BALTIMORE–Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome made history in 2002 when he became the first African-American general manager in the National Football League (NFL). He helped the Ravens win the 2001 Super Bowl as a front office executive, which rightfully catapulted him into the GM position.
Since then, Newsome has become one of the most respected general managers in the league, leading the Ravens to eight playoff appearances during his tenure.
Now, he has a chance to win his first Super Bowl ring as a general manager; if he pulls it off, he will become only the second African-American general manager to win one, following New York Giants GM Jerry Reese, who shepherded New York to Super Bowl victories in 2007 and 2011.
Newsome doesn’t talk to the media about his own standing, but the coaches and players that serve underneath him often express just how significant he is to the team and the league.
“Ozzie is the foundation of the Ravens,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters. “He’s drafted every player and made every free-agent signing that's come through here. There is no ‘us’ without Ozzie. We’re not here without Ozzie.”
According to Harbaugh, Newsome’s duties as general manager included the responsibility of overseeing the entire process of piecing together the Ravens football team. He hired the head coach, then helped the head coach hire his assistant coaching staff. Newsome also assembled the team’s scouting department, and then worked closely with the team of scouts to find talented players to fill the team’s roster.
Every GM in the NFL has his own style of managing. Ozzie prefers not to be the micro-managing type, giving his staff a good balance of liberty and support to do their jobs. He’s consistent, however, in communicating with his staff so that everyone shares the same vision and goals for the team.
His colleagues around the league consider him the best in the business.
"Ozzie Newsome has year-in and year-out put out relevant teams and given his team a chance to win a Super Bowl," Reese told USA TODAY Sports. "We're all chasing Ozzie."
Reese also told USA TODAY that Newsome serves as his mentor in the business, and offered him valuable advice when he was hired as GM of the Giants in 2007.
“Ozzie is not a man of many words," Reese said, "But when he talks, you better be listening.
"He likes to say, 'There's always enough players to go around. That always sticks with me. People say, 'Oh, this is a weak draft class.' When I hear that, my inner Ozzie says, 'Every class is a good class.'"
That philosophy served the Ravens well in recent years as Newsome selected hidden gems in the mid- to late-rounds of the NFL draft, like rookie running back Bernard Pierce, who has made an impact during the Ravens’ playoff run after being taken in the third round in the 2012 draft. Other high-impact Ravens players overlooked by other teams include shutdown cornerback Lardarius Webb, who was drafted in the fourth round in 2009, and undrafted rookie kicker Justin Tucker, who was signed out of University of Texas last summer.
Some players Newsome selects make an impact right away, while others grow into greater roles down the road. It’s his job to get the right guys not only for the present, but the future.
"I worry about winning today, but I've got to also worry about winning tomorrow," Newsome told reporters. "It's tough to evaluate a player in their first week, in their first season, in their second week or in their second season. But we have four years to determine whether a guy can get on the field and be great."
Some have suggested that, after more than 20 years as an NFL executive and a 13-year career as a Hall of Fame tight end for the Cleveland Browns, the 56-year-old Newsome may retire. But Ozzie recently told the media that’s not in the cards.
“That’s not even close,” Newsome said. “Really, I enjoy the guys I work with and I think we have a great staff. I really, really enjoy the players and my relationships with them and that helps me in coming to work every day. Of course, winning helps, too.”