Completing a memorable career, Executive Vice President of Public and Community Relations Kevin Byrne is moving from the office to the golf course.
An integral part of the organization since the Ravens' inception, Byrne has decided to retire in May, ending a tenure that has been legendary and unique.
Byrne is the NFL's longest-tenured public relations chief and a fixture in the Baltimore sports community. He began his NFL career with the Cleveland Browns in 1981 and came to Baltimore with then Owner Art Modell in 1996.
During his 38 years in the league, Byrne has built relationships with owners, general managers, coaches, players, media and co-workers that will last a lifetime. Ending his run with the Ravens leaves Byrne with mixed emotions, but he feels the time is right.
He and his wife, Sally, recently purchased a home on the 18th hole of a golf course in Hilton Head, S.C., where Byrne plans to "grind at the game of golf." He will work full time through the first several weeks of May and then remain as a consultant with the team through the 2020 season.
"The job is addictive, it's intense, and it's alluring," Byrne said. "I will miss so much the people involved, the games, the bus rides, the locker room and all of that. It's something I thought about a lot and my wife and I talked about it a lot. We decided last season that it would likely be my final one."
Led by Byrne, the Ravens public relations staff has been a three-time winner of the Pete Rozelle Award (2010, 2012, 2016) given by the Professional Football Writers of America. The Rozelle Award recognizes the NFL public relations team that consistently strives for excellence in its service for and relationships with the media.
Byrne is relied on for his insight and experience, and reaction to his retirement has generated an outpouring of respect.
"Kevin is one of the most highly-regarded communications professionals in the history of pro sports," Owner Steve Bisciotti said. "For over 40 years, his dependability, dedication and forward thinking helped countless players, coaches and executives connect with their fanbases. The contributions he made to the Ravens are everlasting."
Those thoughts were echoed by Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome, who has known Byrne since their days together in Cleveland, where Newsome became a Hall of Fame tight end before his distinguished front office career.
"The respect Kevin has earned is built on integrity, reliability, and consistent professionalism," Newsome said. "He has been a trusted advisor and extraordinary friend to many, especially me. When we talk about potential Hall of Fame players, coaches or contributors, we always ask: 'Is he one of the best to ever do it?' In Kevin's case, for his profession, he certainly is."
Members of the media have grown familiar with seeing Byrne walking off the practice field with Head Coach John Harbaugh, as the two men converse before press conferences. Byrne and Harbaugh have built a close relationship during Harbaugh's 12 seasons in Baltimore.
"Kevin's ability to genuinely connect with people is remarkable," Harbaugh said. "I'm incredibly grateful for the guidance he has provided me – and our entire organization – over the years. He is revered by many, and that is due to his trustworthiness, intellect and commitment to helping others succeed. Kevin has become one of my closest friends. He is a caring guy, and he sure can tell a great story. The best part about Kevin, though, is his awesome wife, Sally. They make a great team. I'll miss seeing him every day."
Byrne said it has been emotional to read the compliments people have given him.
"I've gotten teary-eyed," Byrne said. "Startled in some ways. People have been very kind, and it makes me feel very proud.
"Think about the great people you get to hang with in this business. The competitors and intelligent people you get to hang with like Steve Bisciotti, Art Modell, Ozzie, (General Manager) Eric DeCosta, (Ravens President) Dick Cass. Then the coaches through the years who are still close friends, like Brian Billick and John. I've learned so much from John. I was old and hardened when he came here, but I learned almost weekly from John the importance of team, more so than I ever knew before. I feel that I've kept learning all the way, as a result of hanging with people who are special people."
An Ohio native, Byrne earned a degree in journalism from Marquette (1971) and began his public relations career as sports information director for the University of Missouri-St. Louis (1971-1974). He returned to Marquette to become sports information director (1974-77), where he worked with legendary basketball coach Al McGuire during Marquette's 1977 national championship season. Byrne's 1975-76 basketball media guide was selected best in the NCAA.
Byrne's career with the Browns started after he was working as director of public affairs for Trans World Airlines. Sitting in his office at TWA, Byrne received a call from Modell. When the phone rang, Byrne thought it was a prank being played on him by Dan Dierdorf, a Hall of Fame player and former NFL broadcaster. A close friend of Byrne's, Dierdorf would often pretend to be somebody else when he called Byrne.
"I thought it was Dan playing another joke," Byrne said. "It wasn't."
Byrne's storytelling and sense of humor are part of his personality. Throughout his career, he has mastered the art of providing key information while protecting privileged information. Byrne has always valued building relationships, whether he was providing advice to players or coaches or granting interview access to members of the media.
"You have to be competent at what you do, but people have to trust you," Byrne said. "Building relationships with reporters or in-house is most important. You need to respect each other to achieve anything. I also felt the role I had was to lift the curtain on who we are. I really tried hard to let the people see that Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Joe Flacco, Jonathan Ogden, John Harbaugh – they're all regular people who you'd enjoy having as a next-door neighbor. You should also see how hard they work to make our team better. If we could do that, then we could become an important part of the community."
Byrne has been a mentor for many people in public relations, including members of the Ravens media staff. Along with Byrne's imminent retirement, the Ravens announced promotions within the communications staff on Friday. Chad Steele has been named Senior Vice President of Communications, Heather Darney Vice President of Community Relations, Patrick Gleason Vice President of Public Relations, Marisol Renner Director of Publications and Tom Valente Director of Public Relations.
Even in retirement, the 70-year-old Byrne doesn't think he will be less nervous watching Ravens games. He often struggles to keep his emotions in check during games, a person who roots for the team's success with as much passion as any fan.
"I'm a wreck and grumpy on game day," Byrne said laughing. "One play can change everything. We've created this league where we can all beat each other. When I'm not at the game, I'm sure I'll be texting Chad, Patrick, and Harbs."
But Byrne says he's ready for the next chapter of his life, knowing he earned it.
"My brother reminded me recently that I had a paper route when I was 7 years old," Byrne said. "I've worked ever since. We'll have fewer things we have to do, room for more spontaneity. We're not exactly sure what that's going to bring, but Sally and I are pretty sure we're going to enjoy it."