Good and Flawed Arguments for Harbaugh’s Future
Ravens Head Coach, John Harbaugh, has been a topic of scrutiny lately for a number of reasons. The Ravens are under performing having now missed the playoffs in three out of four seasons since winning a Super Bowl. The luster eventually wore off from the trophy Brian Billick won in Baltimore. How much luster does Harbaugh have left? There are rational reasons for Harbaugh to continue on as the leader of the Baltimore Ravens and rational reasons for the team to move on. But many of the reasons I’m seeing out there that John Harbaugh should be retained seem very flawed.
I will also point out the good arguments so this doesn’t look like some kind of smear campaign. After all, Harbaugh has had a great run here overall, will likely go into in the Ring of Honor one day. I would wish him the best in his next step, whatever it maybe, as long as it isn’t in the AFC North. Word is that at some point Harbaugh’s contract was secretly extended beyond 2017, terms unknown. So it’s not likely that the head coach will be replaced. But the most popular reasons for keeping him are very flawed reasons.
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Flawed argument 1: If you fire John Harbaugh, who do you replace him with that makes the Ravens better?
This is a huge gripe of mine on topics like this. It’s lazy. The decision of what makes the Ravens better is up to one person. The one signing the checks and that’s why they conduct interviews with candidates for a job. I’m positive that during the 2007 season when some fans wanted Brian Billick to see the door, no one suggested that they go out and bring in the Philadelphia Eagles Special Teams Coach whose brother is more established in NFL circles than he is.
Jason Garrett, who the Dallas Cowboys promoted in house from coordinator to Cowboys Head Coach in mid-2010, was the name Ravens fans tossed around. Because it’s easy to just pick out the coordinator of the most potent offense or most dominant defense. So when people ask “who would make the Ravens better?”, throw out any random name, because you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong until you are proven wrong by what matters most. Did they win enough? Ultimately it wasn’t Garrett. It was that Special Teams Coach named John Harbaugh and it worked out well though recent years have been tough to swallow.
Flawed 2: Harbaugh’s resume is so good that if you fire him, teams will be lining up to sign him.
So what? What other teams do is their business and if you wait to fire a guy until he gets to a point that no one wants to hire them, the team must be in some serious turmoil. That’s bad business and depending on the variables, not respectful to the coach who needs to then seek other employment and doesn’t want to do so with a tarnished resume.
Harbaugh would definitely be attractive to a team like the Jaguars or the Rams. Teams with young players who need a coach with a solid history of coaching up young players. Teams whose bar is to just to play a meaningful game after Thanksgiving for once. But in the Ravens case, the bar is much higher. You have franchise players. Ring of Honor players. Just had a real nice 2016 draft class. Not making the playoffs doesn’t sit well with Baltimore fans.
Flawed 3: Harbaugh ranks fourth in wins since 2008. You wouldn’t fire Bill Belichick, or Mike McCarthy, or Mike Tomlin, would you?
Yes. If we are cherry picking stats, Harbaugh is fourth behind those three men in wins since 2008. You know who is fifth behind Harbaugh, with just three less wins since 2008? The Denver Broncos made up of five different coaches. So you can have stable front man, or a ton of turnover, it really doesn’t seem to matter if you have the personnel and make good coaching hires.
John Fox. One year removed from a Super Bowl appearance. Fired after the 2014 season. Jim Harbaugh. One year removed from a third straight NFC title game and two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. Strong armed into a mutual separation, so, fired after the 2015 season. Tom Coughlin. Two Super Bowl rings in nine years. One however sandwiched in between six seasons of not making the playoffs at all. Strong armed into resigning, so, fired after the 2015 season. We know the cliché. What have you done for me lately? The scope of that apparently varies. For the 49ers brass it was one bad year and a bad relationship. For the Broncos it was all or nothing one year after a Super Bowl loss. For the Giants the leash was about as long as what John Harbaugh has just been given.
Flawed 4: Often injured players leading to struggles can’t be pinned on Harbaugh.
Guys get hurt. Such is football. The New England Patriots went 3-1 to start this season without Tom Brady while he served suspension. They also went 11-5 in the season that he tore his ACL in week 1. If the Ravens Ronnie Stanley gets hurt it’s like the offense can run, pass, or score. You have to be able to adapt and overcome. I’d hate to see what the offense looked like if Marshal Yanda wasn’t so versatile. You are only as good as the 53rd man, and for some reason it continues to be James Hurst. Or countless corners who can’t cover a baby with a blanket. I could give a pass if it was Flacco missing for a season. But even before Flacco went down with season ending injury in 2015, the Ravens were just 3-7 at that point. 11-14 in his last two years now. Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell miss games all the time and the Steelers seem to pick up the slack in other places to make up the difference. The Ravens can’t have one O-lineman go down and have the offense go completely inept. Or one corner go out of a game then the opposing quarterback and receivers have career days.
Here are what I would call the reasons you should want to keep John Harbaugh around.
Good argument 1: Master motivator of young talent.
This is where being a former special teams coach pays off. As a ST coach in his Philly days, the units he had commanded are full of guys on the bubble of being on the active roster every Sunday. It’s expendable guys who need to do the little things right in order to be the 53rd man instead of the 54th. Or to dress, the 46th man and not the 47th. The 2016 season will be known for a few things, but one of the positives will be the young talent that helped this team become a contender. Rookie Ronnie Stanley solidified himself as a starter from game one. Rookie Tavon Young went from special teams to bona fide starting cornerback in a handful of games. Rookie Alex Lewis is another lineman who started out of the gate and held his own before getting hurt. Rookie Kenneth Dixon was starting to get more and more touches and looks like a threat to be real difference maker in the coming seasons. Not to mention undrafted nose tackle Michael Pierce who played well enough to make us think twice about the large price tag for keeping Brandon Williams, versus maybe similar production for a lot cheaper, allowing you to invest in other needs.
Young, Lewis, Dixon, are all fourth round picks. Not guys that you expect to step right in year one. Finding talent in the draft is only half the battle. Harbaugh and the other coaches need to get the most out of them when they hit the field and they did that in 2016. If you cherry pick draft picks you can say they haven’t been good at doing that. But if you look at the big picture, they are doing just fine in this regard compared to other teams. When you don’t make big splashes in free agency like the Ravens typically avoid doing, you need to hit big on your draft picks and get the most value out of the younger guys taking up less cap space.
Good 2: Harbaugh just needs good coordinators and they are easier to replace.
This might be the downfall of Harbaugh having been just a special teams coach for so long. He’s not a former quarterback like his brother Jim. You won’t see him over there giving a fiery pep talk to Joe Flacco, or slinging the ball around in warmups. Xs and Os probably aren’t his thing. He trusts his coordinators to make the right choices, and seemingly steps in on play calling only when it’s too late. Like after the game is over. Sure part of that is on Harbaugh, but most of that is on the coordinators themselves for making bad decisions. Theres probably a professional courtesy among the veteran coaches Harbaugh surrounds himself with to not step on their toes in game.
Harbaugh never once had to come out in press conferences and say he wishes he would have vetoed a play call, or wished they would have ran the ball more, less, operated faster when time was factor when Gary Kubiak was calling the plays. He never needed to address the need for aggressive defense when Rex Ryan or Chuck Pagano was calling the shots. After each week but one, the 38-6 Dolphin blowout, there have been criticisms about what they wished they would have done instead.
Say what you want about the numbers that say the Ravens defense is tops in the league. Top defenses don’t have consistent late game meltdowns like they had recently. Meltdowns that have been a Dean Pees staple for years dating back to his Patriots days where even Bill Belichick couldn’t sprinkle his magic dust on him and they ended up firing him. Mornhinwegs decision to throw a pass that led to a pick in the Eagles game was downright fireable. About as bad a choosing to kickoff rather than receive under the old overtime rules. Oh wait…you mean this wasn’t even the biggest coaching mistake Mornhinweg has ever made? Harbaugh’s record with high caliber coordinators is much better than it is without them. Marty Mornhinweg and Dean Pees are not high caliber.
Good 3: His downfalls are mistakes you can learn from. People can change.
There was once a time where the wildcat offense was unstoppable. When the run and shoot offense was a thing. When tight ends were glorified blockers. Point is, the game is always changing. Always evolving. People change. My own biggest gripe with Harbaugh is in game management. Burning a timeout like you don’t really need them later. Calling trick plays when not necessary. Overly aggressive on short yardage and goal line situations. These things can be easily changed and this could go hand in hand with good coordinators. On 4th and 1 and the head coach wants to be aggressive, you want a coordinator who will go to that sure thing in his playbook. Not what we have seen Marc Trestman and Marty Morhinweg pull out in these situations. Game management is far down the list of priorities when you do everything else right. When other things are going right, the games will manage themselves. The pressure shifts to the opposition to make the right choices.
Good 4: Playmakers make the difference.
Julio Jones and Adrian Peterson types don’t grow on trees. You have to get very lucky (Antonio Brown, Tom Brady) or be a really bad team (Cam Newton, Von Miller, A.J. Green, Andrew Luck, Khaliil Mack, Ezekiel Ellliott…) to land playmakers in the draft. Heck, in baseball, 21 other teams and 24 picks happened without Mike Trout being taken when they could have. Scouts don’t have a crystal ball. If the Patriots knew what Tom Brady could be, would they have let let him fall as far as he did in the draft? Or would Sam Bowie have been drafted before Michael Jordan, or 24 other guys before Mike Trout? You just don’t know about guys. No one knows. You just make educated guesses and hope for the best.
The Ravens haven’t benefitted from striking gold in drafts. More like a lot of silver of late. But Breshad Perriman has shown flashes. Kenneth Dixon as well. All it takes is one guy to elevate their play and put the offense over the top. Ray Rice was a 2000-yard player in his prime and key reason why the Ravens won so much when Flacco was putting up middle of the road numbers. He was their strength, and they fed him the ball often. What was Bill Belichick before Tom Brady? A good defensive coordinator but a failing head coach. What was Pete Carroll before Russ Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and a historically good playmaking defense? A failed NFL head coach that went back to the college ranks. What’s John Harbaugh been without Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Ray Rice, Haloti Ngata, aging Terrell Suggs? Apparently a coach that needs a playmaker like other great ones have the benefits of having.
All it takes is a young guy or two to develop into a superstar. A few guys with potential are already on this team. A few more will be there for the taking in the 2017 draft. Just have to get lucky that you land one and John Harbaugh could look like a great coach again.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]