Friday, January 18, 2008
Updated: January 19, 5:51 AM ET
Remodeling of Ravens kicks off with Harbaugh's hiring
By Len Pasquarelli
By nature, new experiences are supposed to be exhilarating, invigorating, provocative, exciting and, yeah, fresh.
In hiring a new head coach for the first time since becoming full owner of the Baltimore Ravens four years ago, Steve Bisciotti clearly was seeking to combine all of those elements when he selected Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach John Harbaugh as the successor to the deposed Brian Billick on Friday evening.
At first blush, he succeeded on all counts.
The new mantra of the NFL, at least during the current firing-and-hiring cycle seems to be fresher is better. And it is a philosophy that Bisciotti embraced in gambling that Harbaugh, who never rose to the level of coordinator during his 10 seasons with the Eagles, will represent a dramatic change in culture after nine years of Billick's pomposity and overbearing mien.
Coming off a disastrous 5-11 season, the Ravens are in dire need of an emotional makeover, and Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome feel strongly that Harbaugh is the man to provide it.
A football lifer, and the product of a family steeped in gridiron traditions -- his father, Jack, coached for 41 years at the Division I-AA level, and brother Jim is a former NFL quarterback and the current Stanford head coach -- Harbaugh nonetheless flew below the radar screen during much of his NFL tenure. In part, that's because he spent the first nine seasons of his career as a special teams coach, a position that rarely leads to head coach opportunities.
To coach special teams, a job that people in the league view as far more significant than do fans, you've got to share some of the attributes of the guys you're tutoring. It is, just like serving as the outside "gunner" on the punt coverage unit, a position created for grinders. You'd better have some want-to in your DNA, be a motivated and selfless overachiever, a person obsessed with the tiniest of details, and a man capable of subjugating personal aspirations.
Harbaugh succeeded on all those fronts, save one, because in recent seasons he publicly acknowledged that he harbored a burning desire to be more than a special teams coach. Eagles coach Andy Reid, who himself became a head coach after having never served as a coordinator, could relate to that, and in 2007 elevated Harbaugh to secondary coach. In so doing, he raised Harbaugh's profile, for sure. And when Harbaugh was presented the opportunity to interview for the Baltimore opening, he wowed his audience of interrogators.
His energy, suggested one Ravens official who was part of the interview process, was electric. And for Bisciotti, who inherited Billick from previous owner Art Modell, that was a key.
At age 47, Bisciotti, one of the NFL's least known and least public figures, is the second youngest owner in the league. In hiring Harbaugh as his head coach, a man two years his junior, he gets a contemporary to run his football team for him, a like-minded guy who figures to come in not necessarily attempting to reinvent the wheel, but with an outlook not dented by past failures.
It was clear the Ravens were seeking a younger approach. The average age of the six candidates interviewed for the vacancy created when Billick was jettisoned on Dec. 31 was just 43.8 years. Instead of pursuing veteran head coach Marty Schottenheimer, whose 205 victories are the sixth most in NFL history and who would have represented the safe choice, the Ravens chased his 34-year old son, New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Only one of the Baltimore candidates, Indianapolis assistant head coach Jim Caldwell, was a 50-something guy. None of the six had previous head coach experience in the league.
The model the Ravens wanted was someone with a clean slate, and that's what they got. It's the direction in which the league is undeniably skewing. Counting the hiring of Harbaugh, and that of Tony Sparano by the Miami Dolphins earlier this week, there have now been 22 head coach positions filled since 2005, and only five went to men with prior NFL head coach entries on their resumes.
Interviewed by UCLA officials last month for their opening, Harbaugh was disappointed at not landing a job that would have put him in the same conference as his more well-known brother, but told close friends on the Eagles' staff he knew his time was coming.
On Friday night it, indeed, arrived, when Bisciotti, ironically a Philadelphia native, decided that Harbaugh was the right man, the fresh man, that he wanted to lead his team.