Owner Opts to Respond v. Overreact
Just as he always is, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was honest and forthcoming during the State of the Ravens press conference on Tuesday. But judging from the reactions of fans, Bisciotti didn’t deliver what they wanted to hear.
More than anything this press conference by nature and by name, is intended to provide a snapshot of what the team’s brass thinks about the recently completed season and what they hope to accomplish during the offseason to correct their flaws in order to improve in the coming season.
The offseason blueprint has yet to be fully developed so specifics aren’t available and even if they were, why should the team disclose them? Keep in mind one of the panelists (John Harbaugh) won’t even come clean on a hamstring injury to a player during any given week of the season, preferring instead to call it a thigh injury. So good luck trying to pry specifics.
But that doesn’t satisfy fans.
They’re ticked off because they have to sit at home and watch Le’Veon Bell dance around a field during the postseason and listen to him anoint himself as the NFL’s Steph Curry. They’re ticked that immediate changes haven’t been made. They want knee-jerk reactions to enjoy in some twisted way the momentary illusion of positive change, instead of responding with solutions.
Reactions happen quickly.
Responses take time and are marked by patience.
And many fans lack patience.
Thankfully the Ravens have it. They will let the dust settle, allow emotions to simmer and then they’ll collectively and individually hold themselves accountable. It’s part of the process to developing an offseason plan to ensure their return to the postseason in 2017.
They may fail, and if they do tough decisions will be made and changes will follow.
But if they succeed, we will all look back upon this month when the Ravens resisted knee-jerk reactions, failed to give into the whims of their customers and kept their staff intact.
Besides, who would they bring in anyway?
Harbaugh was never going anywhere – not yet. And if he is truly on the hot seat as most observers believe, what good coordinators would come into such a tenuous situation, move their families for one year and perhaps even blemish their resumes?
Yes, these are trying times for the Ravens. Difficult challenges lie ahead. But they do have solid leadership to help them navigate the turbulence and it starts with Bisciotti.
I’ve selected a few of the owner’s answers to questions presented by the media during yesterday’s presser. I offer my own takes and invite you to do the same below. I do believe that if you allow Bisciotti’s answers to marinate a bit, you will see that his patience and vision are essential to developing solutions to the team’s woes.
That said, I’ll start with a question and answer that suggests he may be a bit removed from the pulse of the fan base.
Steve, with not making the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, it seemed like there were more empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium than usual this year. How concerned are you with fan discontent? Is that something you have noticed as well? (Jeff Zrebiec)
(BISCIOTTI) “Yes, I’ve noticed it. I’m always concerned. I said apathy is the worst emotion, in the past. There’s a lot more disappointment and anger than apathy, so I don’t think we’re at any kind of critical stage there. The fact that our renewals have always – good times and bad, even back in the ‘04, ‘05, ‘06, ‘07 area – our renewals are kind of always in the 97.5 to 98, 99 percent. We have other people willing to buy those PSLs and come in. We’ve kind of been through the same slump. Even when we … Let’s face it, you talk about people moving out of town and people divorcing and giving up their tickets.
We’ve never seen the fluctuations based on our success. I still, to this day, can’t understand how somebody that has a PSL and has tickets that doesn’t go to two of the games doesn’t give them to their neighbor, neighbors’ kids or their babysitter or somebody else who is dying to go to those game. But it happens. People wait until the last minute and decide they’re not going to go. It’s disappointing, but to me, they should be prepared for an opportunity to make somebody else happy that doesn’t go. I don’t really think they’re not going because they’re protesting. I think maybe the more we lose, the more they get distracted by other things, and we lose that priority on a Sunday. It’s obviously significant; I just don’t know how much it fluctuates.”
(MY TAKE) I don’t think that the team’s ability to weather difficult times from 2004-07 means that they can do the same today. Back then they had an identity and fans could relate to the team. They had Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Adalius Thomas and Kelly Gregg to name a few. Costs have since climbed to go to games while the experience of staying home has improved substantially with affordably priced large screen HDTV’s. Mix in the poor officiating, increased stoppages at games, the perceived dangers of downtown Baltimore, political unrest, the disrespect shown by some players towards our nation (Colin Kaepernick) and a 32-34 record since Super Bowl XLVI and empty seats are certain to blossom.
And one more thing, I don’t think the empty seats are about PSL owners who don’t use their tickets. It’s about PSL owners who sometimes can’t even give their tickets away. Apathy might not be prevalent within the fan base Steve, but it does exist. Bumping ticket prices and another ho-hum season will make it spread and that 99% renewal rate will drop precipitously.
Steve, you said you are worthy of an opinion. Your opinion carries a lot of weight as the owner. What’s the No. 1 opinion that you want everybody in the organization to be aware of going into 2017? (Gerry Sandusky)
(BISCIOTTI) “That the pitchforks are out. They know it. We’re going to enjoy our two days [meeting as a group in Florida], but we’re going to have a lot of … We’re going to have a lot of plans, but we’re not necessarily going to know they’re going to come to fruition – how we’re going to plug all those holes. Again, it’s a moving target. You all and me … I can’t say Stan [White, former Baltimore Colt and current WBAL analyst]; there are some pretty good football players out there that probably know a hell of a lot more than me. [We’re] trying not to make mistakes that we make in assessing people. We had some guys that were coming into their second and third year that we thought would take a bigger step than they did. We had Shareece Wright, who actually graded out better than Jimmy [Smith] in the last six weeks of the season. We made that one of our priorities that we thought we could lock that down, and Shareece gets away from the fundamentals and loses technique and starts playing poorly. That really set us back, to be honest with you.
There are a lot of people that played well that we thought would play better, and they played no better or worse than they did this year. The best laid plans … You think you have some holes filled, then they spring a leak again. The one thing, I guess, is that I want them to know … I guess I want my fans to know that I think John can coach better. I think Ozzie and [assistant general manager] Eric [DeCosta] can draft better. I think Joe can play better. If all of them do it – and I think they’re capable and determined to be better – then I think next year we’re sitting here with a playoff-caliber team, and I really believe that.
If you get improvement from quality people, I believe that they can collectively bring this team back to prominence. I understand that nothing I say today is going to change opinions. You all have a lot of opinions. I don’t think that I’m going to walk out of here and … You’ve heard me for a lot of years. I don’t think you’re going to go, ‘Boy, I’m sure glad I got to talk to Steve.’ I don’t really have answers. I have guidance. I have opinions – some stronger than others, some misguided, some misinformed – but it doesn’t stop me from having strong opinions. I want these guys. That’s the beauty of quality people. I’m with a GM and a coach and a quarterback that are taking every one of their parts of the blame in spades. Every one of them feels they’re the main reason why we failed, and that’s all I can ask for. You have a bad team when people are pointing fingers, and you see that with dysfunctional GMs and coaches that can’t get along and things like that, and we just don’t have that. I have a coach that is carrying a burden, I have a GM that is carrying a burden, and I have a quarterback that’s carrying a burden. They’re all stepping up and taking a greater percentage of the blame than they probably deserve.
To me, that’s the definition of quality leadership. I expect them to work like they’re the main reason that we failed. If they all do, I think that they’ll more than compensate for our shortcomings this year. Here I get into the mix, because the only negative things I hear about me is that I care more about continuity than winning. I can’t change that opinion from people. I can’t tell them that firing people is my way of showing my disappointment with our results. It’s just not the way that I’m built. I’m being criticized, too, and it just goes with the territory. That’s where we are, and I’m fine with it. I’m excited about it, because I’m with people that have the right, the power and the intelligence to make those changes and those decisions. I trust them. My optimism starts sooner than anybody else’s optimism.”
(MY TAKE): Yet another example of Bisciotti painting a picture with words to help provide clarity. His staff consists of quality people on a mission, hence his optimism. I’m buying but I’m not pushing all my chips to the center of the table. Not yet anyway. The hand we’re all holding as fans of the team has to improve first and unfortunately we aren’t privy to their plans…or their cards.
You talked about the fans earlier and the friendships and everything going into the team, but there is a business side to the NFL and about putting good products on the field, fans in the stands and buying jerseys and all of that. With you being a fan yourself, how much does that weigh on you and your decisions being able to divide that with putting a decent product on the field and give back to the fans? (Bill West)
(BISCIOTTI) “It weighs on me like nothing else, and that’s what I’m trying to communicate, is that people associate losing with … That the owner’s job is to start whacking people to prove that he really cares. And I guarantee you that if I fired John, a lot of people would be happy, except me and Ozzie and Dick. So, who am I ultimately here for? I have to trust my instincts, and if I lose 10 percent of my fans because they don’t like my decision-making, what kind of leader would I be if I say, ‘That’s what you guys want, so that’s what I’ll give.’? I’d have so many people saying, ‘You chicken, you just threw John under the bus.’ So, you can’t win when you have major decisions. You have a million stakeholders that all have opinions, and if I fired Ozzie, they’d say, ‘You’re blind. He’s not the one you should have gotten rid of.’ They’d point to Flacco, and if we benched Flacco, they’d say, ‘You idiot. All you needed to do was get rid of your coach.’
So, unless I fire everybody and start over again, then … And if I fired everybody, they’d go, ‘Oh, my God. The guy is drunk on his own success.’ I understand that I’m bouncing around in this world of public opinion, and ultimately, I have to be true to myself, and I hope that I please most of the fans, and I think that it will. I think that Dick and I have been around town, and we’ve talked to people. We’ve been around the league, and we’ve talked to people. We’re still admired by an awful lot of people that still have an awful lot of faith in the way that we do things around here. I’ve got to take solace in that and do what I believe is right.”
(MY TAKE) When Brian Billick was the Ravens head coach he would often encourage his players to try and decompress after a tough loss before they engaged the media. During the presser Steve Bisciotti said, “I don’t think you can manage anything, really, with anger. I may have been angry after games, but that’s why John [Harbaugh] and I don’t talk after games.”
In the heat of the moment knee-jerk reactions happen, oftentimes with regret. Thoughtful responses are the result of methodical and or introspective deliberation. The Ravens have responded from a vantage point of first-hand knowledge. Smart guys analyzing details and data that none of us are privy to – the same guys who once fired a Super Bowl winning coach and hired a special teams coordinator from Philly.
Nine seasons later we’ve experienced the postseason six times, the AFC Championship three times and a Super Bowl. They got it right hiring Harbaugh back in 2008. I think they’ll get it right keeping him in 2017.