John Harbaugh, the 2019 NFL Coach of the Year, came in third place just behind Bill Belichick and Andry Reid.
Top 10 coaches in the NFL— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) June 29, 2020
(According to @seanjwagner)
1. Bill Belichick
2. Andy Reid
3. John Harbaugh
4. Sean Payton
5. Kyle Shanahan
6. Sean McVay
7. Mike Tomlin
8. Pete Carroll
9. Doug Pederson
10. Mike Zimmer pic.twitter.com/JVVuns5Oj8
First, let’s review John Harbaugh’s resume, because it deserves praise. In his 12 seasons as the coach of the Ravens, he’s averaging 9.8 wins per season, has made the playoffs eight times, has won a Super Bowl, and just seized his first Coach of the Year award. But what solidified Harbaugh’s status as a top-three coach is his work over the past two seasons, specifically with Lamar Jackson.
First, Harbaugh made the switch from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson midway through last season. Despite their drastic difference in playing styles, the Ravens went 6-1 with Jackson at quarterback. Last offseason, the Ravens proceeded to make changes to their offense to cater it toward Jackson’s strengths. That might seem like an obvious thing to do, but in the NFL, it doesn’t always happen. Coaches are sometimes resistant to change. They’d prefer for their players fit their system rather than the tailoring the system around their players. Harbaugh, along with the rest of his coaching staff, built the perfect offense for Jackson’s undeniable talent, and was rewarded with an awesome 14-2 season that ended too soon in the playoffs. But with Jackson installed as the team’s long-term starter, the Ravens are set to build off that season and eventually take it a step further.
Harbaugh has also demonstrated a willingness to use analytics to make better in-game decisions. While many coaches in the NFL are resistant to change, Harbaugh has embraced change. The Ravens converted an NFL-high 17 fourth downs at an NFL-high success rate of 70.8 percent.
It’s Harbaugh’s willingness to evolve that makes me feel confident his placement on this list will age well. Not to mention, he’s going to be paired with Jackson for the next decade. The pair has already won 19 of its 22 regular-season games together. All that’s missing is success in January.
Harbaugh rebounded from the hot seat just a few years ago to reclaim his place as one of the top head coaches in the game. After taking over for Brian Billick as the new head coach of the Ravens in 2008, Harbaugh led his team to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. This culminated in a Super Bowl victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
Harbaugh’s success took a hit following the Super Bowl, as he only made the playoffs once in the following five seasons. This led to rumors of owner Steve Bisciotti potentially firing him. Harbaugh’s fortune changed drastically when Baltimore drafted quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft to eventually replace the Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco.
Harbaugh and Flacco were linked together after both entering the organization in 2008, so moving on from Flacco was a major move by Harbaugh. Jackson took over in 2018 after Flacco suffered a hip injury against the Steelers, but Harbaugh stuck with the rookie even after Flacco returned from injury - a decision which resulted in making the playoffs as winners of the AFC North with a record of 10-6 after a 4-5 start.
One of the most important decisions of Harbaugh’s coaching career came against the Chargers in the 2018 Wild Card round. The Ravens entered halftime down 12-0 with their rookie QB struggling mightily in his first playoff game. With the crowd chanting for Flacco, it would have been easy for Harbaugh to bench the overwhelmed rookie in favor of the once Super Bowl MVP. Instead, Harbaugh stuck with Jackson, reinstating his confidence in the player that saved his team’s season and likely his job. Although Baltimore ultimately fell short to Los Angeles, Jackson’s second half was inspiring as he threw for two touchdowns and displayed the heart and maturity to keep his head up and continue to fight in the face of adversity.
The decision to stick by his new quarterback paid off in a big way for Harbaugh in 2019. Jackson took the NFL by storm in his second season, resulting in being named the second-ever unanimous MVP with his team finishing as the first seed in the AFC with a league-best record of 14-2. Unfortunately, the Ravens once again failed to win in the playoffs.
Despite the lack of postseason success with Jackson at the helm, the future is incredibly bright with this head coach and quarterback duo. In the process of saving his job, Harbaugh also cemented his place as one of the elite coaches the NFL has to offer.