Harbaugh/Newsome: A Special Relationship
Five feet, 10 inches.
That's the distance between the doorways of Ozzie Newsome's and John Harbaugh's offices.
They're not just neighbors and co-workers in one of the NFL's most successful franchises, they are friends who share similar philosophies on how to win football games.
"Whoever designed these offices deserves some credit. It's smartly done," Harbaugh said. (It was former Ravens Vice President of Medical Services Bill Tessendorf, who retired from the team in 2011. "Tess" adjusted the architects' plans to make our facility "football functional.")
"We have to bump into each other five or six times a day just walking in or out of our offices," Newsome added.
Here's what I know: there are only a handful of NFL teams where the head coach and the general manager are clearly on the same page. Insecurity is rampant in this pro football world, and accusations abound.
What's common – and I've seen it firsthand – is that coaches blame the personnel department for losing, and the scouts will point fingers at the coaches.
The Blame Game
"We give them good players. They can't get the best out of them. They can't coach," personnel experts will say.
Coaches roar right back: "They expect us to win with these players? You've got to be kidding. We all get fired, and it won't be our fault. These scouts will still be here getting another head coach fired."
Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells bounced around to a couple of franchises, looking to be the guy who was not only head coach, but also the person in charge of selecting the players. "They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for the groceries," was his famous quote.
Parcells won two Super Bowls, both with the Giants when the General Manager, former Baltimorean George Young, bought the groceries. Parcells was also the head coach of the Patriots, Jets and Cowboys.
Newsome and Harbaugh both smiled when they talked about their relationship earlier this week.
"When we interviewed John for the job, he listed his core values, and he has not strayed from them. We see the game, how it should be played and the best ways to win similarly," Newsome explained.
Bo And The Bear
"If you look at our football roots, they are from the same type of trees. Ozzie hasn't moved too far from Bear Bryant, and through my dad at Michigan when I was growing up, much of what I believe about football can be traced to Bo Schembechler," Harbs offered.
If you look at the Bryant/Schembechler teams, you see commonality. They won with smart, hard-nosed players. Their teams played tough defense, could always run the ball and hit explosive plays. Sounds a lot like the Ravens of today and recent years.
"We disagree on players," Harbaugh offered. "We scrimmage all the time," Newsome said.
"Neither of us is afraid to honestly voice an opinion, and we'll 'scrimmage,' as Ozzie says. But, there's never a trump card situation," the head coach said. "We're not walking out on each other. We're like two lawyers in a court of law presenting our cases. We're not seeing who has the most power here. It is always about what is best for the team."
Harbaugh laughed when I told him that Ozzie said that quite often one of them takes the other's opinion in the second discussion. "It's true. We've both come in after thinking about what the other said and say, 'I agree with you.' And then the other has said, 'No, I agree with you.' We are both willing to accede to the better argument or the other's opinion."
"To me, that's a sign of our good communication. From his special teams' days, John understands the importance of every roster spot. More importantly, he and his coaches do a very good job of developing the young players who then have to replace the Ngatas and the Torrey Smiths," Newsome explained.
"Ozzie comes to every practice. He knows the pulse of the team. He's not on the road, or sitting up in his office. He's right there. He's a great sounding board on everything we do, including game plans. The respect he shows coaches – and players – by being out there can't be measured. It means a lot to us," Harbs added.
What helps is that their close relationship goes beyond the office proximity. "We're friends, and not every conversation we have is about the team. John knows a lot about [my son] Michael, and I know about [Harbaugh's daughter] Alison. We talk golf, other pro sports and what's happening in Baltimore," Ozzie said. John gave this perspective: "We're not 'hang out' guys. We're not playing lots of golf, going to the bar for drinks, or going to events. We have football. We both love the Ravens. That's our common burning passion."
Both have deep religious beliefs too. "We're both spiritual with similar views, and we share that in our conversations," Harbs said.
I've known Ozzie since 1981 and Harbs since 2008. Newsome may be the most patient person I know. Unless forced, he does not rush to judgment. His process is thoughtful, and, in some ways, deliberate. John is more reactionary. He sees an issue or a problem, and he wants to solve it right now. "I want to fix things before they become bigger issues that can eat at our foundation," Harbs offered.
"My way is to listen first, think about it, if time allows, and then make a decision. Yes, I am patient that way, if you call it that. John is the same in some ways. Think about it. He is patient, too. John will always ask a person what they think. He wants input before he decides. He has a real thirst for knowledge. He doesn't believe he has all the answers and neither do I," Newsome said.
What we observe from both is humility. Neither is a know-it-all, despite having the power to dictate to others what they want done. "I think Ozzie blends power and humility in an exceptional way. Think about his credentials. He could throw his weight around, but he gives others voices and is always willing not only to listen to what you have to say, but willing to change his original thought."
Owner Steve Bisciotti, who built his fortune on hiring people while he developed what has become the largest staffing firm in the U.S., understands the magic between Oz and Harbs. "They are emotionally intelligent people. People you know you're going to like soon after you meet them. They are respected and respectful. It's hard to put into words, but you know it when you see it, and these two have that type of intelligence," Bisciotti said.
Respect, humility, communication, friendship, emotional* *intelligence, powerful … It's the Ravens' good fortune to have these attributes in the two men who have the most to do with what the Ravens are on the field.
And wouldn't we all like to eaves drop on today's conversation between the two when one looks at the other and says, "What did you see out there during the full-team minicamp?"
What many of us saw was a talented, fast team practicing at an up-tempo pace that looks like it has a chance to be pretty good this season. Should be fun.
Talk with you soon,