Operations is a fancy way of saying this group of employees has their hands in just about everything that happens with the Ravens.
That could mean changing a lightbulb or booking a hotel for road games. It includes playing DJ at practice and making sure players have enough to eat. This group literally keeps the lights on, and ensures the Under Armour Performance Center is up-and-running in all situations.
The six-person operations department (Bob Eller, Joan Fennekohl, David Ghostlaw, Keith Matthews, Matt Klug and Marlon McLean) handles the details, and that allows the football team to focus on winning games.
The Ravens’ practice facility, the Under Armour Performance Center, never shuts down. Even when Baltimore was slammed with a blizzard that dumped nearly three feet of snow across the region and crippled transportation, the facility will still open for coaches and scouts to go through their offseason assessments.
The 200,000 square-foot training complex nicknamed “The Castle” was built in 2004, and it still maintains its pristine appearance. Head Coach John Harbaugh has called the facility the “best building” in the NFL.
The facility itself is a recruiting chip, and the operations staff is responsible for keeping it that way.
The work around the building never stops.
There is always a picture that needs to be hung, an issue with the heating system, a new employee moving into an office, an energy contract that needs to be signed. Eller and his team take care of all of that. They also do some of the dirty work and odd jobs. For example, McLean had to figure out how to get dried candle wax out of the locker room carpet after a player mistakenly knocked over a burning candle. (He learned that melting it down with an iron to remove it does the trick.)
The Under Armour Performance Center is never busier than the summer months during training camp. In addition to accommodating a 90-man roster, additional coaches and front-office interns, the Ravens also welcome more than 1,000 fans each day for practice. That’s a lot of foot traffic in and around campus.
The operations team gets the building ready for that influx of visitors – hanging signs, installing bleachers and simply making sure that the place looks good every single morning.
Working on the operations staff means embracing “other duties as assigned!”
In addition to keeping the building running smoothly and planning cross-country road trips, the operations staff also handles the music during practice. McLean’s business card should also read, “Official Ravens D.J.”
He sits in his mobile D.J. booth at the end of the field, and the intensity always seems to escalate whenever he cranks up the volume during a grueling training camp practice. Controlling the music is no small task for a team filled with big personalities. McLean uses a playlist approved by Head Coach John Harbaugh, but that doesn’t keep players from putting in their requests. They’ll routinely stop him in the cafeteria, the hallway or the locker room to suggest new tunes. Terrell Suggs is the most frequent offender.
Moving an entire football team is a major endeavor, and that part of the job only continues to grow.
Eller, who has been with the team since its inception, remembers the early days of travel where the team would take about 100 people on a road trip. Last year, the Ravens traveled more than 200 on some trips and had seven buses waiting for them when they landed in a new city. The operations team books the buses, coordinates with local police departments to arrange escorts and makes sure every player is on the plane when it takes off.
When the team arrives at a hotel, everything is already in place. A member of the operations team, typically Ghostlaw, travels commercially ahead of the team to ensure the hotel is ready. That means working with the hotel staff to set up the meal room, team meeting rooms, position group rooms and space for chapel and Mass. They pack an envelope for every person of the traveling party, which includes room keys, an itinerary and local restaurant suggestions.
Everything is done to ease the transition of going on the road.
Feeding a football team isn’t easy.
Feeding a full 90-man roster, plus an entire coaching staff, trainers, doctors, equipment managers, and front-office personnel on the road is a major endeavor. It’s like catering for a wedding every single weekend.
Food is served at every stop along the way during road trips, and the operations staff coordinates with the hotels and airlines to make sure the players get their fill. Eller and his team pick the menu for the flight, which includes an appetizer, main course and (healthy) dessert. They design the menus for every meal at the hotel, which then gets approved by the team nutritionist. And just like everything they do, the details matter.
“I’ll check to see if it’s rigatoni or penne pasta,” Ghostlaw said. “I’ll check to see if they have all five salad dressings that we requested. I double check all the labels to make sure that if something is low fat, the label says it’s low fat.”
When gameday arrives, most of the heavy lifting is done. The operations team has everything in place, and their role is then to move a massive group of people from place to place. Everything operates on a strict schedule and the day is planned down to the minute.
Pre-game meal at 7:45.
Chapel and Mass at 8:15.
Early buses leave for stadium at 9:15.
Late buses leave for stadium at 10:15.
Kickoff at 1:02.
During the game, the operations doesn’t get to just sit back and relax.
Ghostlaw spends the game on the sidelines making photo print-outs of plays and formations for the coaching staff. The NFL has introduced tablets on the sidelines for this purpose as well, but that technology can be finicky, so the old fashioned print-out approach is a good failsafe.
Eller and Fennekohl are in the press box most of the game, but have to make sure the buses and plane are ready to go soon after that final whistle. The Ravens always travel back to Baltimore immediately after a game, even if it’s a night game across the country. The team has arrived back home while the sun is coming up plenty of times over the years.
But time is precious in the NFL, and everyone needs to get back to work. Coaches need to start game-planning for the next week. Players need to get in the film room. And the operations teams needs to get back in the office to start planning the next trip.