Even though everyone in the organization knows this is -- and has been -- Harbaugh's team, this new deal confirms that the Ravens have their leader in place for the foreseeable future. Yes, the Ravens lost two faces of their franchise in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. But Harbaugh has been the one who has steered this team through challenge after challenge.
His teams have always survived serious injuries to star players (such as Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb last season), unpopular divorces with fan favorites, offensive inconsistency and a near annual turnover at defensive coordinator (four in five seasons). His attention to detail was key in turning the Ravens from underachievers to a perennial playoff team. His commitment to discipline and the mantra of "team, team, team" changed the bad-boy culture in Baltimore.
There has been a perception that Harbaugh has been a good coach with great players. That just overlooks how much command he has over the team. His zero-tolerance policy on mistakes and sluggishness in practice doesn't allow players to let down. If you're not putting out the effort, you're not going to play, and it doesn't matter who you are. Harbaugh benched cornerback Chris McAlister and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie during his five seasons with the Ravens.
It goes beyond players when making tough decisions. The unprecedented firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in the final month of the regular season was one of the key moments of last season's Super Bowl campaign. Many of the players talked about how that move by Harbaugh put the accountability on Joe Flacco and the rest of the offense.
But his greatest accomplishment was how he picked up a team that lost the AFC Championship Game in heartbreaking fashion in the 2011 season and led the Ravens to the franchise's second Super Bowl title the next season. The signs he posted throughout the Ravens' facility -- W.I.N. (What's Important Now) -- stress professionalism and focus on the task at hand. It's not about living in the past.
Harbaugh's latest challenge is guiding a team that is fielding nine new starters from the one that hoisted the Lombardi trophy seven months ago. This extension, which adds more years to the one set to expire after the 2014 season, is just another vote of confidence. And why shouldn't the Ravens be confident?
Harbaugh, 50, has won more games (including playoffs) than any other coach since he took over the Ravens in 2008. He's won more playoff games in his first five seasons than any other coach in NFL history. He's the only coach to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons, and he's the only coach to advance to three conference title games in his first five years.
This latest extension -- his second since being hired in 2008 -- continues to serve as vindication for Harbaugh. It was only six years ago when Harbaugh, an accomplished special-teams coach in the NFL, couldn't get an interview for the head-coaching job at Boston College. In fact, after Baltimore fired Brian Billick in January 2008, the Ravens had started negotiations with Jason Garrett to be their head coach before the Cowboys' offensive coordinator decided to stay in Dallas.
The Ravens then turned to Harbaugh, and the rest is championship history.
"For me, there was no question in my mind that I could do it or would do it," Harbaugh once said of becoming a head coach. "There wasn't any doubt personally about that. It was just a matter of where is it going to happen."