Baltimore lawyer and sports agent Ron Shapiro reaches into his pocket and pulls out a Ravens business card reading "Special Advisor to the Owner."
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti says he created the title to demonstrate that Shapiro holds a significant, if little-known, place with his football team and in his life.
Quietly, Shapiro - better known as Cal Ripken Jr.'s agent - advised Bisciotti during the buyout of former owner Art Modell under which Bisciotti took control of the Ravens in 2004. Shapiro also helped with the development of the club's training complex and has offered free counsel on countless other matters.
Shapiro's role - not only with Bisciotti, but also with dozens of other top executives in the sports and corporate worlds - can be hard to define. He's a consultant, confidant, guru or mentor. Among those who swear by him are San Antonio Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, who says Shapiro gave the team a road map to follow in negotiations with players; former New York Mets manager Willie Randolph; Minnesota Twins All-Star catcher Joe Mauer; and Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, who is Shapiro's son. The elder Shapiro, who runs an institute teaching people about negotiations, also works with numerous nonsports businesses, such as Sony Pictures Television, Verizon and the Council of State Governments.
His adherents say Shapiro, 65, teaches them about preparing correctly, about not bullying or allowing their egos to get in the way of such things as negotiations or encounters with umpires, agents or others. He's a specialist at modulating inner demons, showing people whose lives revolve around games how not to behave like kids when the contests are done.
"I always kind of prided myself on making quick decisions," Bisciotti said. "I think what Ron has taught me, really, in our personal meetings is that quick reactions are not always good reactions. I am working hard to learn how to not react to people in as controversial or adversarial a way.
"It's all about suppression of ego," Bisciotti said of Shapiro's philosophy, largely laid out in a series of books, including last year's Dare to Prepare: How to Win Before You Begin! which hit The New York Times' best-seller list and which Bisciotti said he immediately gave to incoming Ravens coach John Harbaugh before the season.
Bisciotti said Shapiro played a key, though little-publicized role, in his acquisition of the Ravens. Modell needed an investor to help pay off the debt acquired in moving the team from Cleveland, but he had been reluctant to give up the reins.
"Ron helped me appreciate what I was taking away from somebody else as opposed to just, 'I've got the money and I've got the upper hand in this negotiation,' " said Bisciotti, who had founded a technical services and recruiting company when he was 23. "It was the lesser of two evils - he didn't want to sell his team, but it became apparent I was the guy he wanted to partner with."
Mangini said Shapiro has taken preparation - for a football game, a negotiation, a job interview - and turned it into a science. Shapiro's latest book contains a preparation "checklist" to help people precisely define their goals and strategies.
"He has a way to prepare to prepare. He's put a process in place to make sure you're systematic," Mangini said.
Mangini said he has long been a believer. Shapiro helped his transition after the regular season from coaching the New York Jets to taking over with Cleveland. Shapiro's book recounts how Mangini, while in New York, had his players practice in a driving rain and surrounded by speakers blaring loud music. He wanted them to be prepared for a game on a sloppy field in front of hostile fans.
"We play music all the time," Mangini said. "It forces guys to talk to each other and look for hand signals. It forces guys out of their comfort zone. It's actually strange to have a practice and be quiet."
Last year, Shapiro, wearing a white shirt and tie with no jacket, gave an animated talk to Sony Pictures Television executives in Culver City, Calif. "Simply put, if you can out-prepare them, you can outperform them," Shapiro said in the speech, which was filmed and placed on a promotional Web site.
Baltimore native Steve Mosko, a former University of Delaware lacrosse player and the president of Sony Pictures Television, said Shapiro incorporates sports references in many of his talks about preparing properly.
"Ron would say to me to 'think back to when you're playing lacrosse. How did you want to pace yourself during the game? Who was your competition?' " Mosko said.
Through Shapiro, Mosko said, he met Mangini and found he had much in common with the football coach.
"There were issues like, what do you do with the prima donna player dealing with an up-and-coming guy? Eric really had the identical issues to mine except his guys had helmets and shoulder pads and mine had coats and ties," Mosko said.