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OWINGS MILLS — Seated in the lobby of the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ training complex with a large painting of former majority owner Art Modell above him, new coach John Harbaugh rarely stopped smiling Tuesday night.
Hours after completing his coaching staff with five more assistants hired for a total of 19, including six holdovers that worked for former coach Brian Billick, Harbaugh held a wide-ranging interview with The Carroll County Times and The Baltimore Sun.
No, he didnâ€™t declare a starting quarterback between four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Steve McNair, whoâ€™s recovering from surgery to his non-throwing shoulder, backup Kyle Boller or former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith.
Here are some excerpts from Harbaugh’s most extensive talk with reporters since being announced Jan. 19 as Billick’s replacement:
Have you decided on a quarterback?
Harbaugh: â€œHow can you? Weâ€™re not there yet. To me, personnel situations are like playing a round of golf. You have to play the shots that are presented to you. Sometimes you got a 60-foot putt and sometimes you got a tap-in. That position right now is probably not a tap-in.
â€œWe’ve got to figure that one out. Itâ€™s going to be competitive, and itâ€™s going to determine whichever guy gives us the best chance to play. Maybe itâ€™s someone in the draft or someone on another team. That has yet to be determined. All three of those guys will tell you the same thing. Thatâ€™s the way they expect it to be. Thatâ€™s the way they want it to be. And I think all three of those guys want to compete for that job.â€
How is Steve McNairâ€™s health?
Harbaugh: â€œI think heâ€™s going to be healthy, thereâ€™s no question. Heâ€™s well on his way to being right. Heâ€™s already been in here for two straight weeks doing rehab and training. He might be in the best shape heâ€™s ever been in at this stage of an offseason. Heâ€™s committed to the offseason program. Heâ€™s already committed to being here for all of the offseason football schools. Heâ€™s motivated.â€
Whatâ€™s your reaction to the rumors surrounding the Ravens and Donovan McNabb?
Harbaugh: â€œObviously, thereâ€™s no contact with Donovan. I have tremendous respect for Donovan McNabb. Thereâ€™s no question in my mind that Donovan McNabb has plenty of good years left in the NFL. I think next year he will be better than he was last year because heâ€™s two years away from that ACL. I think any team would love to have Donovan as their quarterback. Donovan quarterbacks the Philadelphia Eagles, and thatâ€™s where it stands.â€
Whatâ€™s your take on whether offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden will retire?
Harbaugh: "I think he’s right on the fence. The times we’ve talked, he’s torn. He’s just trying to figure out what he’s going to do and I think he’s just going to take his time and approach it in a very methodical way and do what’s best for him in his life."
Whatâ€™s your initial impression of the team?
Harbaugh: The thing thatâ€™s been striking is the players have been coming in, and weâ€™ve had anywhere between half-hour and two-hour interviews with different players. We probably have about 60 percent of the team talked to right now. Cam Cameron and I were laughing about this that itâ€™s almost like these guys have a script. We were joking about who has been telling these guys what to say because all the things they have been saying are all the things we want to hear.
â€œTheyâ€™re talking about practicing hard and guys caring about one another and paying attention to detail. Itâ€™s like these guys already have that foundation. Ozzie Newsome has done an unbelievable job of bringing in guys that fit that Raven model. To me, thatâ€™s why it has a chance to be a good football team.â€
What personal imprints have you made on the locker room and weight room?
Harbaugh: â€œWe fixed the locker room. Most NFL locker rooms are organized by position. What we did was we basically rolled the dice and just kind of shook everybody up in a bottle and threw it out there. We mixed all the lockers around. We just figured we wanted to have a tangible expression going forward of the picture of our football team. So, Kelly Gregg, I think, is next to Ed Reed.
â€œOffensive linemen are like a herd. They go everywhere together. They don’t need to be next to each other in the locker room, too. So, we even got the defensive backs with the offensive linemen and the linebackers and quarterbacks mixed around. Let’s get to know some other guys. Let’s find about each other. Let’s get to know each other so we can say, â€˜I know this guy. This guy is my brother. I care about this guy. I got this guy’s back. I’m going to take care of this guy.â€™â€
"I think we’re going to run a college strength and conditioning program with an NFL cutting edge science. The weight room is going to be high energy. It’s going to be power. Chalk is going to be flying. Weights are going to be clanging. Guys are going to be working.â€
Whatâ€™s your personal approach to practice?
Harbaugh: â€œI’ll be in every drill. I’ll be walking around. I’m going to probably be chasing offensive linemen down the field and kickoff teams and defensive backs. As a head coach, my personality is probably going to be coaching everybody on the style we want to have. Which is fun. If you can do that as a coach, that’s like the ultimate fun. I’m going to have fun out there. That’s a rule. You don’t get this opportunity and not have fun, right?"
Will the players enjoy it?
Harbaugh: â€œYeah, sure. So long as I don’t trip anybody up out there."
How does your philosophy mesh with what Steve Bisciotti wants?
â€œSteve had a meeting with our coaches last night for at least two hours. It was unbelievable. It was dynamite. Our guys were walking around that room saying â€˜Wow.â€™ He laid a whole foundation for our program, how he sees his management style and how he sees the organization operating. Basically, I think thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m getting this opportunity. The things I was already talking about are the things that he happened to believe in and our philosophies meshed. He should have been a ball coach.
â€œThe basis is relational motivation, taking care of one another, having each othersâ€™ back. That basic team concept is what heâ€™s talking. Itâ€™s not really a hierarchy so much as guys pushing each other and raising each other up. The old saying is rising tide raises all ships. To me, thatâ€™s the way it should be done. And when you have permission from the organization to do it that way, you have a chance to be successful.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.