navigation-background arrow-down-circle Reply Icon Show More Heart Delete Icon wiki-circle wiki-square wiki arrow-up-circle add-circle add-square add arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up calendar-circle chat-bubble-2 chat-bubble check-circle check close contact-us credit-card drag menu email embed facebook-circle facebook-square facebook faq-circle faq film gear google-circle google-square google history home instagram-circle instagram-square instagram linkedin-circle linkedin-square linkedin load monitor Video Player Play Icon person pinterest-circle pinterest-square pinterest play readlist remove-circle remove-square remove search share sign-out star trailer trash twitter-circle twitter-square twitter youtube-circle youtube-square youtube

You have to have a valid membership to attend this event

You have to have a valid membership to attend this event

Window Paints A Pretty Picture Of Ravens Coach John Harbaugh

February 17, 2014

When it comes to selling windows to Baltimoreans, the prominent faces are those of Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata and former Ravens offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden.

But perhaps Ravens head coach John Harbaugh should be the one extolling the virtues of solid barriers against nature's fickle fortunes.

Issue 194: Ravens 2013: John Harbaugh
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox

For all of Brian Billick's success at the Baltimore helm from 1999-2007 -- winning nearly 60 percent of his games, the team's first two AFC North titles and the first of the franchise's two Super Bowls -- perhaps his biggest failing was not being able to keep the team a consistent, elite playoff and Super Bowl contender. Partly because of Billick's long tenure, five of the nine seasons during which the Ravens have not advanced to the postseason (1999, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007) occurred on his watch. 

At a season-ending press conference several years ago, majority owner Steve Bisciotti made it clear that, despite the usual offseason attrition every NFL team incurs during the salary-cap/free-agent era, he didn't think there were competitive windows that opened and closed. 

Bisciotti, who has now completed a full decade as the singular presence at the top after four years as the club's minority owner, said he wanted the team to practice a more far-reaching, holistic approach, preparing for not only the season to come, but also for two and three years into the future, in order to achieve consistency and maintain it.

It takes many moving parts within any NFL organization to achieve that, but perhaps the Ravens' most important step in attaining that goal was hiring Harbaugh, a longtime special teams coach, who not only had no head-coaching experience, but had never been an offensive or defensive coordinator at any level of the game.

The 2013 season -- during which the inconsistent Ravens finished with an 8-8 record for the second time in franchise history (1999) -- left a bad taste in the mouths of the organization and its fans after a league-high five straight postseason appearances. 

But there can be little doubt that Harbaugh, despite not garnering a single vote for NFL Coach of the Year during any of his six years on the job, has helped the Ravens become one of the league's most solid, competitive franchises.

During his first six seasons -- a tenure that is already two-thirds of Billick's -- Harbaugh has not only never had a losing season, but has also had similar win percentages under varying scenarios.

• With a 71-38 record, Harbaugh's overall reading is .651, fourth best among active coaches. Among those who have coached at least 60 games, that number is second only to three-time Super Bowl winner and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (.657).

• Harbaugh has won an average of two of every three games (.667) against his three AFC North rivals (24-12), and managed a rare 6-0 intradivisional sweep in 2011.

• Taking only regular-season play into account, the 2013 break-even finish left Harbaugh with a .646 win rate after six years (62-34). 

• During postseason action, the four-game Super Bowl run in 2012, plus the team's ability to win at least one game during each of Harbaugh's previous  four playoff appearances, has resulted in a .692 mark, with wins during nine of 13 games.

• The consistency in those situations doesn't even cover how well the Ravens -- who struggled to win home games early in their history -- have performed at M&T Bank Stadium. Under Harbaugh, Baltimore has won at least six of its eight annual home dates each season, making for 39 total wins out of 48 regular-season Russell Street encounters, an .812 win rate, which is the league's second best only to the Patriots since 2008.

In the long view, the ability to keep open the competitive window of which Bisciotti spoke is perhaps the greatest achievement of Harbaugh's tenure, which was extended through 2016 with a contract extension he was granted in 2011. At that time, Bisciotti glibly said, "We're pretty happy with him." 

But, the Baltimore fan base -- and, to a certain extent, its media -- is as fickle as any around the league. The team's flatness and inconsistency in 2013 brought out vociferous critics, who took shots at Harbaugh's clock-management skills, his sideline arguments with some of the team's standout players, his unyielding loyalty to much-maligned assistant Juan Castillo and his relentlessly upbeat attitude -- saying "I believe we're going to catch fire" and "We have the men for the job" -- even when the season seemed lost.

But if anyone is going to view Harbaugh through that kind of narrow porthole instead of looking at his big-picture success through a bay window, perhaps it would be useful to list at least one noteworthy accomplishment from each of his six seasons.


Even early during his tenure, Harbaugh seemed to know that his players -- some of whom were chafing under his more disciplinarian-type ways -- would take their cue from what he did under adversity.

Hurricane Ike's devastating swath through the Gulf of Mexico had damaged Houston's Reliant Stadium to the point that no games could be played, which meant the Ravens' scheduled Week Two game there would have to be played Nov. 9, during Baltimore's scheduled bye week. 

As a result, the Ravens -- further hampered by the fact that they were working under a rookie head coach and first-year quarterback (Joe Flacco) -- had to not only take their bye during Week Two, but also then ended up playing on 18 straight weekends until falling to Pittsburgh during the AFC Championship Game.


One of Harbaugh's favorite fall-back bromides is that he wants a rough, tough, clean, physical football team.

That has resulted in a team that has committed 100 or more penalties during four of his six seasons on the job. That was true in 2009, a 115-penalty season, which also featured a Harbaugh rarity -- a three-game losing streak, which dropped the team to 3-3. In retrospect, it was a campaign that was beginning to look a lot like what 2013 eventually became.

But when that season is examined more closely, the Ravens were plagued with game-turning bad-luck plays, such as wide receiver Mark Clayton's fourth-down drop in New England, kicker Steven Hauschka's missed chance at a game-winning field goal in Minnesota and Flacco's interception during a possible game-winning drive against Indianapolis.

But with Harbaugh still able at that point to run more physical, padded practices, the squad cranked out a top five running game, a top 10 scoring offense and its highest overall offensive ranking (13th) of the Harbaugh era.


Perhaps the biggest hurdle the Ravens had to overcome during Harbaugh's third season was placed in front of them before training camp even began.

Four days before the mandatory report date, 2010 first-round draft pick and collegiate pass-rush ace Sergio Kindle fell down a flight of stairs and suffered serious injuries, which prevented him from playing. Partially because of that incident, a team that had hoped to boost its 32-sack total from 2009 instead had a Harbaugh era-low 27 sacks in 2010. Not only that, the team's interception total declined for a third straight year, falling to 19. 

But the Ravens had two aces in the hole: Harbaugh and then-secondary coach Chuck Pagano. During his final season in Philadelphia, Harbaugh was the Eagles' secondary coach, and he and Pagano were among the main players in a drama that involved oft-injured safety Ed Reed serving six weeks on the Physically Unable To Perform list before becoming active.

Reed went on to pick off a league-high eight passes, as a defense that didn't seem as intimidating as other Ravens units of the past held five of its last seven regular-season opponents to fewer than 20 points during a 6-1 season-closing, playoff-clinching run.


It wasn't as if Harbaugh had to reemphasize the importance of playing at home, for that is something in which Baltimore-based teams have taken pride for decades on end.

But it was during this season that Harbaugh -- seemingly getting more comfortable with his regular media sessions and becoming more pointed in his messages to fans through the press -- started to use the phrase "purple wall of noise."

The fan base had become somewhat embittered with the previous season's playoff loss at Pittsburgh, so when a more fun type of game-day atmosphere started to take hold at M&T Bank Stadium -- complete with fake Fu Manchu mustaches and the adaptation of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" as the team's quasi-official fan chant -- the Ravens swept through their home schedule.

The year had begun with a four-month lockout and a looming home opener against the Steelers. But the Ravens, even with a truncated schedule for training camp, which was conducted at team headquarters instead of Westminster for the first time, forced seven takeaways and blew out Pittsburgh, 35-7, to send them on their eventual way to the AFC Championship Game.


Harbaugh seems to be a work-oriented coach and enjoy the process of building a team and putting it through all its necessary paces to become a hardened winner.

After the team's 2012 pre-bye blowout loss to Houston, Harbaugh suggested that the team practice in pads once it was ready to start preparations for the post-bye road game at Cleveland. 

The NFL's 2011 collective bargaining agreement had curtailed the number of padded practices a team could hold. Several veterans -- reportedly led by Reed, Ray Lewis and Bernard Pollard -- voiced dissenting opinions, basically stating that, because of the aging veterans the team had at key spots, they did not want their energy to be sapped for the stretch run.

That had been a problem early during the team's existence, when inaugural head coach Ted Marchibroda's brutal training camps and early-season practices seemed to take the steam out of the team by midseason. Harbaugh listened to what his players were saying, acceded to their demands and hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XLVII in February 2013.


Because the Ravens' season on the feild didn't have a lot to recommend it, it might be wise to take an off-the-field focus at this point.

In 2009, Harbaugh -- a political science major in college with an encyclopedic knowledge of American military history -- was part of the NFL's annual USO tour of the Middle East. He and other NFL coaches, such as Jeff Fisher and Tom Coughlin, toured American bases and met with troops. The trip was cut short when word reached the traveling party of the murder of ex-Ravens quarterback Steve McNair on the Fourth of July.

Harbaugh didn't serve in the military himself, but he seems to have a deep and unrelenting passion for the United States' uniformed personnel. Early during 2013 training camp, he canceled a practice and took his team to the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania to give the players a sense of what took place there during the Civil War.

The Ravens observe a Military Appreciation Day each season during training camp, and the organization is also a supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project. In 2013, Harbaugh was named as a finalist for the NFL's Salute to Service Award for the second time, and came away with the top honor after falling short in 2011.