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For Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti, It Comes Down To Trusting John Harbaugh

January 31, 2018
When Ravens head coach John Harbaugh announced that embattled offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would return next season, what the team really revealed was that it never had a decision to make in the first place.

In fact, Harbaugh never really indicated that there was one bit of evidence that Mornhinweg's status was even up for discussion, which only further angered an already disgruntled fan base.

When asked what he sees in Mornhinweg to make him feel the offense is getting better, Harbaugh said the team went through "tough situations on offense," including "going through a training camp without your quarterback and losing both guards." Harbaugh went on to say he felt the offense improved during the course of the season.

After a season in which the team dealt with the national anthem controversy, an unexplainable season-ending loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and a nightmare performance in London, it was certainly not the time for leadership to keep its head down and muddle through. 

After the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third straight year with a non-entertaining brand of football, fans want to hope that things will be better the next time around. With many of the same faces set to return -- from the front-office staff down to Harbaugh and his assistants -- fans have a less-than-optimistic view of the future.

In his first five years in the league, Harbaugh went 54-26 for a .675 winning percentage. In the five seasons since winning Super Bowl XLVII, Harbaugh has gone 40-40. That's enough of a downturn to put any coach on the hot seat. 

However, and this may ultimately be the brilliance of owner Steve Bisciotti at play, only time will tell Harbaugh's fate. Denying the calls for Harbaugh's dismissal is the far tougher thing to do and could ultimately prove to be the right move.  

Former Ravens owner, the late, great Art Modell had an excellent young head coach in Marty Schottenheimer, who took over for Sam Rutigliano in Cleveland midway through the 1984 season. Schottenheimer lasted four and a half seasons with the Browns and had a regular-season record of 44-27, a .620 winning percentage. After losing two brutal AFC Championship Games to John Elway and the Denver Broncos -- the first in January 1987 and then in January 1988 -- Schottenheimer was on thin ice.

After Schottenheimer lost again in the playoffs the following season, fans in Cleveland viewed him as the guy who choked in big games. Modell listened to the fans, fired Schottenheimer and brought in Bud Carson. Schottenheimer would go on to very successful regular-season stints with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers, which helped him finish an outstanding career with a 200-126-1 record for a. 613 winning percentage.

And how did listening to the wolves and dismissing a coach who had gone 44-27 work out for Cleveland? 

Carson lasted just 24 games and compiled an 11-13-1 record. Interim Jim Shofner went 1-6, and then a young Bill Belichick went 36-44 during the last five seasons of the Modell-owned Browns. 

We'll never know what would've happened in those last seven years Modell owned the Browns if he had stuck with a coach who would finish his career with a .613 winning pct.

Perhaps Cleveland's football history could have been written very differently if the owner had done the tougher thing and stuck with his coach, even during a frustrating time. Instead, the "new Browns" are 88-216 (.289) since coming into being in 1999.

Sometimes the adage of "be careful what you wish for" is true, especially in sports.

So, at the end of the day, the situation with the Ravens boils down to a trust factor between the owner and the coach. Chances are that trust factor still has the entire front office on solid ground.

The part of the equation that Bisciotti is failing to give much credence to is the overall boredom from his fan base. This year, the national anthem protests seemed to be the straw that broke the collective backs of Ravens fans and started the team down a path of no-shows.

However, from talks I've had with more than a couple key employees of the Ravens, the team sensed an approaching negativism within the fan base beginning as far back as 2015. 

It's easy to see how a fan could become bored while watching series after series end in 3-5-yard dump-offs from quarterback Joe Flacco when the down and distance markers are shouting third-and-long.

Ravens fans are not beyond feeling disrespected by a coach who won't make a change and can play the condescending card as well as anyone.

Bisciotti is all-in on the status quo and hasn't wanted to second-guess his head coach on his choice for offensive coordinator. So, fans figure to be stuck with a boring brand of offensive football. If the wins outweigh the boredom and Bisciotti is right, good for him. If he is wrong this time, Bisciotti will face the toughest test of his ownership tenure.

Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox

Issue 241: January / February 2018 

Originally published Jan. 19, 2018