Harbaugh Takes the Reins in Baltimore

by Francis Duffy and Nicholas Minnix on January 23, 2008 @ 00:28:20 PDT


Perhaps no team in the NFL was more disappointing than the Baltimore Ravens (5-11) in 2007. A year removed from a 13-3 campaign and an NFC North crown, injuries and inconsistency toppled last year's Baltimore squad, sending them to the division cellar. The debacle resulted in what owner Steve Bisciotti referred to as "a gut feeling," when he fired head coach Brian Billick. A few weeks later, Bisciotti hired Philadelphia Eagles defensive backs coach John Harbaugh, making him the third head coach in the franchise's history.


Many people have questioned the hiring of Harbaugh due to his lack of "real" experience. While he comes from a football family (his brother, Jim, is a former NFL quarterback and the head coach at Stanford University), the 45-year old Harbaugh has never been an offensive or defensive coordinator, coaching mostly special teams throughout his career. He got into coaching by serving as a graduate assistant at Western Michigan under his father, Jack. Harbaugh then coached at several colleges including Morehead State, Cincinnati and Indiana, instructing running backs, defensive backs and tight ends before getting his shot in the pro game.

Former Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes decided to hire Harbaugh to coach special teams back in 1998 and was retained when current head coach Andy Reid took over the following season. Harbaugh held that position for nine seasons, giving the Eagles one of the better units in the NFL over that period. Last season, he accepted an opening to coach defensive backs for the Eagles, and Rory Segrest took his spot as special teams coordinator.

In-house Impact

What the Ravens are getting with Harbaugh is a competitor. He is a fiery, young coach who has worked hard to get where he is. He's worked with some great coaches throughout his career, and he has learned from a fantastic one in Reid for the past nine years. He's determined and a hard worker, but he is also a family guy who is known to be very personable and easy to get along with. Though he may be more used to coaching younger players on special teams, he is inheriting a veteran Baltimore squad that is actually one of the older teams in the NFL.

Before worrying about personnel, however, Harbaugh has to assemble his staff. It looked as if he was going to try to bring Eagles quarterback coach Pat Shurmur to the Ravens as his offensive coordinator. However, former Miami Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron, whom Harbaugh coached with at Indiana, is expected to be hired either in that capacity or as an assistant head coach. On defense, many in Baltimore are hoping the team brings back defensive coordinator Rex Ryan (who coached with Harbaugh at Cincinnati) to run that unit again, but that is uncertain after they turned him down as head coach. One name to keep an eye on however is current San Diego Chargers linebacker coach Ron Rivera. Rivera was the linebackers coach in Philadelphia for a number of years and served as the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears during their Super Bowl run. If Ryan remains, which seems more likely because he's still under contract and has not been offered another job, expect little on this defense to change.

Cameron showed little ability as a head coach in Miami, so there is little reason to believe that he would bring much overall leadership. Before serving the Dolphins, he was the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers from 2002-06 and the quarterbacks coach for the Washington Redskins from 1994-96. As the director of the Chargers offense, he oversaw a unit that, in scoring offense, was 20th in 2002 and 16th in '03 before landing in the top in the next three seasons. Cameron molded the offense installed by the team's 2001 offensive coordinator, current Chargers head coach Norv Turner, into one that helped San Diego become one of the league's top units. It's based on a power running game and vertical passing attack; it also requires heady play, precision and leadership from the quarterback position.

Fantasy Impact

With Harbaugh never being a coordinator on either side of the ball, it's tough to project what his style will be. Will his offense be conservative or wide open? Does he want to run a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense? These questions will be answered after a staff is assembled and the team looks to move forward with free agency and the draft. One thing to definitely keep in mind, however, is that a new young coach will likely want to have his own players. With a largely veteran team, it's possible that over the next year or two there will be a youth movement in Baltimore and big changes personnel-wise. While that remains to be seen, it is definitely something to keep an eye on.

With Cameron at the helm, running back Willis McGahee is likely to become the focus of the offense. McGahee lacks the pure ability that Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson has, but he proved that he could fill a similar role in his first season in Baltimore. LT has amassed at least 1,236 yards rushing and 51 receptions in each of his seasons in this style of offense. In 2007, McGahee rushed for 1,207 yards and seven touchdowns on 294 attempts; he averaged a career-high 4.1 yards per carry. He also caught 43 passes for 231 yards (both career highs) and a score. He should be prepped for what Cameron plans.

Cameron seemed to be getting the most from Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown (knee) before the third-year back tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Brown averaged 86.0 rushing yards and 55.6 receiving yards in seven games in 2007. He also caught 39 passes, a career high, despite playing roughly half of the number games he had played in his first two seasons. If Cameron can carry over his success at quickly tutoring running backs, McGahee could continue to trend upward. The rest of the offense is aging, though, so how much support McGahee may get remains to be seen.

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About Francis Duffy

"Fran Duffy has been involved in sports since he was a child. A Philadelphia native, Fran is obviously a die-hard fan of the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers. Fran is desperately waiting to see his first major championship from one of his hometown teams. He is a Broadcasting major at Temple University and has experience on the radio as well as in television production. Fran also currently works with Temple football's video-operation's team and is an avid fantasy sports player. Looking for more experience in writing, Fran joined KFFL in the spring of 2005."

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