Hall of Fame Browns tight end and longtime Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who now serves as the team’s executive vice president, sits down for some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby:
Q: What did it mean to you being the NFL’s first African-American general manager?
A: Well, it really didn’t dawn on me up until I did a radio interview with [the late] John Thompson. In the interview, he made the statement that, “Now, some African American can grow up to be a GM because you’re one. You’ve paved the way.” So, at that point, it did hit home that it was about the job, but it was also about creating opportunities for others to be able to come behind me.
Q: What are the qualities that Jets fans will grow to appreciate from general manager Joe Douglas?
A: Joe’s very thorough — very, very thorough. He’s a very good listener, and he has an unbelievable keen eye for talent. He has a way to describe a player that everybody in the meeting can understand what that player is and what he’s about.
Q: What makes Ravens head coach John Harbaugh the coach he is?
A: No. 1, he has a passion for football. He’s a very good listener, he’s willing to learn, and he’s not afraid to attack issues. But he also is astute enough to be able to allow his players to be who they are.
Q: What makes Alabama head coach Nick Saban the coach he is?
A: Nick is driven. He too enjoys the aspects of coaching. He, like John, both their dads were coaches, and so they kind of grew up in the business. But Nick has a way of motivating players to get them to play. He has a very good understanding of football, he’s a very good recruiter, and we’ve been very blessed to have him at the University of Alabama.
Q: What are the traits of the ideal Ozzie Newsome football player?
A: I think the traits start with being unselfish, you have to have passion for the game. You have to be very coachable, and you have to have some athleticism. If you have those traits, then you probably have a chance to be a good Raven.
Q: Coaches and general managers in sports other than football that you admire and why.
A: The guy that I probably admire the most was Phil Jackson from the NBA, [because of] what he did with the Bulls and then what he was able to do with the Lakers. He was able to bring all of those championships to both of those cities. He was a guy that was basically a journeyman as a player, but he understood the game and he was able to deal with some of the more high-profile players and be able to get those guys to play and play as a team.
Q: Who are some tight ends that you used to like watching and enjoy watching now?
A: I always enjoyed watching Jimmie Giles, who played for the Buccaneers and the Eagles; Charlie Sanders, who played for the Detroit Lions; of course, Kellen [Winslow] — I enjoyed watching him; Todd Christensen. And then the guys today; [Travis] Kelce, George Kittle, and also [Tony] Gonzalez. You know what? I’m going to piss Shannon [Sharpe] off and not bring his name up, because he knows what I think about him.
Q: What did (the late former Browns and Ravens owner) Art Modell mean to you?
A: Art was my boss, a mentor and a friend. And to have played for him, and how he treated me as a player, and then, [to have] the opportunity to work for him — to become his partner — is unbelievable. The majority of my success in my professional career belongs to Art Modell.
Q: Which of your two Super Bowl victories was sweeter?
A: The first one. I mean, I did not get a chance to play in the Super Bowl as a player. I did win a state championship in high school in both basketball and football. But it was special. It was special, the first one, because it was right after the move, four years after the move. To be able to stand there with Mr. Modell, who decided to move his family, his team to a new city and then four years later, we were standing there holding the Lombardi trophy. It was very special.
Q: Where in history does the 2000 Ravens defense rank?
A: Right there with the Monsters of the Midway, with the ’85 Bears. I think with the ’76–’77 Steelers, I think they got maybe five Hall of Famers off of that team on that. But I think it stacks up with that, because we were big and physical. We could stop the run. We could play the pass. And also, we had guys that could get to the quarterback.
Q: What are your recollections of the (Raiders) Mike Davis playoff interception of QB Brian Sipe?
A: Not very good, in the sense that we were driving down, were already in field-goal range; a field goal would have won the game. We took the opportunity to take one shot. Basically, it was a play that Reggie Rucker and I were both on the right side. The name of the play was Red-Right 88; I still remember today. And we were basically going to be running picks for Dave Logan to come underneath. And I beat Mike off the line of scrimmage, and Brian [Sipe] saw it, and tried to deliver a pass to me, and it got held up in the wind. Mike, fighting for his life, looked up, and the ball landed right in his hands. And Dave came wide open. It was a heartbreak. There has been a lot of talk [as to] why we just didn’t kick the field goal, but the way the Kardiac Kids played that year, at every chance that we had, we went for it, and we went for it on that particular play.
Q: What was it like for you watching The Drive in the 1986 AFC Championship game against John Elway?
A: It was a lesson learned. When you’re not on the field, there’s nothing you can do but to prepare yourself to go out there for the next play and the next drive. But watching that drive, it drained not only myself, but the other guys on the offense. And so, we got the ball back, but we were so drained from watching that drive, that we were not able to muster a first down, and we ended up punting or giving the ball back to Denver. But I learned from that time that if you’re not out there playing, sit on the bench, be with your coaches, be with the other teammates, and get yourself prepared to go back out there to play, and don’t be a spectator.
Q: What do you remember about meeting Bear Bryant for the first time?
A: Well, it was when I was in the 10th grade. He came and spoke to our basketball banquet, because a senior that year was Leon Douglas. He was a highly recruited player, being recruited by UCLA, Kentucky and Louisville. And so, he came there to speak. Afterwards I got introduced to him, and the basketball coach told him that, “You’ll probably be back here in two years to recruit this young man.” And he looked up to me and he goes, “How good are your grades?” So, it was different, but that was my first opportunity.
Q: Who were your biggest influences growing up?
A: Both of my parents were there. I had an older brother who was 12 years older than I was who was an unbelievable athlete, but was faced with the difficulties of trying to become a good player, a good student and then go to an HBCU [historically black college or university] — it was tough to do it back then. He ended up going into the Army, but he was a big influence. My high school coach, Coach C.T. Manley, who started grooming me when I was in the seventh grade. And then also, I had another assistant coach, Don Creasy, who taught me about two or three different classes, and he was my junior high coach.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Jordan; Tiger Woods.
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Sidney Poitier.
Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
A: Michael Jackson.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: I really don’t know. I will say this: Anything that my mom cooked has always been very good — sorry [wife] Gloria.
Q: Why was it important for you to join the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches?
A: No. 1, the commissioner, Roger [Goodell], asked me to be on the Workplace Diversity Committee with the National Football League, which we are working to assure that the pipeline is there for African Americans at the coaching position, at the coordinator position and hopefully to become head coaches, as well as GMs in the league. So, if we’re working on it at that level, then joining the coalition allows me to now get involved at the collegiate level, as well as the high school [level], so that pipeline is there for young coaches that are qualified to coach on the collegiate level and the National Football League level.