It must have been shocking (or alternately, annoying) for loyal Ravens fans to turn on morning sports talk radio recently and hear some listeners, self-proclaimed fans, calling for the head of the head coach after a couple losses despite the fact that said coach took the Ravens to five consecutive playoff appearances with a sixth hanging in the balance.
Of course all that happened before the Ravens won two in a row at home with a third (likely) win on the way, and now sit tenuously in control of their own playoff destiny despite a very rough start in which they looked anything but a playoff contender.
Yet this doesn’t appease some folks who stand ready to jump ship on the coach the moment the seas get a little rough. Suddenly the past doesn’t matter much. Suddenly the curse of ‘what have you done for me lately’ permeates the room (and airwaves) rather than common sense.
It is okay to criticize the coach – after all he’s made some truly bush-league, bone-headed mistakes this year at times – but to call for his ouster? Fortunately, Steve Bisciotti (an admitted talk radio listener, though not always sports) isn’t paying the know-it-alls any mind.
By strongly standing by John Harbaugh, even through last season’s difficult losing streak, puts the team in the same company as some of the recent winningest franchises in the NFL, all of which hold multiple Super Bowl titles to their names. Additionally, all of those teams share another commonality: they’ve continued winning while standing by their coach, almost to a fault even through questionable seasons.
THE NEW YORK GIANTS (2 Super Bowl wins, 2 appearances since 2000)
The Giants have won two Super Bowls since Tom Coughlin was hired, both over the New England Patriots, and in Super Bowl XLII, beating a Pats team that had not lost a game all season.
The Giants have won with Eli Manning at quarterback, who has been suspect at times, brilliant at other times but altogether quite enigmatic. But Coughlin has stayed solidly behind him even when Manning has not played well.
In 2011 owner John Mara refused to fire his coach when the team was mightily struggling and looking like it would miss the playoffs a third straight year, despite the insistence of many experts around him saying it was time to do so. Mara shot that down, saying that like his father Wellington Mara used to say, a few disappointments “doesn’t mean you blow the whole thing up,” as ESPN’s Ian O’Connor noted in a column on the owner.
Mara, according to O’Connor, surveyed the locker room and could tell the players “wanted him back.” As it turns out, Mara would be rewarded when Coughlin then led the Giants past Dallas in a do-or-die game, got into the playoffs (barely) and then won Super Bowl XLVI.
Mara could see that his coach hadn’t lost the locker room and that as long as his players wanted to play for him, Coughlin was worth keeping. That long-term investment strategy has paid dividends for the Giants and set them apart.
THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS (2 Super Bowl wins, 3 appearances since 2000)
The Steelers are perhaps the (other) longtime classiest organization in the NFL when it comes to ownership and loyalty to its coaches. The Steelers, since 1969, have had just three head coaches in Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin.
Noll retired after coaching from 1969 to 1991 and Cowher retired in 2006 after coaching since 1992. Tomlin continues to coach the team at present.
Under Noll the Steelers reached and won four Super Bowls, while under Cowher the team went 1-1 and 1-1 as well under Tomlin in Super Bowls.
From 1998 – 2000, the Steelers had three consecutive years without even a playoff appearance. But the Rooney family wouldn’t even contemplate letting go of Cowher, and he then took them to an AFC Championship game appearance the next year and the Super Bowl XL title in 2005.
The Steelers are going through somewhat of a rough patch under Tomlin for the first time, the last two years, but you can bet the Rooney family won’t be pushing the panic button anytime soon.
The Washington Redskins won three Super Bowls under Joe Gibbs from 1982-1993 and then went through a succession of mostly unsuccessful coaches after that from 1993-2004 when Joe Gibbs returned for a second stint as head coach when he took the team to the playoffs two years out of four.
Since Gibbs no coach has even gotten the Redskins to an NFC Championship game or a Super Bowl.
The Dallas Cowboys won three Super Bowls of their own with Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer between 1992 and 1995. Since then they have barely won anything in the playoffs but have been better known for blowing huge leads or close games at the last instant since Johnson and Switzer left. Johnson left after clashes with Jerry Jones, who is also the Cowboys general manager, and a fellow “football person” which can be a tough elixir against a strong personality like Johnson.
The Oakland/LA Raiders have shuffled in and out coaches like a deck of cards since Tom Flores finished 5-10 in 1987 and moved to the front office. Under Jon Gruden in the early 2000s the team showed life and promise and made the AFC Championship game in 2000, but then jettisoned their coach in a trade. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers promptly hired him and beat the Raiders (with Gruden’s players on both teams) in the Super Bowl. They have stunk since. The only coach since to get them to a non-losing record was Tom Cable- whom the Raiders promptly fired after that season.
So, Ravens fans can take comfort that they’ve got a coach for the long haul, especially when considering the alternatives.