FOOTBALLSTORIES – BALTIMORE, JOHN HARBAUGH NOW AMONG ELITE COACHES
By Brian Baldinger
September 17, 2015
Please do not be fooled by the boyish handsome looks, nor the easy going smile, or the swashbuckling charisma that oozes naturally from the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh.
This issue is FOOTBALLSTORIES the Magazine’s maiden voyage in to the Charmed City of Baltimore. As the founder of this magazine, 10 years ago, in Philadelphia I thought Coach Harbaugh should be the focus of this inaugural issue. I have had plenty of opportunities to be around John, both as an assistant coach in Philadelphia, and as the head coach in Baltimore. I would like to share a few of those experiences with you that may allow you to see beneath the aforementioned veneer that only some see.
As a contributor to Sporting News Magazine, I was asked prior to the 2008 NFL Playoff season to rank the 12 coaches in the post season. It was an unenviable task since someone would be ranked last. I wrestled with the assignment. I begged to get out of the assignment. who would I shortchange?
The usual suspects in 2008 had Belichick and Reid amongst the top tier coaches. AS I began to whittle my way through the coaches, only 1 that year had never coached a playoff game. Of course that coach would be first year head coach of the Ravens, John Harbaugh. I didn’t want to put him 12th, but he had no experience and that was my lame excuse why I had him last.
Naturally less than a week later I was on assignment for FOX Sports that had me covering the Ravens first playoff game against the Dolphins in South Florida. I had arrived at the stadium early and had ridden the elevator to the press elevator with Phil Simms who was calling the game for CBS. Players and coaches were mingling and warming up 3 hours before kickoff so I wandered down to the field to catch up with many of the participants. As I entered the field through the tunnel I hadn’t touched the end zone yet when I heard a bombastic voice directed right at me saying “you have got to be kidding me.” John Harbaugh somehow had seen the article listing him as the 12th best post season coach of the 12 teams last season. He immediately confronted me. Caught off guard all I could do was stammer that the last thing you need to do is take the rankings personal.That was the nerve.
Everything is personal with John and can be used as motivation. Its not a bad thing or a flaw. Its a necessary evil to be successful in the football arena. And I don’t think he has ever forgotten or forgiven me for that article.
Prior to that I had fairly routine conversations with John while he was the Special Teams coach with the Eagles. I was around the team quite a bit at that time both living in the area, working with the Eagles and announcing NFL games for Fox. After the 2007 season the head football job opened up at my alma mater, Duke University. Harbaugh approached me to see if I could help him get an interview for the position. Naturally I said I would love to help. He handed me a football binder on how to build a successful program. I went home and paged through it and I had never seen anything so thorough in my life. Hundreds of pages thick, organized to a tee, and catered to the specific Duke program I was blown away. Immediately I knew that he was far more than a special teams coach. He was professional head coaching fiber.
While he was not afforded an interview with Duke and unsuccessful in other attempts, he did convince Andy Reid to let him coach the defensive backs that season of 2007. There within the confines of the Eagles Novacare Center he would spend hours and evenings being tutored by Eagles legendary defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. To this day, Harbaugh will tell anyone who listens that he learned more football from Jim Johnson than anyone else.
Perhaps from his father, or perhaps from a man his father coached with — Bo Schembechler — there is a fierce loyalty to the men that John has hired. His first offensive coordinator was Cam Cameron who John was hired by at Indiana. His first defensive coordinator was Greg Mattison who coached with John’s dad at Western Michigan. He has hired Steve Spagnuolo when he was released by the Saints and looking for work. He worked with Steve with the Eagles. Other Eagle ties have seen John hire Juan Castillo as his Offesnive Line coach and together were on Ray Rhodes’ staff in Philly. This year he brought in Marty Mornhinweg who coached with John in Philly. Remember, Coach Harbaugh never forgets.
But coaching is the life blood of all Harbaughs. And in an era where so many forces have made teams cut back on practice time, and contact, and time on the field, John Harbaugh refuses to buy in. No coach in today’s NFL runs a tighter ship and a harder practice regimen that the Ravens. I have been at too many practices where Hall of Fame players like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis begged the coach to back off. I have seen Haloti Ngata’s tongue dragging on the ground after a grueling 3 hour session in extreme heat. He builds toughness, character, and toughness that is matched by only a few clubs in the NFL.
In the Ravens 31-28 divisional playoff loss to the Patriots that ended the Ravens 2014 season I thought the Ravens were the better team. In fact I thought they were the best team in the AFC by far. Sometimes the best team doesn’t win. I do know this, the Ravens will be back in the playoff in 2015 for the 7th time in the 8 year tenure of John Harbaugh’s career He has 10 playoff wins in his 7 years thus far, more than any other head coach in the NFL.
So the next time you watch the Raven’s head coach smile his way through an interview or an appearance do not be fooled by the charm of the all american good looks. Beneath the facade is an intense, loyal, and fiery competitive SOB that competes like no one else in his business. Raven fans are in good hands with Harbaugh as the COACH.