Ron Marciniak might not be a household name, but he is a legend inside the walls of the Ravens' organization.
Working as the team's Southwest Area Scout in the 1990s and early 2000s, he had a major impact on the franchise.
Marciniak, who died Monday at age 87, came up with the phrase "Play Like a Raven." He also inaugurated the concept of the "red star" player, now a key tool in the Ravens' scouting process.
But Marciniak, a legendary raconteur with a signature crewcut, probably was most impactful as a mentor to several generations of younger Baltimore scouts, including Eric DeCosta, now the Ravens' general manager, and Joe Hortiz, their director of player personnel.
"We lost a member of our Ravens family today," DeCosta said Monday. "Ron was a long-time southwestern scout who was a valuable member of our staff for many years and an even better mentor and friend to many of us in Baltimore and throughout the NFL. Ron was a skilled evaluator and his common-sense approach to scouting players is something that we continue to value today. I will miss Ron very much and think about him as one of my greatest early influences in the league."
His passing prompted a round of text messages Monday between DeCosta, Hortiz and former Ravens scouts such as Joe Douglas, Chad Alexander and Daniel Jeremiah. Douglas is now general manager of the New York Jets. Alexander is his assistant. Jeremiah is a prominent draft analyst.
"I can't tell you how much of an impact Ron had on our scouting department, on our processes, and on all of us as people," Hortiz said Monday. "It's such a heartbreaking event that caused us all to get in touch, but it's a testament to the legend Ron was."
A Pittsburgh native, Marciniak started 40 consecutive games as a guard at Kansas State and was drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1955, but he played just one year in the NFL. He turned to coaching and spent 25 years in the collegiate ranks, mostly as an assistant at Arizona, Colorado and Northwestern. His only shot as a head coach came at the University of Dayton in the 1970s.
When his coaching career concluded, he became a pro scout, first with the Dallas Cowboys and then with the Cleveland Browns. He joined the Ravens when the Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996 and worked until his retirement a dozen years ago.
"Along the way he got the nickname 'the Maverick' because he was never afraid to go his own way and have his own opinions," Hortiz said. "He was committed to those opinions, passionate about them. Whenever you asked him what he thought, you had to be ready for his honest answer, whether it was good or bad."
In a 2018 interview with The New York Post, former Cowboys scouting director Gil Brandt described Marciniak's passion during a war-room debate over Jerry Rice, who became a Hall of Fame receiver with the San Francisco 49ers.
"Ron loved Jerry Rice (coming out of college)," Brandt recalled. "And we were concerned about Jerry Rice because he didn't run real fast. And Ron got up on our scouting table and said, 'I've seen this guy nine times,' this and that and so forth. We were stunned because we were ready to draft him … there was never any indication that San Francisco was going to take Rice."
Marciniak brought that passion to Baltimore. To this day, whenever a Ravens scout identifies a player in internal discussions as a "red star" prospect, it means the scout believes the player has extraordinary qualities. A red star goes by his name on the draft board. Each scout can only give the designation to one player per year. The idea came from Marciniak, as did the notion that certain players performed with the toughness and edge the Ravens seek, i.e., "played like a Raven."
When the Ravens were considering drafting Joe Flacco in 2008, Hortiz undertook the project of collecting the Ravens' scouting reports on various NFL starting quarterbacks. He came across Marciniak's report on Tom Brady when Brady was a senior at Michigan in 1998.
"He wasn't a top prospect, as you recall, but Ron wrote that with his pocket presence he reminded Ron of Johnny Unitas. I was completely floored. That was years before Brady started winning Super Bowls," Hortiz said.
But as those Marciniak had mentored mourned his passing Monday, their fondest memories were of his impact on them personally.
"We all came in as young guys. He was without question the one scout who pulled us aside and talked to us about being a professional," Hortiz said. "He'd worked for Tom Landry. You dressed a certain way. You treated people with respect and courtesy on visits because you were a guest on that campus. He didn't even realize he was setting the fundamentals as scouts for us. He was just sharing his wisdom. He did it because it was so important to him to develop new guys. He did it out of kindness and compassion."