OCEAN CITY – With his team off to a 3-0 start and heading into an early AFC showdown on the road against the New England Patriots on Sunday, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is at or near the top of the football world right now, but one might never know it judging by his quiet, unassuming demeanor.
Bisciotti, 49, the self-made success story who started his multi-million business just a year removed from graduating from Salisbury State in 1982, bought a minority share of the Ravens in 2000 from owner Art Modell and completed the purchase in April 2004. Called an “energetic visionary” in his official biography on the team’s website, Bisciotti has quietly put his stamp on the franchise, asserting his leadership when necessary, but largely letting his football people chart the direction.
He was just 23 when he started Aerotek, a temporary employment firm that provides aerospace and technology companies access to skilled employees, with just two clients and two employees. The company produced $1.5 million in sales that first year and the rest is history. Aerotek later grew into the Allegis Group, currently the largest staffing firm in the U.S. and fifth largest in the world.
Bisciotti was in Ocean City this week to appear on a live radio broadcast on Wednesday from the original Greene Turtle, where he worked many years ago while in college, and to catch up with old friends and play a little golf. After a grueling, two-hour radio show, followed by a long autograph signing and picture-taking session with loyal Ravens Roosters, the gracious Bisciotti sat down for an interview with The Dispatch. The following are some of the excerpts from that conversation:
Dispatch: Obviously, there’s a long way to go, but at 3-0, you have to be happy about how things are going so far.
Bisciotti: We’re very happy. We’ve seen the kind of progress out of [quarterback] Joe [Flacco] that we were looking for and the coaches were very confident this off-season and all of the preparation he had done with the tape-watching and study. He really seems to be a student of the game. So yeah, I think it’s really important to get off to a fast start. Things can snowball one way or the other, and we’ve got a big one this week. If we can beat New England, then, you know, we’ll be talked about in that elite class.
Dispatch: The big story thus far has been the progress of the offense and the continued development of Joe Flacco. Did you anticipate that happening so quickly?
Bisciotti: I did, only because I trust my coaches. They marvel at Joe’s football knowledge and what he understands. As a kid coming out of Delaware, he’s learning how to read defenses pretty darn well and that’s the key. That’s what retards some other people’s development, that lack of ability to really understand the game. The nuances of these defenses are so sophisticated, you really have to study, probably a lot harder than guys like you and I ever had to do in college.
Dispatch: The Ravens are getting a lot of attention thus far and deservedly so with things like power rankings and coverage. Does that feel a little unusual for a team that seems to prefer flying under the radar?
Bisciotti: Yeah, but the teams that are getting the attention right now are all the teams at 3-0, along with some of the surprises, like the Steelers at 1-2 and the Titans at 0-3, for example. Again, it’s a microcosm of a long season, and so I think people read too much into the 3-0’s and also the 1-2’s. I think you get a better sense at the halfway mark about what kind of team you have.
Dispatch: A team’s personality ultimately comes down from the top and it seems like your low-key, workman-like approach has carried over to this group. Is that an accurate assessment?
Bisciotti: I think it’s a reflection of John Harbaugh to be honest with you. He’s the one who’s addressing these guys on a daily basis and he tells them what he feels. I think they’re comfortable enough with him to let him be the lead dog. I really do think they feed off John and his enthusiasm for the game. It’s really been a nice change for these guys and I think that’s shown on the field.
Dispatch: The offense is obviously clicking right now and keeping the defense off the field for long periods of time. How important is that further down the stretch in weeks 10, 12 or 14 in terms of keeping those defensive guys fresh?
Bisciotti: We’ve got an awful lot of jets on that defense too, so not only are we controlling the clock like we haven’t done in the past, although I think we led the league in time of possession last year at something like 33 minutes, we’re controlling the game and keeping our guys fresh and that’s our goal. We want to do that again and that’s happening if you look at our first three games this year.
Dispatch: With so much of the early attention on the offense, how good is the defense and is it playing at a level we’re all used to?
Bisciotti: We’ve got a lot of depth on that defense. When you look at the preseason and you saw a lot of those guys getting playing time – Ladarius Webb and Frank Walker on the corners, Chris Carr and Paul Kruger and Justin Bannan and Jameel McClain. Hell, we could put our second-stringers out there and I think we might be better than 10 teams
Dispatch: Having said all that, how important is it to have those guys ready to go every week? Injuries are inevitable and you probably knock on wood each week you go through without a major one.
Bisciotti: That’s it. You’re exactly right. Right now, we’re already dealing with a significant number of injuries. You know, we had a guy like Kelly Gregg go down and Justin Bannan steps right in and has a great year. Now, he’s in the regular rotation with Kelly. I see that more and more. I see more personnel come on and off the field and that’s so important because we want to keep those guys fresh.
Dispatch: So, this week it’s New England on the road. Is this game going to be a good barometer of where this team is and how far it still has to go?
Bisciotti: It is, but as you know, a couple of bounces of the ball can change a win to a loss and vice versa. So if we win, sure that’s going to be so important. I don’t know how many 3-0 teams are still out there, maybe six or seven, and after this weekend, there might be half that many at 4-0, so then the microscope gets on you even more and then you have different things to deal with. So, do we want to win and deal with the overconfidence as opposed to losing and having to regroup? Absolutely, of course we do. That’s what we’re trying to do.
I do think you can be fooled by a couple of games, but I don’t think you can be fooled by eight or 10. That’s when you really find out what you got. We’ve got a lot of tough opponents coming up – the Bears, the Packers, the Steelers twice, Cincinnati has shown they can play. We’ve got a lot of big games coming up – New England, the Vikings, the Colts – each week gets tougher than the last.
Dispatch: Really, it’s like playoff football week in and week out?
Bisciotti: It really is, but I think they’re ready for it. For that team to stay largely intact and remember what is was like, no matter how good things were going, and then you win in Miami and win in Tennessee and then you lose in Pittsburgh and there’s that finality of it all, you begin to realize it comes down to a couple of bounces of the ball. If Darren Stone doesn’t commit that horrible penalty that cost us like 28 yards, we might have gone down and kicked that game-winner. Instead, we were pushed way back and we were forced into an interception and then game over. So, these guys remember that acutely and that taste of success and then having it end so abruptly is going to do more for us this year than anything else because they know they can’t get too high. It only takes a three-hour game to let everything end when it gets down to single elimination in the playoffs.