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Despite retirement rumors, GM Ozzie Newsome retains passion for game

Despite retirement rumors, GM Ozzie Newsome retains passion for game
(Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun)

There have been a couple of incidents prompting speculation that Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome might retire soon.

There was the rainy, chilly night last November when an ambulance rushed Newsome to a Chicago hospital as a precautionary measure after he sweated profusely following a game.

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And then at the team's annual draft luncheon April 30, even some of Newsome's closest co-workers thought he might be leaving after he showered them with so much praise.

But it doesn't appear Newsome, 58, will be retiring soon to play his second-favorite sport.

"Why does anybody stick around this game? You do it to compete at the highest level," said former Ravens president David Modell, one of Newsome's closest friends. "You can't get that on a golf course. Except for the natural flow of events like marriage and watching your children being born, there is nothing on this planet like competing on Sunday afternoons."

Said Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta: "Oz is a fierce competitor. It is what made him a great player. He enjoys working for the Ravens, loves putting a team together. I can't see him going anywhere for a while, but when he does, it is going to be a sad, sad day for this organization."

Every year, we hear the stories about how Newsome is close to packing up and heading back to Alabama, his alma mater. There are always rumors that he will become the Crimson Tide's new athletic director.

But the Ravens and Newsome are in no hurry to part. Newsome, after all, is part of the franchise's Big Three decision-makers along with owner Steve Bisciotti and president Dick Cass.

Plus, his record as the team's director of player personnel and general manager are impeccable. Forget about the first three years because the Ravens moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996 with very little money.

But since the cash infusion from Bisciotti 15years ago, the Ravens have been to the playoffs nine times. Under Newsome's leadership, they have won two Super Bowls and played in four AFC championship games.

In the team's first 18 college drafts, Newsome has picked 18 first-rounders who have earned a total of 55 Pro Bowl selections, including one Hall of Famer in offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, and two all-but-certain Hall of Famers in linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed.

He found gems in the late rounds or rookie free agents such as linebackers Bart Scott and Adalius Thomas, and there are agents who despise his negotiating tactics, especially his lowballing of their clients early in the proceedings. Oh, Newsome has had his share of misses, especially on the offensive side.

But the passion is still there, and the success is undeniable.

"I have never thought of him leaving," Ravens senior personnel assistant George Kokinis said. "Ozzie likes the grind. If he has another passion, I don't know about it. People tend to do things they are good at, and he loves the challenge of putting a team together. His love for the game is tremendous, and his respect for the owners and players [is] still strong."

It has been fun watching Newsome through the years. He is so methodical and structured. Everything is on the clock from the time he has daily meetings with coach John Harbaugh, to his Friday afternoon haircuts to his nightly bedtime.

His sometimes twice-a-day exercise routine can be brutal. It's not unusual to see Newsome walking in a cloth or plastic sweatsuit during the hottest part of the day with perspiration pouring down his face.

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His loyalty to those who work with him is endless. Never in public or private has he ever said anything negative to me about Harbaugh or former head coaches Ted Marchibroda or Brian Billick.

What really sets Newsome apart is his demeanor.

"He has a great relationship with all his people, the head coach, scouts, assistant coaches, and that is why he is able to navigate through the league office and work with other GMs as well as the commissioner himself," DeCosta said. "Ozzie trusts his people, and he lets them work for him. I've seen him get rattled a few times, but not much. He is a big-picture guy and never gets frustrated like the sky is falling."

Newsome's ego is in check. He seldom gives interviews, and declined to give one for this column, because he doesn't like to talk about himself. The humility comes from his days growing up in Muscle Shoals, Ala.

Newsome was one of the first African-Americans in his state to go to an all-white school, and he can remember the early days of civil rights when attack dogs and fire hoses were used on black citizens.

He learned to walk softly.

But Modell said the public is also unaware of Newsome's sense of humor and strong Christian beliefs.

"You can see how his background has played an important part in his leadership," Kokinis said. "You can see the humility he got from Bear Bryant, the big picture and work ethic of Bill Belichick. Ted Marchibroda taught him about incorporating all his people and assigning them roles. Then there is Mr. Art Modell, who taught him how to treat people and give second chances."

Newsome approaches his job the same way he has all of his 37 years with the Browns and Ravens. He has the same intensity as an administrator that he had as a player.

During a 13-year playing career, Newsome never missed a game and played in 198 straight. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, he once held the NFL record for receptions by a tight end with 662 for 7,890 yards and 47 touchdowns, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

What is puzzling, though, is that Newsome has struggled in drafting good offensive players. He has selected just two quality wide receivers, Jermaine Lewis and Torrey Smith. The quarterback position was also a problem until the Ravens picked Joe Flacco in the first round in 2008.

Recent drafts have been inconsistent, with the Ravens taking questionable early picks such as linebackers Sergio Kindle and Courtney Upshaw, defensive tackle Terrence Cody and possibly safety Matt Elam.

In fairness, the Ravens have been a victim of their own success. They haven't had a top-10 pick since linebacker Terrell Suggs in 2003, but they once selected players such as Ray Lewis, tight end Todd Heap and Reed late in the first round. Newsome has to rekindle that magic.

This year's crop of rookies could be exceptional with linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, safety Terrence Brooks and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro.

"Of course you're going to have your misses, but when you look at the overall picture, Ozzie Newsome has been phenomenal," David Modell said. "I don't think a person has been voted into the Hall of Fame as both an administrator and a player, but he would certainly be a candidate for both."

When the 49ers were in town recently, Newsome was enamored of watching San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis catch nearly 200 passes after practice. He smiled as Davis finished and walked into the locker room.

"It's as if he was admiring him, giving him that type of respect for putting in the time in order to become great," Kokinis said.

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"Ozzie still has that kind of competitiveness in him as an administrator. He doesn't know any other way and won't quit until we get to the highest level again. I can't see him walking away soon. He loves the grind."

And there is nothing to replace it.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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