Few people have had as much impact on the Ravens as owners Art Model and Steve Bisicotti, but president Dick Cass sure is close.
Cass, 76, announced his retirement in early February after 18 years with the organization. On Thursday, he’ll appear alongside his successor, Sashi Brown, when the former Cleveland Browns and Washington Wizards executive is officially introduced.
Former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who never liked giving interviews and currently serves as the team’s executive vice president, can’t say farewell to Cass without talking about how his longtime coworker reshaped the organization.
I always called Cass “The Quiet Storm.”
“It’s gone unnoticed, his impact on the organization,” said Newsome, the team’s general manager from 2002 to 2018. “In this league, when it comes to recognition, that always goes to the owner, head coach and the quarterback.
“When he got here in 2004, Brian [Billick] was still the head coach. Obviously, there were always some issues with the stadium that had to be dealt with, but we were basically a mom-and-pop organization. He had to navigate us through the league while the team was expanding without compromising the foundation that was already in place.”
The term “mom-and-pop” was appropriate. The Ravens were a family-owned business, but their financial troubles were well documented, which is one of the reasons they moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996.
It’s also one of the main reasons NFL owners approved Bisciotti’s purchase of 49% of the team in 2000 and the remaining 51% in 2004.
Bisciotti’s first hire was Cass, and Newsome remembers meeting him for the first time while flying back from the owners’ meeting after the sale was approved.
“He was so poised and had a great working knowledge of the National Football League,” Newsome said. “And he was so easy to talk to. [Former NFL running back] Calvin Hill and I are very close, and he had given me a scouting report on Dick, and it was all very good.”
Cass turned the Ravens into not just one of the best organizations in the NFL, but all of professional sports.
He used his previous experience of working with Dallas, Washington and the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets to modernize the Ravens, who had 98 full-time employees under the Modells. That number is now 275.
According to Newsome, Cass has been involved with every part of the franchise, from staff and player personnel, to corporate sales, to communications and business ventures and even draft meetings and player selections.
A graduate of Princeton in 1968 and later from Yale Law School in 1971, Cass has guided the Ravens through two collective bargaining agreements between the league and the players’ association.
Yes, he has that kind of mind.
“He becomes our research,” Newsome said. “When we have questions, we just went to Dick and asked him how we were supposed to handle this? Being the attorney that he is, he could explain it in a very simple way, and then we would go and execute it.
“Dick was always very helpful, not only of me, but [general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and head coaches John Harbaugh and Brian. If there was something we needed after discussing it with him, he would find a way to make it happen.”
In 2006, then-league commissioner Paul Tagliabue pointed out Cass’ major input into the revenue-sharing plan of the collective bargaining agreement. There was some speculation that Cass would replace Tagliabue as commissioner, but that doesn’t fit his style.
Cass is a background kind of guy. He is personable but very seldom talks about himself, probably because he is such a great listener.
He also comes from a military family, which helped, according to Newsome.
“I think he moved around a lot, and when you live in different spots, you learn how to deal with different types of people, learn how to make friends, learn how to adjust,” Newsome said. “I think that allows that person to be comfortable in his own skin, but also be comfortable around other people because he is comfortable with who he is.”
But don’t get the impression that Cass was a pushover. Remember the nickname, “The Quiet Storm”?
“Oh yeah, he can get mad and some choice words can come out of his mouth. I’ve seen him mad,” Newsome said, laughing. “But he does have a good sense of humour.”
Cass is a compassionate person. With some organizational leaders, you can get the impression they participate in charitable causes because they are required to, or want the good press that comes with it.
Cass seemed to care no matter what the endeavor, whether it was supporting various charities or distributing monies for social justice reform throughout Baltimore.
There are stories of how he and the Ravens picked up the expenses of a media member who died or how Cass donated a kidney to a close friend in 2006. He brought as much energy to work for the past 18 years as he does on his daily early morning jogs.
The Ravens are going to miss Cass.
“Dick has always done a great job of acquiring as much information as he can before talking to someone because he wants to be comfortable in having that conversation,” Newsome said.
“Steve always said he wanted us to be good partners, but Dick was a great partner. We had talked about him leaving before but he always said he wanted to make sure we were in better shape now than when we started, and he wanted it to stay on course.”