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Piece by piece

Former Browns TE Newsome architect of Ravens' success

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Posted: Saturday January 27, 2001 1:27 PM
Updated: Saturday January 27, 2001 9:09 PM

  Ozzie Newsome Ozzie Newsome hopes he can add building a championship team to his list of career achievements. AP

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Most football fans know Ozzie Newsome as a Hall of Fame player with the Cleveland Browns. A star also at Alabama, he caught more passes than any tight end in NFL history, played in three Pro Bowls and never missed a game in 13 seasons.

Newsome can now add another plum to his professional portfolio: architect of a Super Bowl team.

Through several outstanding drafts and astute free-agent signings, Newsome, the Baltimore Ravens' vice president of personnel, turned a 4-12 team into AFC champions in four years.

Art Modell gives plenty of credit to coach Brian Billick for taking the Ravens to the Super Bowl, but the team owner acknowledges Newsome as the force behind the turnaround.

"Ozzie and his scouting staff have done a terrific job of getting Brian talented football players," Modell said. "In the NFL, talent wins, and this is a talented group."

After Newsome ended his playing career in 1990, Modell made him a special assignment scout. At that time, Newsome already knew something about recruiting and assessing talent, albeit in a different vein.

When he was with the Browns, salaries were such that players had to work in the offseason to make ends meet. Newsome worked for the East Ohio Gas Co. as a recruiter for management trainees, combing area colleges for people with the potential to improve the organization.

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It's a skill that Newsome would ultimately apply toward choosing the right players for the Ravens.

"After he finished playing, he served as an on-field coach and gave us advice about certain players," Modell said. "I just felt instinctively that this man had a brilliant future in the front office of a football team, and it's proven out."

The ascent to the Super Bowl didn't appear likely in 1996, the Ravens' first season in Baltimore, when they went 4-12.

"We were pretty bad," Newsome recalled.

But the first bricks in building AFC champions had been set in place. Before that season, Newsome picked tackle Jonathan Ogden, linebacker Ray Lewis and kick returner Jermaine Lewis in the NFL draft.

The following year, Newsome drafted linebackers Jamie Sharper and Peter Boulware, safety Kim Herring and center Jeff Mitchell - all of whom will start against the New York Giants on Sunday.

The team further improved in 1998 with the selection of cornerback Duane Starks, and in 1999 cornerback Chris McAlister was taken with the 10th pick overall. This year, running back Jamal Lewis was picked with a draft choice that Newsome craftily snagged from the Atlanta Falcons in a trade one year earlier.

Newsome supplemented his string of outstanding drafts by signing free agents Rod Woodson, Trent Dilfer, Shannon Sharpe, Sam Adams and Michael McCrary.

Voila! The Ravens are now one victory away from winning it all.

"It's been very satisfying to see this all come together," Newsome said.

The key to it all was taking Ogden, now perhaps the best left tackle in the game. The Ravens already had a competent left tackle in Tony Jones and badly needed a running back, but Newsome passed on Lawrence Phillips in favor of the big lineman out of UCLA.

Newsome said that was his smartest move.

"From that point on, we've never taken a need over the best player," he said. "Jonathan was the first true acid test for that."

The success of the Ravens is mostly the result of Modell, Newsome and Billick working together toward a common goal.

"Ozzie is as competent a personnel man and executive as I've known in the NFL," Billick said.

"He's got a great eye for talent, and for him, it's all about winning. He's got no ego. The best thing is Ozzie has coached, so he understands my perspective. And I've been on the administrative side, so I kind of understand some of the things he has to deal with. So that allows us to interact and understand each other's perspective a lot better."

Newsome is very proud of what he did as a player, but he derives even more enjoyment and satisfaction from his current accomplishment. For one thing, he's finally at the Super Bowl, more than two decades after the Browns drafted him out of Alabama, where he was a star under coach Bear Bryant.

"What I did on the football field, you have God-gifted ability for that. All I had to do was nurture that ability, and I had a lot of good mentors, from high school to the NFL," Newsome said. "But to be able to make the transition to the front office, and utilize all the things I was taught, it's been very gratifying."

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