It’s Football Time For Human Resources.


As in most businesses without effective succession planning and talent management in the NFL, you fail. Many great coaches have said that without great players, they would not have been successful, and in the NFL, that means having effective General Managers and Player Personnel operatives.  They are the HR pros of the NFL, and the best HR pro in the NFL today is the Wizard of Oz; Ozzie Newsome of the Baltimore Ravens.  When you think about Oz’s role in relation to players (employees), coaches (managers), and executive staff & owners, there are many similarities to the HR role being provided by many of us today.

Oz began playing in Leighton, AL, with the hope of playing for the University of Alabama. That dream was realized when he went on to star for the Crimson Tide under Bear Bryant from 1974-77.  In 1978, Cleveland selected Newsome in the first round of the NFL Draft. Playing 13 years for the Browns, he had the most productive career for a tight end in the history of the game. A three-time Pro Bowler, his 662 receptions for 7,980 and 47 TDs stood as NFL records by a tight end until 2001.

So Newsome starts out working for Art Modell in Cleveland in 1991 as a scout, is then promoted to Director of  Pro Personnel, and then in 1996, VP of Player Personnel.  Oh, and while he’s doing that, Modell decides to move the franchise to Baltimore.  Ever manage the shut-down, start-up, relocation of a $1.1 billion dollar firm from an HR perspective?  Not easy, let alone doing it under a microscope of a very upset Cleveland fan-base, and very skeptical Baltimore fan-base.

In addition to his knack for evaluating talent on the field, Oz has also mastered the ability to develop and share insight with the scouts who work under him. The Ravens boast a methodical and disciplined draft process, one that’s foundation is laid years in advance. The “process” includes 15 full-time members of the personnel (HR) department, but also has feedback from Ravens coaches (Line Management).  Amazingly, the Ravens do not belong to the NFL Scouting group, which provides member teams a log of reports on players eligible for the draft.  Instead, they make their own list, and that means looking at every player on a collegiate roster.

In the Ravens’ first-ever draft, Oz  drafted OT Jonathan Ogden and LB Ray Lewis who have combined to produce 21 Pro Bowls since then.  Since drafting Ogden and Lewis, Oz has consistently compiled impressive draft classes, and in the team’s first 13 drafts Baltimore selected first-rounders who have earned a total of 39 Pro Bowl honors.  That is talent acquisition.

Oz just doesn’t miss.  Of the seven players chosen in the top 10 by Baltimore, five (Ogden, LB Peter Boulware, CB Chris McAlister, RB Jamal Lewis and LB Terrell Suggs) have earned Pro Bowl nods. Additionally, Baltimore has picked in the bottom half of the first round with uncanny success: Lewis has twice been named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year; TE Todd Heap, chosen 31st, has been to two Pro Bowls; Ed Reed, the 24th pick, went to Hawaii five times and also earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004.

It’s not just players (employees), but the securing of top flight leadership (coaches) that Oz has a penchant for as well.  Oz has created a synergy that manufactures success among the scouts, coaches and players. As a result, Baltimore has had many of its assistants move on to become head coaches on the both BCS and NFL levels: Jack Del Rio (Jaguars), Kirk Ferentz (Iowa), Marvin Lewis (Bengals), Eric Mangini (Browns/Jets), Rick Neuheisel (UCLA), Mike Nolan (49ers), Rex Ryan (Jets), Jim Schwartz (Lions), Mike Singletary (49ers), Mike Smith (Falcons) and Ken Whisenhunt (Cardinals).

What’s the secret?

  • Continuity is key as most of Oz’s staff has been with the team since the franchise started in 1996 or has graduated from the “20/20 Club,” which is a group that includes members who began with the Ravens as young assistants and grew into evaluators with more input. The term “20/20” refers to hiring “20-year-olds for $20,000.”
  • “We do a lot of cross-checking,” says Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, a graduate of Newsome’s “20/20 Club.” “A number of us look at everyone, and then we have the area scouts look at certain players from other regions so we get multiple grades and opinions on all the players.”
  • Sharing of strong opinions is encouraged by all scouts and coaches.  Oz wants to have strong opinions, noting specifically that he wants to hear what everyone in the room has to say. Because of this philosophy, Ozzie believes the biggest strength of the Ravens’ personnel team is that “we respect and listen to each other.”
  • Credibility. “Ozzie’s credibility is what stands out the most,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh states. “And it’s not just about what he has accomplished. To me, it’s his commitment and focus while striving to do more.”
  • Building from within. “What sets us apart is that we have guys who cut their teeth right here in Baltimore, learning the way we do things,” Newsome affirms. “And we have had some great guys with Phil Savage, ‘Shack’ [James Harris], George Kokinis, Eric DeCosta and other people who were helping these young scouts along the way. I think that’s the secret. It’s not Ozzie. It’s the way we do things, and the way these guys gravitate to the process of the Baltimore Ravens.”
  • Hire passionate professionals. “[Ravens] players believe, and that’s the beauty of it,” states Ryan, who worked with Newsome from 1999-2008. “Ozzie brings in the right kind of players, and one thing we’ve always talked about is we don’t want to coach effort. And that’s the thing – we don’t. [Ravens] guys love to play the game, and those are the guys you surround yourself with. That’s why you have a chance to be successful [in Baltimore].”
  • Walk the talk. Really, go to work. Newsome’s motivation and work ethic are also reasons many people respect him. One specific way that devotion shines through is in his everyday routine. If Ozzie’s not in his office or out on the practice field, he can be found on the treadmill in the Ravens’ weight room. Exercising daily (and often putting in two-a-days), Ozzie says his workouts are just another way he tracks the pulse of the team.
  • Stay engaged.  “By being around the coaches and players out at practice,” Newsome states, “and being in that weight room around those players, I think I get a chance to build some things in my mind of how I’d like the makeup of our football team.”

OK, so now I’ve justified watching football for the next five months all in the name of Human Resources research.

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Posted on September 8, 2011, in HR Management & Leadership. and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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