Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Ranking Harbaugh in Baltimore NFL history
By Jamison Hensley
John Harbaugh had a statue erected at Miami of Ohio's "Cradle of Coaches" on Saturday, joining the coaching legends who played college football at the school.
Playing off that honor, let's take a look at where Harbaugh ranks in the "Cradle" of Baltimore's NFL head coaches. In six seasons, Harbaugh has made the case for being the best, which is a significant achievement considering two former Baltimore Colts head coaches (Weeb Ewbank and Don Shula) are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ewbank captured the most titles in the city's history, winning the NFL championship game in 1958 and 1959. Harbaugh, though, has a higher winning percentage (.651) than Ewbank (.539).
In the same respect, Shula has a better winning percentage (.737) than Harbaugh. But Harbaugh has more playoff seasons (five) than Shula (three) and accomplished something Shula never did with the Colts -- win a Super Bowl.
Brian Billick remains the winningest coach in Baltimore's NFL history with 85 victories, although he may not have this mark for long. Harbaugh is only 15 wins from surpassing Billick, and he's coached three fewer seasons.
All four coaches left lasting legacies in Baltimore. Ewbank and Billick turned fledgling teams into championship ones. Taking over the Colts in their second year of existence, Ewbank coached Johnny Unitas and the Colts to a 23-17 overtime win against the New York Giants for the 1958 NFL championship, which is often called "The Greatest Game Ever Played." Billick joined the Ravens in their fourth year of existence and quickly guided a franchise that had never had a winning season until the 2000 Super Bowl.
Shula and Harbaugh took what their predecessors did and ramped it up another level, elevating both franchises into perennial winners. Shula posted winning records in all seven seasons with the Colts (1963-69), and Harbaugh reached the playoffs in his first five seasons with the Ravens.
The detractors make similar points with Ewbank and Harbaugh. Ewbank's success often gets downgraded because he won with Unitas. Critics point out Harbaugh took the Ravens to the playoffs every year with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed but failed to do so in his first season without those longtime leaders.
Still, it's hard to argue with Harbaugh's results, especially when many raised an eyebrow after the Ravens hired an outside-the-box candidate. Since Harbaugh was hired in 2008, only the New England Patriots have won more games than the Ravens. Harbaugh is the only head coach in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons. His 71-38 career record ranks as the fourth-best among active coaches in terms of winning percentage, trailing Jim Harbaugh, Bill Belichick and Chuck Pagano.
But, when it comes to the history of Baltimore NFL coaches, it's difficult to put anyone above Harbaugh right now.