A couple of months ago I asked Steve Bisciotti if he would be willing to tell the story of how he came to be a minority owner and then principal owner of the Baltimore Ravens. I wanted to include it in our 20 For 20 series commemorating the team’s 20th season. He agreed.
We met in his office two weeks ago and chatted for over an hour. In our next edition of 20 For 20 we will share his experience of how he acquired the team.
But during my sit down with Bisciotti, he also shared a few other things for the first time. Yesterday we told “the binder story” about Jimmy Smith. Today we’ll talk about something that is near and dear to the Ravens head honcho – character.
TL: Steve, it’s been said often that character isn’t revealed by success but rather through adversity. Looking back is there a moment or moments when you failed as an organization but rebounded in a way that made you stronger and better either on or off the field?
SB: Nothing on the field. The Ray Rice situation last year certainly tested us all. In some quarters we got good grades and some quarters we got bad grades. But we did it together. We made those decisions, right or wrong, together. Are we stronger because of it? NO! Because I feel like we were very strong then.
Are we wiser? Yes. I think that it exposed a blind spot not only at a team level, but at a league level too. That’s really been the only trying time that we’ve had. And then the only other major transition was obviously replacing Brian [Billick] and hiring John [Harbaugh]. I knew that was in MY lap at that time when I made that decision that I was going to move on from Brian. It was scary and I felt like I was up for it.
TL: Why was it scary?
SB: Well because you are putting yourself in the record books so to speak and the history books so to speak, you know? From 2000-2004 I didn’t have power. From 2004-2007 I didn’t make any changes. So it’s a major change when you’re telling a Super Bowl winning coach that you’re ready to try something different.
TL: So you go from this lightning rod of a head coach in Brian to someone in John, a relatively unfamiliar name. What was it about John that made you think, “Yes this is our guy”?
SB: Remember that not many knew who Brian Billick was when he first came here. So he brought a personality that was genuinely his. So I don’t see that much difference. What Brian became was the CEO of an organization – the front man of an organization and a coach really should be the front man of an organization.
I didn’t see a wallflower when we were interviewing John Harbaugh. And 8 years later you see a guy who is his own man and has his own style. He’s pretty fiery himself. He was a little less accomplished than Brian Billick when Brian got the job. If Brian hadn’t gotten our job he probably would’ve gotten another job. Clearly he was more accomplished with what he had done with the Vikings with Randall Cunningham and Randy Moss and Cris Carter and building an offense all the way until the end of that NFC Championship game. [That offense] probably should have been in our Super Bowl instead of the Giants.
TL: Since John has come along, save some natural attrition when folks had opportunities with other teams to advance their careers which I’m sure you’d encourage, you’ve had continuity in your organization. You have people who have worked together a long time. They have camaraderie and they enjoy each other…most are friends. Since you’ve been sole owner, what do you think that you’ve done that takes them to a new level?
SB: Again it comes back to picking somebody that I felt we could grow with for a long period of time. So when you said, “What was scary about it?”, it was that. What were we 5-11 when I fired Brian? What if that happened again? What if two years later I’m replacing [John]. Sometimes if you don’t get it right it can continue to spiral. So continuity is something that I had [at Aerotek] and credited it with us being better than our competition. So I was just going from the only blueprint that I knew. And that was to take people who I felt had high character and were looking for an opportunity to be great, ala John Carey and Mike Salandra who ended up running my business for the last 15 years since I’ve been gone. And they were two of my very first hires.
I knew that I needed somebody, and when Ozzie [Newsome] and Dick [Cass] and Kevin [Byrne] and Eric [DeCosta] and Pat [Moriarty] were interviewing [John] there was just this sense that we had known him for a long time. It was like…I can’t explain it. It was kind of like that same feeling when you fall in love where you just project and think, “I can live with that smile for the next 30 years.”
So when you say, “What did I bring to it?”, I think that maybe my interview skills, my people skills and my judge of character got us to a point where I found somebody who I thought Ozzie could work with.
And obviously the proof is in the pudding.