Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti hears fans more than one might think.
He is plugged into what they are saying about his team. He reads, he listens.
So when asked for what he wants the organization, including leaders Head Coach John Harbaugh, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and quarterback
“The pitchforks are out,” he said.
It’s just that Bisciotti isn’t carrying one himself – at least not this year.
While some of the loudest fans are crying for wholesale changes such as firing Harbaugh, or Newsome, or getting rid of Flacco – which is the same cry he hears even after making the playoffs – Bisciotti is again taking his thoughtful, calculated approach.
“I didn’t get to where I was by just firing people,” the self-made billionaire said. “I think it’s a bad model, especially in this business.”
Bisciotti said last year’s 5-11 season was graded on a curve because of the unusually high number of major injuries to star players. This year, with a healthier roster, the Ravens improved. They won three more games and may have literally been inches from the playoffs.
“I thought our offense started playing better and then our defense collapsed in the last four weeks,” Bisciotti said. “It is frustration; I can’t say it’s anger. I don’t think you can manage anything, really, with anger.”
Bisciotti does get angry after games. He joked that it’s why he doesn’t immediately talk to Harbaugh, because it isn’t fair to the head coach.
But what Bisciotti reads and hears as the proposed solution, year after year, is to fire everybody. Fire his general manager, fire his head coach, bench his quarterback. And while the owner definitely has strong emotions and opinions, he doesn’t make decisions with them.
“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,” Bisciotti said.
Bisciotti has fired people over his professional career, but said it’s harder in the team sport of football, where performance and decisions are so intertwined. On multiple occasions, he said it’s a “moving target.”
With that said, Bisciotti didn’t give his leaders a free pass Tuesday.
“I want fans to know I think John can coach better, I think Ozzie and Eric can draft better, I think Joe can play better,” Bisciotti said. “If you get improvement from quality people, then I believe they can collectively bring this team back to prominence.”
When talking about Harbaugh, Bisciotti said “I guarantee you that if I fired John, a lot of people would be happy, except me and Ozzie and [President] Dick [Cass]. … I’d [also] have so many people saying, ‘You chicken, you just threw John under the bus.’”
In 2013, for example, the first two picks of safety
“I look around the league and see plenty of ‘missed’ players,” Bisciotti said. “So it’s not just us. It’s just [Newsome] has had such a stellar reputation that the expectations are so high, that he doesn’t get much leeway when it comes to making ‘misses’ like that.”
Bisciotti said the Ravens certainly didn’t see the Flacco “he’s capable of being” this season and that the biggest offensive issue is getting “more out of Joe.”
But he also spoke about Flacco’s mettle in Pittsburgh late in the game, and suggested that the leadership group should think about inviting Flacco to its exclusive offseason planning meetings at Bisciotti’s house in Jupiter, Fla.
What Bisciotti has liked seeing since the season ended is that Harbaugh, Newsome and Flacco all took more than their fair share of the blame. He said each one of them are “carrying a burden.”
“Every one of them feels they’re the main reason why we failed,” Bisciotti said. “To me, that’s the definition of quality leadership. I expect them to work like they’re the main reason that we failed. And if they all do, I think they’ll more than compensate for our shortcomings this year.”
So what if they don’t?
A question around Baltimore is whether the Ravens’ leaders, who have been together since 2008, should be broken up if Baltimore doesn’t get back to the playoffs next season.
“I’ll have to see what fails next year,” Bisciotti said. “I want to see improvement.”
The owner’s point is that decisions can’t be made on a surface level. For example, if the Ravens suffer as many injuries as they did in 2015, then there’s no sense in firing a coach. Bisciotti even joked about firing himself.
Bisciotti, Newsome, Harbaugh and Flacco just finished their ninth season together – a run that few NFL franchises enjoy. Bisciotti said he trusts them, which causes him to be optimistic sooner than others.
“I’m with people that have the right [mindset] and the power and the intelligence to make those changes and those decisions,” Bisciotti said.
But he also hears that his optimism and trust may be a fault. And Bisciotti knows he can’t change that opinion by what he says. All the Ravens can do is prove that his faith is right.
“The only negative things I hear about me is I care more about continuity than winning,” Bisciotti said. “I don’t have much to fall back on except to say, ‘Trust me, this is the right way to run a business.’”