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The Straw That Stirs the Ravens’ Drink

Lombardi's Way The Straw That Stirs the Ravens’ Drink

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The Baltimore Ravens have evolved as an organization not just on the field, but off the field as well – more specifically in the front office.

Since Steve Bisciotti took over for Art Modell and even back in 2000 when he became a minority owner, the Salisbury University C-student has watched, absorbed, processed and most importantly listened to the things happening around him in the team’s ivory tower.

Self-made billionaires aren’t common and neither is Bisciotti. When engaging him in conversation there’s something different about him, something unique about the way he processes information, the way he responds to questions. His answers are like journeys and you happily take the trip with him even if you are unsure where it might lead.

Eventually he gets back on point and when he does, you realize that the journey was part of the understanding and at the end you fully embrace his perspective.

When Bisciotti first came on the scene as an owner, Brian Billick boasted about the team’s internal communication, deeming it as among the NFL’s best.

Bisciotti had been observing, and he had a different take.

He concluded that if the Ravens’ internal communication was among the league’s best, “Then the NFL has a problem.”

During the Billick Era there was a disconnect between the scouts and the coaching staff, and that frayed relationship was enabled by Billick’s lack of respect for the scouting staff.

Think of it this way…

Scouts can spend 150 nights per year away from their families, traveling the country to meet with players and coaches in the smallest of nooks and crannies known to America. They might spend the night or a few nights in little fleabag motels washing their clothes in showers, just to gain an edge on the competition and make the next big discovery of an unknown player.

The scouts make sacrifices. Their families make sacrifices, driven by the ambition to advance their careers and make a difference in the organization. It’s their collective efforts that enable Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta to populate and stack their draft board.

Draft day arrives and Billick, in his demonstrative way, implores Ozzie to trade up in the 2005 draft to select offensive tackle Adam Terry who at the time was the team’s highest ranked OT, but far from the best player on their board. The Ravens get the 64th pick in the draft from New England and take Terry but give up their 3rd round pick (84), a 6th round pick (195) and a 3rd round pick in 2006. The price seems heavy but Billick justifies the cost by saying that the 6th round pick won’t even make the team.

All of those cheesy hotel/motels, all of those nights away from the family, and that next discovery in the 6th round that the scouts spent months scouring for, shot down in flames because the coach didn’t respect the process and wanted instant gratification.

How did that work out for you coach?

The communication is different these days thanks to the individual and collective maturation of Messrs. Bisciotti, Cass, Newsome, DeCosta, Harbaugh and Hortiz, to name a few. And while Bisciotti’s football acumen is improving, he’s nowhere near on par with the aforementioned gentlemen.

Yet it’s his guiding hand, his role as the orchestral conductor that allows the organization to achieve new heights. The Ravens owner explains:

“I’ve always said as a leader in my own company, anybody that draws a pay check from The Allegis Group has the right to ask me a question or challenge a rule that we have so to speak, and I owe them either an explanation why they’re wrong or I owe them change.

“And to me that’s what I really brought over from 20 years in business. I have the right to ask Ozzie [Newsome] and John [Harbaugh] why they’re doing what they are doing and they need to either explain their position, teach my why I’m wrong or change. And they do and I love them. They are high quality guys and I get along fine with them for that reason.”

The byproduct of all of this is steady improvement, consistent engagement, ongoing challenges and stability in the organization.

It paves the way to regular success.

It enables the team to have the longest active streak of consecutive playoff appearances.

It flattens the cyclicality of those peaks and valleys common in the salary cap era.

It keeps those well known windows of opportunity regularly open, year in and year out.

As fans of the team, we can watch, enjoy and take pride in the successes.

And at the end of the day we can all learn from the teachings of a C-student.

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of and His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and CBS Sports 1300. He also hosts Backfield in Motion with Justin Forsett seen on ABC2 every Saturday at 1PM. A diehard Fab Four fan, Tony is a frustrated musician who thinks beating on the steering wheel is akin to being John Bonham. He ignores the passengers in cars beside him who laugh. Follow Tony's new Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi


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