NEW ORLEANS — Eric DeCosta could have his own NFL kingdom by now. Any one of them. His choice.
Going on three offseasons now, NFL owners have requested permission to interview the Ravens’ assistant general manager to run the football side of their franchises.
Each time he has said no. DeCosta, 41, is content to be general-manager-in-waiting of the Ravens behind Ozzie Newsome, who, at 56, said he has no plans to retire.
“It would probably benefit [DeCosta] to be here and be a part of a Super Bowl than to be out there struggling with some 3-13 team, you know?” Newsome said. “You don’t keep jobs very long. At some point I am going to walk away and he’ll have this and everything will already be in place for him. That transition is going to be seamless, but it will be good for him.”
Many in DeCosta’s position would not make the same choice with millions being thrown at him. But those that know DeCosta best back home in the blue-collar down of Taunton aren’t surprised.
“There’s two things you need to know about Eric DeCosta,” said John Monteiro of Dighton, who met DeCosta in middle school. “He’s extremely hard working and he’s extremely loyal.
“At my job, a lot of people follow him and they ask me all the time, ‘Is he going to leave?’ No way. He’ll never leave. He’s not going anywhere. He’s loyal to that team, they gave him his first big shot. I know how he is.”
Hard working and loyal. Sounds a lot like Taunton, known as the Silver City for the many silversmiths it used to boast south of Boston.
“People had to work hard to build a life for themselves,” said DeCosta as he sat in the Ravens’ team hotel. “I think I learned a work ethic from just growing up there, seeing people work.”
DeCosta’s grandfather worked long hours in the silver industry. Both his parents worked full-time jobs. His father, Joe, worked in the fastener industry in Providence and Fall River, while his mother, Donna, was a bank teller.
DeCosta spent his free time playing every single sport with the neighborhood boys just down the street from Taunton High School. He could hear the football public address announcer through the trees on Friday nights and dreamed of being an NFL player. They don’t grow many slow NFL players at 5 feet 9 inches, but DeCosta was good enough to be an all-conference end and fullback at Taunton, and captain at Colby College as a linebacker.
What would DeCosta, the personnel executive, say about DeCosta, the football prospect?
“He’d probably say he was an instinctive player, but he was a reject physically,” DeCosta said. “I was an overachieving, try-hard guy who made a lot of plays. I couldn’t run and I wasn’t big. That’s not a good combination for a linebacker.”
But DeCosta still wanted to be in the game. So that meant while many of his college classmates graduated and took jobs on Wall Street or went to medical school, DeCosta became a graduate assistant at Trinity College. That put him onto the radar of a young Redskins scout named Scott Cohen, who is now the Jets’ assistant general manager. Cohen hired DeCosta as a Redskins intern, and then recommended him to Scott Pioli, who was in the Browns/Ravens pro personnel department before landing with the Jets and then Patriots.
“He was a natural guy to recommend,” Cohen said of DeCosta. “His passion for the game and attention to detail are really high. Those are things that lend to success in this business.”
DeCosta might not even be in the business if it wasn’t for Cohen, who earned his masters at UMass.
“I’ve always admired Scott and owe a lot to him,” DeCosta said. “You’ll never hear anyone ever say a bad word about Scott.”
Before DeCosta left to work for the Ravens, he had a message for his buddies in Taunton.
“We all asked him what his ultimate goal was,” Monteiro said. “He said, ‘I want to be a GM. I want to run the show one day.’ I said, ‘If I know you, someday you will be there.’
“He works 20 hours a day and doesn’t even care. I stayed at his place, I walk in the house and there are videotapes everywhere, cords running around from all the VCRs. . . . He said it right from the start. Sure enough, the way he is with his work ethic, I knew he’d be there.”
Given a chance by the Ravens, DeCosta’s talents took over.
“He was the first guy that we hired as a scouting intern when we came to Baltimore,” Newsome said. “He’s learned how to do everything from the bottom up. He can process information very quickly. He will always give you his valued opinion. He’s a true team player.”
DeCosta is obsessively organized. You can even see that in the way he dresses. Everything is perfect. Nothing out of place. Just like his backyard in Taunton.
“He hasn’t changed one bit from the time that we were young kids until right now,” Monteiro said. “He knew where everything was. We worked together in a summer program. We’d sneak out and play some Wiffle ball games in his backyard. He made sure before we left that yard, everybody put the bat and the ball right back where it belonged, and the next day we got there it was in the same spot.”
And 17 years later, DeCosta is in the same spot. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
His wife, Lacie, is from Baltimore and her built-in support system helps manage their three children — Jane, 9; Michael, 5; and Jack, 2 — while DeCosta works his long hours.
And then there are the “brothers” DeCosta works alongside — Pat Moriarty (vice president of football administration), George Kokinis (senior personnel assistant), Newsome, and owner Steve Bisciotti.
“We’re a lot a like in a lot of ways and he’s given me a lot of responsibility, and I plan on him giving him back as much as I can,” DeCosta said of Bisciotti, who has made it financially possible for DeCosta to stay. “I think Baltimore is a special place in a lot of different ways. And I’m comfortable there.
“I’ve seen enough people go other places and not have good situations. I’m cautious. If I could spend the rest of my time working in Baltimore, it would be fantastic. Quite honestly, the truth of the matter is, if I have to spend the rest of my time in Baltimore working with Ozzie Newsome, if he stays to be GM the next 20 years, I’m blessed.
“We speak the same language. We see things the same a lot of times. We may express it a little differently, but a lot of times he’ll look at me and I’ll look at him and we don’t have to say anything and you kind of know what each other is thinking. Ozzie’s my friend, we spend a lot of time together. I can honestly say that some of my very, very best memories in the NFL are always with Ozzie. I could tell you 50 stories and they almost all involved Ozzie at some point.”
DeCosta and Newsome will have another one on Sunday with Super Bowl XLVII, and Taunton watching.
“It’s unbelievable,” Monteiro said. “Words can’t put into perspective how proud we are of him. I saw him on TV once up in the booth and all I could do was sit there and laugh. Everybody wanted to know what was wrong with me. That’s the same kid I was sitting down with at the lunch table 20 years [ago] in high school and look at him now.”