The AFC North has been around since the NFL’s realignment in 2002.
Since then, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have had just two changes at head coach in an incredible statement of stability for the division.
The big debate among Ravens fans this week, despite there being one game left in a season that could have more wins than losses, is whether John Harbaugh deserves to return as head coach in 2017.
First, let’s get some perspective.
The Ravens have had just three head coaches in their 21 years — and that pales to the Steelers, who have had just three since 1969. Marvin Lewis, on the Cincinnati sidelines since 2003. Only the Patriots’ Bill Belichick has been a head coach longer among current ones.
Uh, the fourth team in the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns, have had eight different head coaches in those 15 seasons. Only Romeo Crennel (2005-08) has been around as long as four seasons.
Despite guiding the Bengals to seven playoff berths and four division championships, Lewis (117-103) is probably pricing moving vans with Cincinnati limping to this weekend’s season finale against the Ravens with a disappointing 5-9-1 record.
Harbaugh has been around longer than 26 current NFL coaches. Granted, three of them are interims finishing out the season in Jacksonville, Los Angeles and Buffalo.
Harbaugh has been an absolute success story. When he was hired to replace Brian Billick in 2008, all anyone really knew about him was that his brother played quarterback at Michigan and in the NFL, and he was a special teams coach for the Eagles.
Interestingly, the other nearby team made a similar coaching hire that offseason.
Remember back when Redskins’ and Ravens’ fans alike were wondering what their teams were thinking by hiring coaches who had never even been a coordinator, let alone a head coach, before? … Maybe the Redskins fans had valid concerns since Jim Zorn was booted in two years’ time.
Fans — and they still have a chip on their shoulders after going without an NFL team for 13 years after the Colts left (“Library THIS, Tagliabue”) — are getting impatient with Harbaugh. Should the Ravens beat the Bengals in the season finale, they will have just a .500 record since winning their second Super Bowl. (How’s this for heresy: The Colts have now been in Indianapolis two years longer than they were in Baltimore?)
Charges of suspect play calling this season (the fake field goal against the Redskins) and last-minute folds (Giants and Steelers, especially) come to mind, but the real smoking gun this season was the loss to Jets.
The Ravens have had five offensive coordinators since Harbaugh and Joe Flacco have joined the team, and such turnover really muddies the waters as far as a cohesive message or theme. The answer appeared to be Gary Kubiak, who really seemed to click with Flacco in 2014, but he left to be the head coach in Denver — probably the only place and job he would have been willing to leave Baltimore for.
There needs to be more stability on offense — and Lord knows, there really wasn’t any real change of theme when Marty Mornhinweg took over for Marc Trestman in mid-season this year.
I don’t blame Ozzie Newsome — the only general manager the Ravens have ever had — as much as his scouts for some curious drafts. However, the 2016 rookies did seem to make a valid contribution.
Like many, I believe Harbaugh is safe for now, but I’m sure his seat will feel warm next season.
We’ll see how warm it is when any new coordinators get hired in the offseason with head-coaching experience.
There is always a “Black Monday” of firings after the regular season ends.