And I was Q, or Pollard, when provoked…


(Second in a divergent series – click here for part one)

One of the major milestones in the Ravens’ Super Bowl season was the Back-From-Bye Week Mutiny: After a definitive thumping by the Texans in Houston Coach Harbaugh ordered up a team practice in full pads. The players responded with (metaphorical) torches & pitchforks, led by veterans like SS Bernard Pollard and WR Anquan Boldin who considered this an unnecessary additional humiliation.

Reportedly this confrontation led, not to (metaphorical) Cossacks firing into the crowd, but to a locker-room group-therapy session.

Reportedly, Harbaugh relented on the pads, listened respectfully as players laid grievances at his feet & responded thoughtfully. Reportedly, with the air cleared, Coach altered his approach to the team & both sides went forward with a new solidarity on the way to the Lombardi.

Many fans read the accounts & muttered, Horse hockey—a hard-arse like Harbaugh doesn’t change his style. Hell, he’s constitutionally incapable of it.

But I thought back thirty years to my days as a young & talented but, mmm, unconventional defense analyst back in the 1980s & just nodded my head.

Stranger things have happened—I’d seen them.

I started my DoD-funded career with a group of mostly young & single engineers in rented space a few hundred yards from the main corporate buildings. My first boss was a soft-spoken easygoing ex-Navy pilot. We didn’t much respect starting times or lunch hours & we goofed off from time to time, but so long as we got the work done & done well (working evening & weekends if necessary) all was well.

He was promoted. His replacement was fresh out of the service (COL, USA, RET), unfamiliar with the somewhat esoteric & unglamorous (but profitable!) work we did, & very much a “by-the-book” boss.

Almost immediately the new guy started committing us to projects & schedules that severely ramped up our workload. We gritted our teeth & put in more & longer nights in our customary free-spirited fashion—for which we were regularly castigated by Col. Hardarse.

Late one workday he called me into his office & ripped me for reading a newspaper while sitting at my desk (in an 8’x8’ cubicle I shared with 3 coworkers). Then he complained about how we were all just a bunch of goof-offs.

And (in a controlled way) I lost it:

If it’s so important to you that we show up & go to lunch & come back exactly on time, we can. But you’d better think about it first.

For every hour we show up late, night after night we work 3 or 4 hours later—to finish the work you commit us to because you don’t understand how hard it is or how long it takes.

You don’t see that when you go home at quitting time—but you’d better think about how all the work will get done if we’re walking out right behind you.*

Dismissed, I returned to my desk & pulled out my resume for revision. I wasn’t terribly worried—I had savings, no major debts, & at the time technical expertise was (like NFL-level football skills) in some demand—but I figured I wouldn’t last the week.

I was wrong.

He did think about it. (He probably asked around to verify the late nights, but still…)

And then the Colonel, accustomed over decades to having his orders obeyed without question, eased up on us. He pushed back on unreasonable taskings. And he stopped hassling us about how we approached our jobs.

(We even came to joke about it: In one meeting I was assigned a task by a project manager & asked for a due date. The Colonel broke in with a laugh: What do you care? You’re not going to start it until the afternoon it’s due. I replied, But I need to know which afternoon so I can put it on my schedule. And both of us roared while everyone else chuckled nervously.

(FTR it got done—on the afternoon it was due—& done well..)

Need I note that my memories of Colonel H. remind me a lot of Coach H. last season? Or explain why the narrative of how the Mutiny was handled sounds plausible to me?

I conjecture that the Coach, like the Colonel long before him, came to understand the fundamental symbiotic relationship between supervisor & supervised: Subordinates’ primary task is to make the boss look good. The supervisors’ primary task is to provide his staff with a work environment where they can make him look good.

For two men used to functioning in rigid, unquestioning hierarchies, it must have been hard to adjust. But they did. And their staff/roster responded.

And in the end, the job got done, and done well.

*The labor-relations-savvy will recognize this veiled threat as “working to rule.” Not something the non-unionized can often get away with these days—but it was a different world.

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About Joe Fanzone

Joe Fanzone
Joe Fanzone grew up in Dundalk back when it was a great place to grow up in. Too much the klutz to make it out of Little League, he redefined himself as an athletic supporter; too nearsighted to qualify for astronaut training, he collected degrees in physics & applied math...more

14 Raves on “And I was Q, or Pollard, when provoked…

  1. Voice of Reason on said:

    But the author of the article is still putting this in the perspective that Q and Pollard were employees who told their boss to F- off after they royally screwed up a few days before. While sometimes bosses need a good kick in the pants, and will take mercy on their employees, its usually not the kind of thing that’s good to try at home.

    Even Charlie Sheen was fired for doing the same thing.

    • Joe FanzoneJoe Fanzone on said:

      Unfortunately, for the second time in my first two blog entries, you seem to have completely misread or misunderstood what I wrote. Which deals entirely with what happened last season, & not at all with the cutting of players during the current off-season.

      I don’t think the players “told their boss to f*** off”. I believe they told Harbaugh that as professionals they already felt crappy enough about getting humiliated on the field–& didn’t need the added insult of a pads practice to force them to do what was required to right the ship. And that (like most skilled employees in any line of work) they saw a lot of things that could be done better by everyone, & (like most skilled employees who take pride in their product) they had some ideas how.

      A good, secure boss takes the complaints & suggestions of their skilled staff seriously because s/he trusts their competence & their desire to take pride in doing the job well. A poor, insecure boss punishes his subordinates for any screw-up or deviation from the behavioral norm, & stifles any initiative from the staff unless s/he can steal it & present it to upper management as her/his own. I’ve worked for both types. I like good bosses better.


      • Ravens One on said:

        Joe, this was very well done and a great lesson on work place decorum between bosses and workers. I enjoyed this more than anything written here in the last two months. I see John Harbaugh as a bad boss-type. One piece of evidence……Cam Cameron remaing OC for as long as he did. Cam Cameron was definitely a bad boss that suck all the oxygen out of a room. John Harbaugh- Cam Cameron equal birds of feather…………..

        • jim on said:

          you cant compair those 2 its just wrong and remember its not all harbs fault for keeping him around so long in the end its steve and ozzies decision to keep him around and ever think they didnt want the instability of changing 2 coordinators in 1 year but good cam forced their hand so they had to replace 2 in one year

        • Joe FanzoneJoe Fanzone on said:

          Undeserving such praise, R1, but I’ll put it on the resume anyway…;)

          I don’t think Harbaugh is a “bad boss”. I think he’ll listen to a player or coach & consider his point of view–behind closed doors.
          Being openly challenged is a no-no.

          I also think Harbaugh is just more comfortable operating in a mostly-rigid hierarchical structure where the lines of authority & responsibility are clearly drawn. I give him full credit for recognizing that (once the peasants were marching on the castle) pulling rank wasn’t going to go over well, & that he could ease off on the reins without losing his authority in the locker room–but I also recognize (as he did) that he didn’t have a lot of options for rescuing the season. He probably doesn’t want to operate like that again if he can avoid it.

      • jim on said:

        no you have it twisted they basically did tell harbs to f off they get paid millions of dollars to do what the coach tells them to do and to win well they played a piss poor game and there was nothing wrong with what harbs asked them to do it was just spoiled vets who have no clue whats its like to be on a winning team and whats expected from a winning team i mean look at it like this bolden is telling the ravens im not gonna take less money when it follows a year of him and other players basically saying no boss i dont care if we played poor last week and humiliated you last week so no we dont want to do what your telling us to do cause we dont want to think we are humiliating our selves cause we think we are too good to pratice in full pads when we mess up and play bad well check this out unlike my job and im sure un like your job they get paid millions of dollars to basically do 2 things go out and give it 110% every week and oh yeah listen to what your coach tells you to do

  2. True on said:

    I don’t think that’s the moment that sent Boldin, Reed, and Pollard packing. I think the fact that Joe Flacco had more game winning statistics then Boldin and was going to be paid less than Boldin and how we needed more money to build our team sent Boldin packing. I believe we would have signed Reed…but he’s kind of a jerk. He knows he has the skills and the presence so he deserves all this money regardless of him obviously declining. If Reed would have come back or not, I’m still going to root for him to get interceptions and have fun with his career. But I like the Baltimore Ravens more than I like Ed Reed. And Pollard was really a jerk. Every time someone messed up he was the first to yell at them and put them on the spot. But when he did something wrong, oh no. There was no mutiny to John Harbaugh, even if there was, who cares? He knows that with or without the mutiny that Pollard was going. Ozzie is the one who dealt Boldin and Reed with his price range stuff. We just need young talent to take over now. DJ Swearinger is going to be available to us. Da’Rick Rogers…I don’t know if he’s matured, Ozzie and Eric will know, but if he has, he’ll be available to us.

    • jim on said:

      no joe is getting paid more then boldin the difference is joe signed a very cap friendly deal thats not hurting us but the ones leaving didnt want to work out cap friendly deals

  3. GotRaven on said:

    Well written viewpoint, Joe. I agree in your comment above as well….I like good bosses better too. The trade of Q still stings!

    • Ravens One on said:

      Yeah, it stings the way Q was treated/traded. The Ravens didn’t want Q. Boldin’s now in a better place with a team that has a system (WCO) in place that suits his strengths. The team, locker room have a healthy respect for what he brings to the organization. The 49ers have an opportunity to be right back in the Super Bowl next year. Q loves his new situation. What’s not to like?

      • jim on said:

        not really q brought it on himself in a year when you are tight on cap space and you come out and say im a raven or im retireing and not expect the team to pull your cardand the ravens have a better cance to make it back to the super bowl next year then the 49ers colin is trash and will be nothing soon

      • Joe FanzoneJoe Fanzone on said:

        From what I understand the FO made no effort to work out a “cap-friendly deal” with Q, except to demand he take a $2M pay cut. NFL contracts are already a joke because only one side is bound by them (why else would we have to talk about “guaranteed money” vs what’s actually in the contract?) & yet it’s the player who always gets the blame for not kowtowing to the owner’s demands for give-backs. Go figure. We’ll see if this comes back to bite the Ravens in their purple&black butts…

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