- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008


John Harbaugh has heard the critics. He knows the knocks against his resume. But he doesn’t have a problem with any of it. He’s aware that his path to head coach of the Baltimore Ravens is unconventional but simply shrugs it off almost as if to say conventionalism is overrated.

After all, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti basically did the same thing last January when he ended his club’s coaching search with the hiring of Harbaugh, who had no previous experience as a head coach or even offensive or defensive coordinator.

The Ravens had just come off of a 5-11 season, which followed a 13-3 campaign and a loss in the playoff opener. Canned was Brian Billick, who had guided the Ravens to their first and only title in 2000. And on was the search for a replacement.

Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and their staff narrowed their list down to six candidates before first offering the job to Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. But Garrett turned down the offer in favor of a raise and promotion to assistant head coach from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

So the Ravens turned their attention to Harbaugh, who despite his lack of head coaching experience and his relatively young age was far from green.

The 45-year-old Harbaugh’s genetic makeup is laced with football, and he had 25 years of coaching experience. He’s the son of 41-year coaching veteran Jack Harbaugh - former head coach at both Western Michigan and Western Kentucky - and brother to 13-year NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, now the head football coach at Stanford.

“I just think the thing is it makes it really natural what I want to see,” Harbaugh said after a walk-through last week. “I’ve been around it my whole life. My dad had a great perception of what the best way to do things are, so to speak. And plus I have people that I can go to like my dad, or Andy Reid or my brother, or Tom Crean at Indiana and say, ‘Hey what about this? What do you think?’ That’s a big plus.”

And after concluding his college career at Miami (Ohio), where he played defensive back, John Harbaugh began the journey that ultimately would lead him to Baltimore. The path began with an assistant’s position at Western Michigan from 1984 to 1986, progressed to Pittsburgh (1987), Morehead State (1988), the University of Cincinnati (1989-96) and Indiana (1997).

In 1998 Harbaugh landed his first NFL gig, serving under Ray Rhodes as special teams coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. One of only four assistants retained from Rhodes’ tenure when Andy Reid was hired in Philadelphia the following season, Harbaugh continued to improve the Eagles’ special teams units until 2006. In 2001, Harbaugh was voted NFL Special Teams Coach of the Year by his peers.

But following the 2006 season, Reid - aware of Harbaugh’s head coaching aspirations - reassigned him to defensive backs coach to help line him up for a future defensive coordinator position.

But the Ravens didn’t wait for Harbaugh to land that coordinator position first and came calling the following season.

“John was somebody that several people that I admire and I respect in the business said, ‘He’s someone that you should interview,’” Newsome said soon after Harbaugh was hired. “And then when you start to talk to Andy Reid, Brad Childress, Ray Rhodes, and even a Brian Dawkins that I talked to …, when they start to paint a picture that says that yeah, this guy is a legitimate candidate, and then you bring him in and you put him through the process …”

Harbaugh interviewed twice with the Ravens, first in a five-hour session, then a session that lasted 7 1/2 hours. He felt no need to defend his lack of head coaching experience, and he didn’t try to convince team brass that he was the man for the job.

“I didn’t try to get across ‘I’m the guy for this job’ because I didn’t know this job,” Harbaugh recalled. “I wanted to make sure they knew who I was, and I tried to communicate that the best I could because if I wasn’t the right fit or the right guy for the job then I wouldn’t have wanted the job.”

Harbaugh was confident in his abilities as a head coach because he said the differences between overseeing a position or unit don’t differ greatly from that of an entire team.

And once he landed the job, Harbaugh wasted no time outlining his mission and goals for his first training camp as head coach.

“We’re going to run an intelligent camp,” he said in July. “I think guys are going to work hard. They’re going to get tired. Their legs are going to get weary because that’s how you get good. But the goal is to become a good football team.”

He added last week: “Transition is changing people’s life and lifestyle - what they do from day to day - and that’s hard. But within reason with the things that apply to football, we have to do that because we have a vision for exactly what we want things to look like and we have to do that. That’s what being a team is all about.”

As the Ravens approach the start of the regular season, the veterans say Harbaugh already is making his presence felt.

“You can really tell the effort and the passion that he’s putting behind everything he’s doing, and you want to approach this game the same way he’s approaching it,” tight end Daniel Wilcox said. “With that fire and that love for the game. I think you’ll see a different Baltimore Ravens team out there this year.”

Said linebacker Ray Lewis, the spiritual leader of the team: “Coach is handling everything how he’s supposed to be handling it. He’s a man of integrity, a man of character and as troops we’re just following him and everything’s going to take care of itself. … He’s a standup guy, and he runs a very tight ship. You respect his business, and he respects you.”

And so Harbaugh approaches the season with confidence - not worried about whether a man with a more extensive resume should have gotten his job. And to the notion that the Ravens took a gamble on him, he tends to agree, while remaining undaunted.

“Obviously it was a gamble. And really any hire is a gamble,” Harbaugh said. “What owners are doing now, what Steve is kind of leading the way on - and Jeffery Lurie kind of did the same thing with Andy Reid - they’re looking at their organization and trying to find the best fit. And I’m confident Steve did that, and I just want to prove him right.”

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