Eric DeCosta will probably be asked about Ozzie Newsome for as long as the Ravens’ assistant general manager works in football. Newsome, the team’s longtime general manager, will step aside after this season, leaving DeCosta, his successor and longtime lieutenant, in the position of having to sing his praises as if he’s gone while still working at his side every day at Ravens headquarters.
So far, he’s said all the right things, and they’re pretty interesting, too. Appearing on the “Talk of Fame Network” podcast last week, DeCosta recalled how Newsome literally ran to keep a Ravens player from holding out, divulged tight end Dennis Pitta’s immense draft day value, and went from comparing his succession to that of Tim Cook’s at Apple to complimenting an AFC North rival.
Here are a few of the highlights from his 20-minute interview with Pro Football Hall of Fame committee members Clark Judge, Ron Borges and Rick Gosselin.
Among the many attributes often ascribed to Newsome — “an incredible work ethic with tremendous humility, patience and trust in people,” “a unique perspective on the locker room” and “a great ability to kind of sift through all the noise” were just a few DeCosta used — his dedication to fitness, during his earlier days, is often overlooked.
DeCosta shared that in the years before Newsome, 62, underwent hip replacement surgery, he’d often go for an hourlong midday jog around Owings Mills. Sometimes Ravens coaches and officials would join. Other times he’d go at it alone. On one of those solo days, an unidentified Ravens player came to the team facility looking for him. The player “was having some issues,” DeCosta said, and was talking about holding out.
“So I ended up hopping into my car and I went looking for him,” DeCosta said. “And he would run 7, 8 miles at that time, so I was driving out all over Owings Mills, looking for him, and sure enough, at the top of the hill down the road, I see this big guy. … Pull up next to him in the car: ‘Ozzie, you got to get back to the office. Hop in.’ He hops in the car, sweat just pouring off of him. … Get him to the facility, he goes running into the building, and fortunately, he was able to talk the player off the ledge and prevent the player from holding out.”
No parting with Pitta
Not a lot of general managers bother with lesser draft showcase events like the East-West Shrine Game, DeCosta said. Newsome loves them. It’s where, in 2010, he and DeCosta discovered Dennis Pitta. “You know, this tight end from BYU, there’s just something about him,” DeCosta recalled Newsome telling him in the stands of the event.
In the draft that year were future tight end stars Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jimmy Graham and Jermaine Gresham. In the third round, the Ravens drafted Oregon’s Ed Dickson. In the fourth, one pick after the New England Patriots took Hernandez, the Ravens wanted to use a second straight pick on the position.
“Beauty of it was, we got into the fourth round, and I look at Ozzie, and he looks at me and he says, ‘What do you think?’ ” DeCosta said. “And I said, ‘Well, I like this guy, but we’ve already drafted a tight end.’ And Ozzie goes, ‘Well, that’s who we’re taking. There’s just something about that guy.’ ”
So they took Pitta. Which got the Philadelphia Eagles’ attention. General manager Howie Roseman called the Ravens looking for a deal. He was willing to offer “multiple” fourth-round picks for Pitta, DeCosta said. Ravens coaches largely preferred Dickson, recalled DeCosta, who suggested to Newsome that a trade could work out.
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“He looks at me and he goes, ‘Nope. I’m keeping him. There’s just something about that big sucker.’ And Dennis became a really important part of our team,” DeCosta said.
‘We’ve admired the Steelers’
DeCosta is not Newsome, which he knows by now. He said he’s not as patient nor as emotionally detached. He doesn’t have his contacts, his experience managing the league’s vagaries.
But Tim Cook isn’t Steve Jobs, and DeCosta said the regime change at Apple is worthy of study. He’d know, after all. He’s examined successions like his own.
“It can be done, but it’s very challenging,” he said. “Tim Cook is somebody that I admire for what he’s been able to do with Apple, and he gives me a little bit of hope and solace that I can do it, because it is a big challenge.”
He said he’d “be a fool” to try and reinvent the Ravens’ way — which, he acknowledged, isn’t altogether different from the Steelers’ way. Pittsburgh’s six Super Bowl titles speak for themselves.
“We’ve tried to build a sustained culture over a period of time, like some of our competitors,” he said. “We’ve admired the Steelers, even though it’s probably hard for me to say that. Teams like the Steelers who have been able to consistently win, they do it a certain way, and we’ve tried to emulate that. And I think we have, to a degree. And I’m proud of that. So in my situation, I’m trying to be patient like I know Ozzie would be patient.”
To listen to the full interview, click here.