Ravens host all-star cast of guest speakers this offseason
Don Martindale used to be a high school teacher, so he knows how students can lose their focus during a lecture.
The Ravens defensive coordinator said that was not a problem during Zoom meetings with the players this offseason.
Baltimore was able to corral an all-star cast of guest speakers for a series called "Chasing Greatness" to inspire the team and talk about what it means to be successful.
Some of the speakers included NBA great Julius "Dr. J" Erving, former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, national championship basketball coach John Calipari, former Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and Super-Bowl champion DeMarcus Ware, among others.
"As an old high school teacher, I taught some boring subjects. So, I think you had to be creative," Martindale said. "My challenge, and our challenge as a defensive staff, was I wanted to make it must-see Zoom meetings. As well as you guys are with everything that you do, you do get Zoom fatigue, but I wanted to make it where they couldn’t wait to come to the defensive meetings.
"We wanted to make it an event. We wanted to build a champion mindset and getting our culture right, because that was the most important goal that we had this offseason. I think we hit a home run with the speakers we had."
In addition to the guest speakers, John Harbaugh got creative with the rookies, setting up games like Jeopardy to make sure they knew the playbook and their responsibilities.
The Ravens have Super Bowl aspirations this season with a deep and talented roster, including NFL MVP Lamar Jackson.
Near the end of the "Chasing Greatness," the team brought in someone who has experience with winning a Super Bowl in Baltimore: Rex Ryan, who was the defensive coordinator on the 2000 championship team, who was joined by his brother Rob.
"We finished it off with Rob and Rex Ryan, which was an event itself for all the players to see," Martindale said. "That’s the biggest thing – is just creating the culture and the camaraderie between the players. I think we did an excellent job with doing that.
“And obviously, Rex’s time with the Ravens, he spoke about that. And Rob – the ‘Chasing Greatness’ with those guys, we talked about Buddy Ryan, who I think is the defensive innovator in the NFL. I think he was one of the greatest coordinators, if not the greatest coordinator, of all time in the NFL. We really wanted champions from all walks of life. They all had a common message, and that was cool; different eras, different sports, different arenas, and I think they all knocked it out. It was great.”
In addition to Holmes, Calipari, Howard, DeMarcus Ware and the Ryan brothers, the other guest speakers were: Ravens hall of farmer Ed Reed, and Ray Lewis; former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., former Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa; former Ravens safety Eric Weddle; ESPN anchor Sage Steele; former Ravens associate head coach/special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg; Commander Mark McGinnis from the Navy Seals and new Baltimore City mayor Brandon Scott.
Martindale's comments on those speakers:
- “‘Goose’ [Tony Siragusa], who I think is a Hall of Fame teammate – if there was such a thing – he should get a gold jacket for that, along with his other accolades. He just kept it real with the players – what it was to become a champ.
- "Weddle was great. It’s a great perspective with Eric, because he talked about San Diego, then he also talked about [Los Angeles] L.A., compared to his Baltimore experience. He was awesome. The thing that stood out to me, and this is Eric Weddle, is he said, ‘Hey guys, if a coach tells you, you had a good practice, that’s not good enough. Don’t walk in that building unless you want to be great. You want to have a great practice.’ And he also talked to all the guys about ignoring the noises outside and preparation of being a pro.
- “We had Sage Steele, who I think is the best host and anchor in the business at ESPN. She talked about her own path, her own challenges, the challenges that she had in coming up through the business, and all the way back to [Indiana University] IU, and I thought that was great – the perseverance that she showed. She also talked about the [Golden State] Warriors and other championship teams, what she thought that make up was, because she saw it up close.".
- “Larry Holmes was awesome – the champ. He talked about … The biggest thing he hit on is that … I don’t know how many of you are boxing fans – he was [former world heavyweight champion] Muhammad Ali’s sparring partner for five years. I tied this with the practice squad guys and the undrafted free agents, and those types of guys. He didn’t care if he got paid or not, he was learning from the greatest. So, he took every day that he went to work as a lesson. You know what he did – he eventually beat [Muhammad] Ali. And he was quick to say – for all you boxing fans – that Ali was past his prime."
- “Ryan Howard is a Rockstar – the MVP first baseman for the world champion [Philadelphia] Phillies. He’s an underdog story – came from Missouri State. He also hit 58 home runs in a season, and he made it look like a softball league that year. But he said, ‘Ignore the depth chart. Just become undeniable in what you want to do.’ "
- “DeMarcus Ware was awesome. Reminded me of a Ray Lewis-type of leader. He led by example. He was talking about … The thing there was becoming a leader from one team to another, which was good for Calais [Campbell] and Derek [Wolfe], and his thoughts on that."
- “Jerry Rosburg came back. We love Jerry. He talked about the standards of being a Raven, in his eyes."
- “The Navy Seal Commander, Mark McGinnis, he got the most questions from the players. It was awesome. He was talking about [how] training is harder than any competition, and not everybody can prepare like a Seal. And he sees it the same way with the Ravens; not everybody can prepare like a Raven. We talked about teamwork. A lot of those guys were talking about being selfless."
- “‘Dr. J’ [Julius Erving] was awesome. He was awesome, because he gave a great perspective during the Civil Rights era – when he played and how he handled it. I thought that was good for the guys at the time. And we all know ‘Dr. J’ was – as I introduced him to the players – he was Michael Jordan’s Michael Jordan, if you will."
- “John Calipari came in. He’s one of the great personalities in sports. He talked about servant leadership, selflessness in pursuit of a common goal, and he challenged players. He talked about individual plays. He’s a fan of ours. He watches the Ravens."
- “Brandon Scott was the one who knocked our socks off. You could see the greatness in him when he was talking. He talked about the future of Baltimore and how he sees it. It’s a very timely discussion of issues in our city, and [he] outlined ways that our players can help. He’s an inspiration about where he came from, and how he’s become [from] where he was at. That was a great thing that we had."