“In a highly-charged, competitive business, I tend to want answers right away, and Ozzie has to sleep on it. I have learned that Ozzie’s insistence that we talk about it tomorrow has been beneficial to both John [Harbaugh] and myself. I like his skill set, and I think it works in our favor that he does tend to like to think things over, and we usually come up with better decisions because of it.”
– Steve Bisciotti (January 2012)
THERE’S AN ALMOST MYSTICAL WAY Ozzie Newsome has about him, and it’s apparent when you talk to his peers, colleagues, and anyone who has ever worked closely with him. You always get the same picture of a dedicated, happy football savant.
Ozzie Newsome doesn’t talk much publicly, but when he does just about everyone in the Baltimore Ravens organization listens. And in some cases, he says nothing at all and simply allows his decisions and the 17 years of success to speak for itself on game days and at the end of more playoff runs.
Newsome doesn’t hold court with anyone in the media, shuns virtually all of the public spotlight that comes with running the Ravens as the team’s only-ever general manager, and quietly sits in his office and does his job. Chances are he’s watching film right now. He evaluates talent. He evaluates situations. He puts together a strategy for every scenario and every aspect of the Ravens personnel puzzle that makes it to the field on Sundays.
He works in the shadows as the most humble Hall of Fame football player in the room. He doesn’t intimidate. He doesn’t raise his voice. His wisdom is Yoda-like throughout the NFL. No one outside of owner Steve Bisciotti knows his contract situation and it hasn’t been reported in years although every time a major job opens at the University of Alabama his name is whispered. In every other NFL city, the general manager’s contract reads like sands running through an hourglass, but not for Newsome and the Ravens.
A popular phrase in the Ravens building is “Ozzie transcends us all” and that doesn’t mean he’s “General Manager for Life” – but his post is among the most secure in professional sports as he approaches his third decade as the only man who has ever made a draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens.
Draft the right guys. Get the right coaches. Chase and sign the right free agents: right player, right price. Define a path and a strategy. And always follow “The Process,” a term Newsome has used repeatedly when describing the way his organization prepares for the NFL’s draft each April.
Perhaps it’s hard to believe that Newsome’s first draft choice in Baltimore on April 19, 1996 – the selection of left tackle Jonathan Ogden as the No. 4 overall selection from UCLA – was roundly booed by the fans at the Ravens’ inaugural draft party in downtown Baltimore. The crowd wanted troubled Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips. So did Ravens owner Art Modell. Newsome said “the process” indicated that Ogden was the right choice, and he always stays true to the draft board set up by his organization and scouts. Newsome will be rewarded for the courage of his convictions from 1996 once again in the summer of 2013 as “J.O.” will be enshrined in Canton alongside Newsome in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And Newsome’s second-ever draft pick for the Ravens less than three hours later? An undersized kid from the University of Miami by the name of Ray Lewis, another selection whose bronze bust will reside in the same room in Canton in 2018.
So what is the brilliance of Newsome and the key to his staying power while other franchises hire and fire at the top of their decision-making tree?
“Let’s start with the fact that he’s the best listener I’ve ever seen — not just in the NFL, but anywhere in life,” former head coach Brian Billick said about his football counterpart for nine years in Baltimore. “He has the patience of Job. And most importantly, he’s completely egoless. He doesn’t care about who gets the credit as long as the right decision is made.”
Traditionally, in most NFL organizations, the head of personnel would be hopping on planes, trains and automobiles, constantly on the road in the fall going to scout college players for the April draft. But that’s not the system in Baltimore. Newsome remains glued to Owings Mills for the balance of the regular season so he can constantly evaluate his own talent in the organization.
“Whenever I had to make a move on the 53-man roster or explain why we were using someone on the game day 46 (roster), I’d never have to explain it to Ozzie because he watched everything that happened all week,” Billick said. “In the beginning, I thought he was checking up on me, but then I came to realize I wouldn’t want it any other way. We were both seeing the same things all week, and it made both of our jobs easier.”
Instead, while he’s in Baltimore and continuing to evaluate his own players in purple, Newsome trusts his scouting corps to scour the nation with an eye for talent and unending amount of research, reports and evaluations long before the Senior Bowl or any of the combines and individual workouts at season’s end.
It’s the fire of the competition that fuels Newsome. He loves football. He loves watching players play. He loves the strategy of how to assemble a football team. And after 17 years of doing it what he calls “The Ravens Way,” he’s not about to change.
The brilliance and difference between Newsome and other scouts and personnel evaluators is that he has no inferiority complex and nothing to