Ravens personnel depts. roots go back to Belichick

OWINGS MILLS -- The Bill Belichick tree has multiple branches and a sphere of influence that extends throughout the elite ranks of the NFL and college football. <br><br> And a few of the New England Patriots head coach's strongest roots are thriving in the Baltimore Ravens' personnel department. <br><br> Before the Cleveland Browns moved to Maryland and became the Ravens, Belichick was their coach and supervised or hired three of the Ravens' top executives.

In Sunday's matchup between the Ravens (7-3) and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots (9-1), the leadership of the personnel department that drafted Baltimore's eight Pro Bowl players got their start with the coach on the opposing sideline.

"We learned a lot from Bill, it was like a think tank," Ravens director of player personnel Phil Savage said. "When I first started working for Bill for a few weeks, he showed me how he wanted me to watch film, how much detail he was looking for. I wasn't doing it the way he wanted me to.

"He wanted you to grind out information and always look for an edge. No shortcuts. The philosophy was no one was going to outwork us and we were always looking for a football temperament, toughness and character. A lot of the basics in player evaluation that Bill valued are things we do with the Ravens because they're true and they work."

Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome, who was hired by former owner Art Modell in 1990 after retiring from football, broke into the business as a special assignment scout for Cleveland.

Savage joined the Browns on Belichick's first staff in 1991 as a defensive assistant under defensive coordinator Nick Saban, who's now the LSU coach.

Savage became the team's West Coast scout in 1994 and was elevated to national scout in 1995 before being promoted to director of college scouting when the team moved to Baltimore in 1996.
Ravens director of pro personnel George Kokinis joined the Browns in 1991 as a college scouting assistant after an internship in the Browns' operations department.

"Ozzie, Phil, George, when I worked with them in Cleveland, they were all hard-working guys," Belichick said. "They didn't try to take any shortcuts or reinvent the game. Just grind through the film, make good evaluations, be ready to have all the information and all the preparation.

"So, when the opportunity comes up, they're ready to capitalize on it. They've done a great job of building the team at all levels: draft choices, free agents. They're a young, talented team."
Under Belichick, a blue-collar, common-sense approach to scouting and drafting generally ruled the day, although the team was losing and financial distress ultimately led to the move. Modell eventually fired the notoriously dour Belichick prior to the move to Baltimore.

Newsome, Savage and Kokinis were just a few of Belichick's sharper employees in addition to Ravens assistant director of pro personnel Vince Newsome and knowledgeable, veteran area scout Ron Marciniak.

In Cleveland, Belichick's offensive line coach was Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. Miami Dolphins interim head coach Jim Bates was the Browns' defensive line coach. Fresno State coach Pat Hill was a personnel assistant.

Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, The Sporting News' 2003 NFL Executive of the Year, started in Cleveland as a pro personnel assistant in 1992 before working one season in Baltimore as director of player personnel.

Since coming to Baltimore, the Ravens have avoided costly personnel mistakes, particularly in the upper rounds, and won a Super Bowl in 2000.

"Bill always stressed how valuable those picks were," Savage said. "He always wanted to know more information about a player. We didn't want to waste time rehabilitating an injured player or someone with questionable character. We were looking for finished products."

Of the eight Pro Bowl selections from last season on this year's roster, seven are first-round draft picks, including likely future Hall of Fame selections in offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis. Ogden and Lewis were the franchise's first two draft picks in 1996.

The Ravens drafted Ogden out of UCLA with the fourth overall pick instead of enigmatic Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips. Phillips is now out of football and has had several brushes with the law.

"That was one of the safer decisions we've made and it worked out great," Savage said. "We drafted the better person and football player. We didn't always make the right decision on character in Cleveland, but we learned from those mistakes."

Besides Ogden and Lewis, the Ravens have hit on other Pro Bowl players such as safety Ed Reed, a strong candidate for NFL defensive MVP honors, cornerback Chris McAlister, linebacker Peter Boulware, running back Jamal Lewis and tight end Todd Heap.

Linebacker Adalius Thomas, a sixth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi, was a Pro Bowl pick last season as a special-teams ace.

"People ask me why we didn't win more in Cleveland with all of the good people we had as coaches and scouts and maybe it was because a lot of us were new to the NFL," Savage said. "I definitely learned a lot. We don't like to waste our time on a bad player or a bad person. This league moves too fast for that, and Bill said that a lot."

NOTE: ESPN analyst Mel Kiper called Ravens sixth-round wide receiver Clarence Moore the steal of the draft and endorsed Savage for the Browns' vacant general manager position.

Aaron Wilson writes for RavensInsider.Com and the Carroll County Times.

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