The Byrne Identity: Change

CHANGE

Much has changed since I last blogged before our season-ending victory over the Steelers.

Brian Billick was our head coach then. Rick Neuheisel was the offensive coordinator, and I was preparing for a season-ending press conference that would feature owner Steve Bisciotti, GM Ozzie Newsome and the head coach. Obviously, there have been some modifications. The good news is that the hiring of John Harbaugh has given a high energy to the franchise that is noticed. I really like this guy, and I believe fans will, too, as he becomes more public.

There's also the human side of the story, and I'll touch on that later. Coaching is a tough profession in many ways, including having your work weekly evaluated by media and fans. The fragility of the coaching tenure is a reality of the job. Coaches get fired, families have to move, kids have to go to new schools and close friendships are tested.

THE PROCESS

I was privileged to be part of the search for our new head coach. Dick Cass, the Ravens' president, wrote an excellent piece on this on this website. He explains the details that preceded Coach Harbaugh's hiring. If you haven't read it, please do and enjoy.

Let me share some moments of our process:

Brian was fired on New Year's Eve. That day, Steve, Dick and Ozzie met with the media announcing the dismissal. Steve announced that Ozzie would head the search for the new head coach. Joining Ozzie on this hiring committee were Steve and Dick, of course, along with George Kokinis and Vince Newsome, our pro personnel director and assistant director of pro personnel, Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting, Pat Moriarty, our VP of Football Administration, and me.

Both Ozzie and I have made presentations at NFL meetings about the process we used to hire Coach Billick. It is such a thorough exercise that the league recommended using it, especially to make sure minority candidates are getting a fair opportunity for these jobs. The day we started the process, I was walking to Ozzie's office, which is next to mine, with the notes from the seminars we presented when he was coming to my office to give me a copy of the same thing. We laughed and noted that it had been a long time since we've had to do something like this for our team. Oz shared copies with the rest of the selection group.

While no meeting time was set for New Year's Day, we were all here early, knowing we would meet. We did at 10 that morning. Ozzie reviewed the process, which Steve liked. And, there's no magic to what we did. We identified coaches we should discuss as a group. The list of coaches included 4 groups: former NFL head coaches, all NFL coordinators, select NFL position assistants and college head coaches. Ozzie and his personnel group had met earlier that day and whittled that big list to about 30 candidates.

We reviewed each name on the list, and it was amazing how many of these folks were known by someone on our committee. There was some: "I really like him. We should do more research on him;" to "I don't think we're ever going to hire that guy." The research then entailed calling as many people as we knew – and some we didn't – to get a view of the candidates. For example, in the cases of John Harbaugh and Jason Garrett, we called over 30 people for each candidate. Who gets these calls? NFL head coaches, former players, current players, front office executives, media members, high school and college associates – frankly, anyone we could think of. In the end, you get a great profile of who the candidate is.

When we started that first meeting, Steve spoke about what he thinks a leader should be. It was a fascinating description. (Steve is about as regular a guy as can be. He's a jeans-wearing, fun-loving, let's-have-a-beer and go to the Terps' game guy. His close friends are his grade school, high school and college buddies, along with those who helped him with the start of his business.) Despite his every-man likeability, there are times when Steve says something that has you thinking: "Oh, I see why Forbes Magazine says he's worth over a billion and a half." It's not an accident, or "lucky," as Steve says.

Bisciotti said that when he looks for a leader, there are the obvious things, including competence, problem solving, communicator, etc. But, Steve also said great leaders are humble and willing to share their vulnerability with others. He pointed to Ozzie and Dick as two leaders he greatly admired and possessed that something that is really hard to define. In the end, he said, that we would recognize who our head coach should be. That that man would have recognizable skills, but also something tangible that is hard to define. Steve also noted that being fiery and humble are not exclusive – you could have both to be a great leader.

On Jan. 2 and 3, we shortened our list and focused on who should be interviewed. When we weren't meeting in the boardroom next to Steve's office, we were on the phone calling people who knew our candidates. We had narrowed the list to 6. These were the ones we planned to interview. Most fans now know the list: John Harbaugh, Jason Garrett, Rex Ryan, Tony Sparano, Brian Schottenheimer, and Jim Caldwell. We started with the Colts' Caldwell, who has since been named the successor to Tony Dungy. Next came the Cowboys' Sparano, who was later named the Dolphins' head coach. Those were followed by Garrett from the Cowboys and Rex. Brian (from the Jets) and Harbaugh came a few days later.

After each candidate was interviewed – and that was usually a day-long process – we would come back to the boardroom and discuss the candidate. Steve would have each committee member give his impression of our time with the candidate. I'll share some of my notes from my 1st interview with Coach Harbaugh:

  • Clearly honest and very fresh quality about him
  • Love his self deprecation; he actually used term "vulnerable" about himself
  • Views coaching as a one-on-one process; not same message for all
  • Said: "I'll know every person in the organization, what they do and how they can help us win."
  • When asked how his day was going, he said: "Other than probably costing myself the job with my answers to Steve, pretty good. I like you guys."
  • When I asked him if he could say one thing to all of us, he said: "Why not me? Who says I can't be your head coach? Who says I can't be the next great NFL head coach? There are great NFL coaches like, Ditka, Levy, Cowher and Belichick, who advanced because they were good special teams coaches. You should hire me. We would win, and we would have fun."
  • Would use people around him; would not try to be one-man band
  • Great energy and presence; very likeable; outstanding communicator

These were among the things I said at our end-of-day meeting on Jan. 8, the day of Harbaugh's 1st interview. After each member of the committee expressed their thoughts on John, Steve said this to us: "Let me see if I have this right. It looks like we're in love with 2 guys, and we're comfortable if we have to go to our third." When everyone agreed with that assessment, Steve added: "So, we don't have to interview anyone else. Right?" Again, we all agreed.

It's now obvious to all of you that John Harbaugh and Jason Garrett were the pair we loved. We decided to bring back each for a 2nd interview, with Garrett going first. That meant that we could be waiting until after the Super Bowl. We talked about what that would mean to Harbaugh, but felt comfortable that we could delay his 2nd interview because we didn't believe the other teams looking for a head coach were focused on John.

As it turned out, the Cowboys lost to the Giants a few days later. Garrett's interview and decision to stay with the Cowboys has been well-documented by the media (and by Dick Cass on our site).

We met on Jan. 17 to review Harbaugh again. Most of us brought more information from phone calls we made about John. We arranged for him to come the next day for his 2nd interview, and we discussed a plan for these interviews.

Now comes the really cool part. After all of us had spent time with Coach Harbaugh on Friday, Jan. 18, we came back to the boardroom for a discussion. Let me take a timeout here…

When I was with John earlier that day, I asked him this: "If Steve makes you the Ravens' head coach, what is your major concern or your first concerns?" I thought his answer was outstanding. This is what he said: "I don't have any credibility with your players. I'll be the secondary and special teams coach from the Eagles. But, I will earn credibility. I'll go on the road and visit players. I'll spend time with the ones who are in Baltimore now. I guarantee you this: Before the offseason program starts in March, I will have looked them all in the eye and started earning my credibility. Plus, I'll hire assistants, especially coordinators, with credibility."

Back to the meeting after his 2nd interview…Steve opened the meeting by saying: "Let's go around the table and talk about John." Ozzie interjected and said: "Don't think we need to. Guys, is it unanimous?" We all smiled and said, "Yes." Bisciotti then talked about John's lack of experience as a head coach: "He'll need help. How is each of you in this room going to help him make the team succeed? What are your doubts or fears about John?" A few us expressed some concerns, and Steve said: "Let's bring him in the room and talk to him about this." Ozzie asked: "Before or after we make him the head coach?" Steve said: "Now."

When John came into the room, he sat 2 seats away from Steve, between Ozzie and me. Steve explained that everyone in the room was willing to do everything he could to make sure the next Ravens head coach will succeed. Bisciotti said some of us have concerns "about you that we should talk about a little." A couple of us asked questions to John, and after 2 questions, John sat up in his chair and leaned toward Steve and said:

"Look, I don't have all the answers, but I'll know where to find them. I can be your head coach. And, I know today that I will be a good head coach. And, with all of the help and expertise in this room, we can be a great team, and maybe that will make me a great head coach. And you should make me your head coach. And, if you do, my first reaction will be 'Oh s__! They made me the head coach.' But, that will go away fast. I'll go to work sprinting, and we'll win. And, we'll have fun doing this. I can do this. You should make me your head coach."

With that, Steve leaned toward John, and said: "Then we'll make you our head coach." And John smiled: "And then I'll accept."

I had tears in my eyes. So did others in the room. We all got up and gave John the handshake/man-hug. Now, to me, this was stunning. Not that Steve gave John the job, but that Steve would do that very special, always private hiring with all of us. I think it says a lot about how Steve believes in the power of the team.

We then talked about how we could make the announcement. John wanted to return to Philadelphia immediately: "I can call my wife, my parents and brother and sister from the car." With that, Bisciotti said: "Let's call Art." John said: "Art Modell. I loved the Browns growing up." Another classy move by Steve.

We asked John if he'd like his parents at the press conference, and he said that would be great. We arranged to have his parents flown from Milwaukee first thing in the morning, and we planned a noon press conference. You know the rest.

I haven't seen much of John in his 1st week on the job. He said he would start sprinting, and he still is. But, when I see him, he's smiling, and he is energizing. This is going to be a fun ride.

HUMAN ELEMENT

As exciting as it is to get John and the assistants he is bringing in, there is the down side of firing Brian Billick. And, when you fire a head coach, it means firing his family, and his assistants and their families. No one at the Ravens underestimates what Brian did for us. He's a huge reason we're all wearing Super Bowl rings. We were all thrilled a year ago at this time to be 13-3 and having a 1st-round bye in the playoffs.

But, Brian and the assistants understand that getting fired is part of the business they selected. That doesn't make it easier to handle. My wife cried when she found out Brian was let go. Brian's wife Kim is a close friend of ours. Brian and I were more than fellow workers. We're friends. We will be friends forever.

There's a cold side to the football business. We all kind of accept it. It doesn't make it easier to handle. It's just inevitable. Both Steve and Brian have said they will remain friends. I think they will.

THE RUMOR MILL

There are no secrets anymore, and you have to give reporters a lot of credit for getting information. There are some things reported that are wrong, but, on the whole, reporters, even when teams are trying to keep them in the dark, are amazingly accurate.

Reporters get information a lot of different ways…sometimes directly from those involved, more often from sources tied to the action. How did reporters covering our search have so much right information, especially when we were trying to keep secrets? Agents. Every head coaching candidate we interviewed has an agent – and now many assistant coaches have agents. The agents advise their clients. The agents love to create leverage and be "sources" for reporters. Heck, we had one agent negotiating a final deal for his head coaching client call us and say: "He'd rather be with you."

Amazing world…there are no secrets here.

Talk to you next month,
Kevin

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Kevin Byrne is the Ravens' Senior Vice President – Public and Community Relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.

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