NFL owners are sometimes forgotten and overshadowed by the star players that pilot their teams and receive the lion’s share of media attention.
Of course there are exceptions – like the guy in the owner’s box at JerryWorld.
There, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones craves the spotlight like a flower needs the sun, like a Kardashian needs a reality series.
But here in Baltimore, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti isn’t wired that way. If anything he’s the polar opposite of his Dallas counterpart and places more stock in trust than in his Q-Rating.
He trusts in his general manager, his coaching staff and his players to get the job done. He empowers them, challenges them instead of running roughshod over them and dictating procedure.
Yet when needed, he isn’t afraid to make or influence a tough decision. His employees actually welcome his involvement as they adopt the philosophy embraced by most winning organizations – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Consider for a moment the hiring of John Harbaugh in 2008 – labeled “a risk”, “a mistake” by many outside of the organization.
Many wondered aloud…
The critics lined up!
“A special-teams coach from Philadelphia?”
“Isn’t that a risky move?”
“What did Bisciotti see in Harbaugh, a coach who even in college was never more than a special teams coordinator?“
Whatever he saw, however he envisioned things might play out with Harbaugh, those expectations have been met and quite likely surpassed: Five consecutive playoff appearances, 3 AFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl Championship.
Bisciotti built his fortunes by understanding personnel. Clearly he got it right with Harbaugh who represented the first part of a Ravens 1-2 punch. The second “punch” would come in the form of a quarterback.
Bisciotti was pretty adamant about drafting a franchise quarterback. He aspired to have the success that his good friend Bob Kraft has enjoyed in New England with the pairing of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. That duo represented something to shoot for from Bisciotti’s vantage point.
Initially the Ravens owner set his sights on Boston College’s Matt Ryan but to move up to No. 3 in the 2008 NFL Draft would have cost the team the majority of their entire arsenal of draft picks that year and perhaps a significant pick in 2009. Ozzie Newsome and his scouting staff convinced Bisciotti that there was a better way, just across the Delaware border in Newark.
Properly swayed Bisciotti gave his blessings to another move that was considered risky – the selection of Joe Flacco from the University of Delaware.
Bisciotti’s trust in his staff paid dividends.
The Ravens owner will be the first to tell you that he can’t begin to approach the supreme level of football knowledge that characterizes his front office or coaching staff. But what he understands is communication and people and tapping into the competitive spirits of these men to shape their focus and inspire them to bust through the boundaries of even their own expectations.
He won’t back down from an argument. He may even start one if you aren’t prepared. But give the Ravens’ owner effort and he’ll reward you in spades.
Over the years, the Steve Bisciotti has done countless incredible acts that showcase “class”. Recently he donated two motorcycles to the New Orleans Police Department as a sign of appreciation for the way they managed The Crescent City during this year’s Super Bowl.
When the championship rings were ordered and handed out, it wasn’t just the 53 players and primary staff that were able to don the shiny commemorative piece of jewelry. Bisciotti went out of his way to order a ring for everyone. And when I say everyone… I mean everyone.
Will Ranney might not be a name you have heard, but the organization is well aware of his contributions and they’ve expressed their appreciation. Ranney talked about his job:
“My daily duties vary depending on what time of the year it is” said Ranney. “My official position is grounds keeper/equipment assistant, meaning I have trained keeping duties and duties to perform as it pertains to team operations for practice. With grounds keeping it ranges from any where from painting the football fields to plowing snow off the parking lot. There are obvious duties such as mowing and maintaining the practice fields and maintaining the stadium field. But once O.T.A.s and training camp into the football season begin these duties are split with my practice commitments.”
Ranney does a lot for the team, but Bisciotti didn’t have to get him a ring. He could have easily given the rings to players, coaches, and assistants only, but instead he went above and beyond. He showered the entire administrative staff with bling – everyone who had even just a little bit to do with the Super Bowl run.
Some did more than others, but Bisciotti’s gesture resonates.
Ranney explained what it meant to him:
“We put a lot of time and commitment into the team and it felt good to receive such an honor. I’m very excited to have it as keep sake to pass down in my family for generations to come and it makes me feel good that it begins with me and the hard work we put into this past season.”
And if that kind of class starts at the top it becomes a benchmark for the rest of the organization. It fuels ambition and the desire to drink from the cup of a champion again and again.
As fans we want to watch a winning team and we take pride in it. And when it comes to our team, we can take pride in its class and that makes them champions on and off the field.
Once considered an organization of thugs, the Ravens are slowly becoming the benchmark upon which all other NFL teams are measured.
And in a very large part, we can all thank Steve Bisciotti for that.
Even if he prefers that you wouldn’t.
Tony Lombardi contributed to this article