The Straw That Stirs the Ravens’ Drink

Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh

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.

This entry was posted in Blog View, Featured, Lombardi's Way by Tony Lombardi. Bookmark the permalink.

About Tony Lombardi

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. A diehard Fab Four fan, Tony is a frustrated musician who thinks beating on the steering wheel is akin...more

26 Raves on “The Straw That Stirs the Ravens’ Drink

  1. Phil frm Frostburg on said:

    Let’s not get too carried away by this single anecdote. Billick was a great coach and should not be diminished by the fact that Harbaugh has had an even better run. By your own extensive draft analysis a year or so ago, the Harbaugh drafts have had just as many hits and misses by comparison to the Billick years.

  2. RavenRob on said:

    Yeah, Billick was such a “great coach”, he hasn’t had a sniff at another NFL coaching gig since Biscotti canned him, despite winning a Super Bowl.

  3. PG County Ravens on said:

    As a retired Army officer who came from the enlisted ranks it’s the leader and managers who set the conditions for success or failure for the organizations! Listening is very important to ensuring the right decisions are made! When folks read the bio’s of those running the Ravens it’s very clear why they are very successful and success doesn’t always equate to an annual Super Bowl appearance. We’ll be consistent, competitive winners for some time with the current regime and at some point the need will come to shake it up with fresh blood just like the off-season purge that will take us on a new era! GO Ravens!

  4. Bruce_Almty on said:

    I like the draft story where Bisciotti asked “the scouts” (whoever ‘they’ are) for a short list of who they thought the Ravens should draft next. They submitted the list, one of the guys was available at the next pick and he was selected. That’s how you build confidence and respect.

    Thanks for the great articles TL.

  5. Sroconn on said:

    It’s also discipline, self- discipline, and self- respect. Just think of the Super Bowl White House appearances. Under Billick they looked like slobs; under Harbaugh they dress like professionals. That all makes a difference and Harbaugh knows it.

  6. AK on said:

    TL, I couldn’t agree more with every word you said (as usual). Beautifully done! But, you did leave out one small thing …

    Since Billick got canned, we happened to find a real, legitimate, NFL starting Quarterback, and he’s pretty good. ;-)

    • Tony LombardiTony Lombardi on said:

      AK, thanks for the kind words and YES…I hear you. But Bisciotti was a part of the process to select Flacco. He demanded a franchise QB and to him that was Matt Ryan. Yet he listened to his guys, their reasoning, and it worked.

  7. JerryB on said:

    Billick was not a great coach, but he was educated and experienced in public relations, which at the time, accounted for his team’s success, particularly with regard to the Ray Lewis fiasco. So, it’s fair to say that he was in the right place at the right time. As noted by others, however, if he were a good head coach, he’d still be coaching in the NFL! And, as I’ve repeated, his demise is inextricably linked to his insistence that Kyle Boller was a franchise QB despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary!

  8. Dr. Evil on said:

    Good article, Tony.
    In my opinion, Billick was a grade-A Asshole. He was an egotistical, loudmouth, know-it-all. I’d like to know, what was it that soured Bisciotti on Billick, exactly. Any insight?

    • Taosravenfan on said:

      @evil. – Brian bullock was a gentleman who have back to the community in a big way and encouraged his players to do the same. Show me an nfl HC who isn’t an egotistical bastard and I will show you a loser more often than not.

      Bullock was an outstanding people manager. And despite this large ego you accuse him of all you need do is look at his staff and you will see how he was able to sublate his ego for the good of the team. And finally – he brought mr Lombardi back to ore and I will always be grateful to h for that

  9. john schultheis on said:

    Tony this article got the flock all stirred up to say the least. How anyone that knows football inside the lines in all aspects of day to day decisions can say Billick was a “GOOD” coach has no real knowledge of how teams are formed, what players were here in 2000 when Billick’s team won that Super Bowl or how much nice luck went into that wild ride that year.

  10. john schultheis on said:

    I was just wondering Tony, how can you tell if a non-human fooled you and just checked that block to get a reply to you? Just wondering……..

  11. Phil frm Frostburg on said:

    Let’s remember that in the Billick era, the one draft where the team was determined to draft a QB had Leftwich, Grossman, and Boller to go after. We were destined to flop no matter how that choice went down. The one similar year under Harbaugh, we had Ryan and Flacco and Henne as our choices. Drafting a first round QB makes or breaks an entire staff no matter how the decision process leads to that choice. Even in hindsight can one really fault Billick for choosing the potential of Boller over his other choices that year.

  12. Phil from Frostburg on said:

    Let’s remember that in the Billick era, the one draft where the team was determined to draft a QB had Leftwich, Grossman, and Boller to go after. We were destined to flop no matter how that choice went down. The one similar year under Harbaugh, we had Ryan and Flacco and Henne as our choices. Drafting a first round QB makes or breaks an entire staff no matter how the decision process leads to that choice. Even in hindsight can one really fault Billick for choosing the potential of Boller over his other choices that year.

    • Tony LombardiTony Lombardi on said:

      Yes, that’s what happens when you put need in front of talent on your board. That said, the fault isn’t only that of Billick. Ozzie and Savage should have had the stones to stand up to him.

  13. Tgun#42 on said:

    I remember when everyone was on the in Billick we trust train. Hey , he was what he was. A good coach. He got us a superbowl win. I like Harbs better. But so do a lot of people. Just dont turn on the man so fast now Geez. And Tony L….Great insight! I love stories like that where we gain pespective. We are a class act top to bottom, even our bloggers.

  14. purpleneons on said:

    Not one of your better articles Tony. Why the need to bash Billick, the guy who took a team with absolutely no offense to a SB victory?

    Is every head coach in the NFL a perfect angel ?

    Sounds like some sour grapes to me.

    And the embarrassing gushing over Biscotti, what is the purpose of that?

    Shall we expect another love letter to the owner in future musings?

    Generally enjoy your work, but this column has the smell of agenda all over it.

  15. Ravcolt on said:

    Blaming BB for Adam Terry is a push. Ozzie pulled the trigger even if BB loaded the gun. Does Ozzie have any responsibility to anything? He doesn’t make the tough decisions and is now paying a new coach the team states has no responsibilities. Where can we sign up?

  16. True on said:

    Billick road that defense to the Superbowl. That was Ray Lewis’ team just like Peyton Manning’s team is Peyton Manning’s team. I don’t consider them Broncos.

  17. Flaccos Favorite on said:

    TL I don’t want to speak for you, but… This article wasn’t a “bash Billick” article. It is about how fortunate we as Raven fans are to have such a talented leader of the organization we love so much. Forget the Billick example, there are lots of other examples to make that point.

  18. Dax on said:

    Your boy Savage has done well since he left Baltimore, hasn’t he?

    You bemoaned his departure for about five years. All we have done since then is make the tourney.


  19. Rick on said:

    Say what you want about Billick but durring his 8 years the Ravens won the Super Bowl, won the division twice, made the playoffs one other time all without a QB. (except the one year with McNair) They also had the 8th best record in the NFL over that time period. I am sure many other teams and many other coaches would have loved to have that success.

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