored first-round successes with Chris McAlister, Ed Reed, Todd Heap and Terrell Suggs, while also finding players such as Edwin Mulitalo and Dawan Landry in later rounds.

"The scouts know to look for what Ozzie wants," DeCosta said

And that is?

"The biggest thing is toughness. That's our first quality," DeCosta said. "Then football intelligence. Then speed and football character, which we define as things like durability and consistent effort. The final thing would be overall character, being a good teammate and good team member, being trustworthy, paying attention."

Although they work long hours for low pay, the Ravens' young scouts are loyal to Newsome, DeCosta said, because he lets them do their jobs.

"That's the genius of Ozzie. He trusts you to do your job," DeCosta said. "He's a great listener to what everyone in the room says."

During the season, Newsome's workday consists of watching the Ravens' practice, studying tape of college and pro players and working the phones at the Ravens' training facility in Owings Mills. For exercise, he pounds a treadmill, sometimes twice a day.

He travels with the team to away games and usually watches by himself rather than with the owner.

"That started with me. He couldn't stand my profanity," Modell said with a laugh. "I kidded him that the league was full of GMs who watched the games with their owners, and mine was hiding in the bathroom. But that's Ozzie."

During the week, Newsome occasionally counsels a player who has strayed.

"Sometimes they get called into the principal's office," DeCosta said. "If I tell them something, it doesn't mean anything. But Ozzie is a Hall of Famer. The players respect him. Anything coming from him, the players listen."

The second season

His job kicks into high gear when the season ends. The Ravens' coaches, scouts and personnel administrators meet, and players' performances are discussed along with potential moves. Newsome listens and then formulates a plan for the coming season. The plan includes numerous priorities and options, with the salary cap always in mind.

Newsome's record isn't perfect. He drafted Kyle Boller and Travis Taylor and put together last year's 6-10 team. But his overall record is positive. He built a Super Bowl-winning team and three others that reached the playoffs (in 2001, 2003 and 2006).

His moves greatly shaped this year's 13-3 team. When the Ravens lost defensive end Anthony Weaver to free agency, Newsome immediately signed Trevor Pryce, whom he had identified as the best replacement. When the team lost defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu to free agency, Newsome weighed his options and decided to use the team's No. 1 draft pick on Haloti Ngata.

When punter Dave Zastudil signed with the Browns last March, Newsome scoured the list of available veterans before deciding to use a sixth-round draft pick on Sam Koch, another player not listed by the scouting services.

And of course, he targeted Steve McNair as a possible savior at quarterback and then waited for months while McNair's complicated exit from Tennessee played out.

"He always lets things play out," Savage said. "He has been around long enough to know a decision made in haste is probably the wrong decision. And let's face it, he started every game he ever played from eighth grade to the end of his pro career. He knows football. He just has a great instinct for the game."

Consistency pays off

Away from football, Newsome is known as a fierce family man.

"As much passion as he has for the game and what he does, he's the same way about Gloria and Michael," said Hanford Dixon, who now sells real estate in Cleveland.

He's also passionate about golf. Newsome avidly practices and plays at a private club.

"Ozzie is very dedicated to golf," Byrne said. "If he doesn't have time for a whole round, he'll go play six holes or even three, just something to get some golf in. He takes a lot of lessons. He's a Hall of Fame athlete and an OK golfer. He isn't where he thinks he should be, and he wants to get there."

Newsome and Dixon take vacations together and play an annual "bragging rights" golf match. Dixon laughingly refused to disclose the results.

Dixon said he leaves a voice mail message on Newsome's cell phone before every game.

"I always say 'Good luck, Big Dog, and get out of there with a win,' " Dixon said. "He takes losing hard."

When not on the road or the golf course, Newsome's life follows a consistent pattern.

"He is like clockwork. Every Tuesday is the same as the previous 15 Tuesdays. Every Friday is the same as the previous 15 Fridays. You always know what Ozzie is doing at every moment of the day," Savage said.

That consistency is the cornerstone of his success, DeCosta said.

"He's always here, always watching tape, always has an opinion," DeCosta said. "It would be easy for a guy who has reached his heights to take shortcuts, but he never does." john.eisenberg@baltsun.com

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