As this series winds to an end, and all of the players have been recognized, it's now time to recognize some of the special coaches that have graced Baltimore over the years.
As yesterday's story by our own Matthew Stevens said, the Ravens are known for producing many great coaches. Jack Del Rio, Marvin Lewis, Hue Jackson, and Greg Roman all went through Baltimore at one point or another in their career. The Ravens have also been very lucky to have head coaches with such great longevity, as they have only employed three in their twenty season existence, Ted Marchibroda, Brian Billick, and John Harbaugh. While two of those guys are Super Bowl winning coaches, one's accomplishments really stand out, and will forever leave his mark on Ravens football.
John Harbaugh had an unusual path to becoming a NFL head coach. An assistant at some small colleges for 13 years, he finally broke out onto the NFL stage in 1998, when Eagles Head Coach Ray Rhodes hired him on as the special teams coordinator. Harbaugh would go on to serve as the team's special teams guy for nine seasons, before being promoted to defensive-backs coach in 2007 by Andy Reid.
Then there was a vacancy in Baltimore, as Super Bowl-winning coach Brian Billick had been let go by owner Steve Bisciotti after a disappointing 5-11 season. Harbaugh definitely wasn't the Ravens first choice, as it's very rare for coaches to make the unusual leap from NFL position coach to head coach without previously serving as an offensive or defensive coordinator. Cowboys OC Jason Garrett was the team's first choice, but after turning down the offer, the Ravens looked to Harbaugh, who had impressed in interviews, and even received a recommendation from Bill Belichick. The great interview left an impression, and Bisciotti made the decision to bring Harbaugh aboard.
There was no 'awkward transition' in Harbaugh's rookie year, as he and rookie QB Joe Flacco surprised many and led the 11-5 team to the AFC Championship, before losing the the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers. The next three seasons would be very similar, with regular season success, but fell short in the playoffs. The team would go 33-15 during that time span, with two losses in the Divisional Round, and that painful loss to the Patriots in the 2011 Conference Title Game.
Harbaugh's hard work paid off in the 2012 season. When the Ravens had that magical playoff run, and hoisted the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in team history. Harbaugh didn't let the contribution of his assistant coaches go unnoticed either, probably because he was in their shoes for so long, and purchased each of them a replica Lombardi Trophy, estimated at $10,000 - $20,000 each.
In his first seven seasons, Harbaugh has led the Ravens to six playoff berths, and is the only head coach in NFL history to win at least one playoff game in six of the first seven seasons of a coaching career. You can see countless other statistics and achievements of Harbaugh here, but the point is, he's a winner.
Harbaugh's ability to lead his team to win likely comes from his passion of the game, when John was younger, he was a graduate assistant to his dad, Jack Harbaugh, who was coach at Western Michigan. Jack and his assistants recall John spending hours there every day, and trying to learn the ins and outs of the game. WMU Offensive Coordinator Steve Szabo said this about the young Harbaugh:
Harbaugh also pushes his players, and expects competitiveness and for them to give it their all.
"I think you can have a great relationship and you can inspire somebody to be the best at what they do,'' Harbaugh said. "If you're not willing to push people to achieve the most they can achieve, you don't deserve to call yourself a coach. I think if you watch me, I believe in relating to people and correcting problems. That's also [Steve Bisciotti's] way, and I think it's the right way."
- John Harbaugh
Harbaugh also commonly coins mottos and slogans for the team to live by and use as motivation. Featured ones have been: "Relentless," "Play Like A Raven," "W.I.N (what’s important now) and "What’s Our Name?" Mantras like these have helped instill a winning attitude amongst the team.
When the unheralded Harbaugh came to Baltimore in 2008, I imagine not many expected him to succeed like he did. Could the Ravens have the next 'coaching dynasty' with Harbaugh leading the team? There sure seems to be no end in sight, as Harbaugh is only 52 years old, and is under contract through the 2017 season. Owner Steve Bisciotti hinted at Harbaugh staying much longer with the Ravens, saying "I anticipate he’ll be here longer than 10 years." It's completely possible Harbaugh could join names like Jimmy Johnson, Chuck Noll, and Tom Landry, who were some of the best to ever coach. We certainly are thrilled to have 'Harbs' aboard, and hope he can stay for years to come.