During his first five campaigns as an NFL head coach John Harbaugh built a pretty impressive resume. He is the only head coach to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons while guiding his team to the AFC Championship three times and of course winning Super Bowl XLVII.
You really can’t ask for much more than that!
Enter season number 6.
The face of the franchise and the NFL’s quintessential leader, Ray Lewis retires. Demonstrative players like Bernard Pollard and Anquan Boldin are set free. Enigmatic Ed Reed is not re-signed.
Suddenly the locker room is very different.
Suddenly the leadership has taken a hit.
Suddenly this is John Harbaugh’s team.
Enter good buddy Juan Castillo who had a train wreck of a season after being named Run Game Coordinator, which is apparently Latin for “Offensive Line Coach”.
Enter good buddy Steve Spagnuolo who carries the title, Senior Defensive Assistant, which is apparently Italian for “It Beats Unemployment.”
At one time it appeared that Spagnuolo would be given the old Mike Nolan treatment. You may recall that Brian Billick parked Nolan on his staff as a wide receivers coach back in 2001 following the Super Bowl XXXV title knowing that someone would eventually come along and pluck off then Defensive Coordinator Marvin Lewis.
Eventually that happened and Nolan took over as DC.
Spagnuolo seemed destined to be the heir apparent to Dean Pees who will be 65 when the 2014 season begins. But now, who knows? It isn’t clear why Spags is in the building.
Very little makes sense around Owings Mills these days.
Juan Castillo was the single biggest deterrent to success this season yet he’ll be back for another try. Word now is that John Harbaugh is looking to pair up his newly appointed offensive line coach with a coordinator whose philosophy will mesh nicely with Castillo’s.
That almost screams West Coast Offense (“WCO”).
Enter Joe Flacco.
Flacco is tough, gutty, unflappable and has a big arm that can potentially be one of the game’s best home run threats. But the WCO requires a quarterback to be quick with his feet, his reads and his release. It also demands accuracy from the quarterback position.
For all of the good things that Flacco is or can be, nothing about the WCO makes sense for Flacco.
What’s going on?
From the outside looking in, whether intentionally or not, Harbaugh is squashing locker room leaders. With his coaching staff he is apparently trying to get his players to adapt to a style that the coaches are comfortable with instead of a style that is best suited for the skill sets of his players.
That makes next to no sense!
Take a look at New England. Who among you thought that this would be a transition year for the Patriots? Yet here they are preparing for the AFC Conference Championship.
Because the coaching staff, which is essentially the same as the one from last season, has adapted to their changing personnel and focus upon placing their players in positions to succeed. If the players were square pegs, Belichick and Company develop square holes. If suddenly the players morph into round pegs, Coach Hoodie shapes the hole round.
Not in Baltimore!
As the search for the Ravens next Offensive Coordinator unfolds, with each passing day that goes by without a new hire, the likelihood of promoting from within grows.
If and when the 2014 season falls on its face, we’ll remember these unforgettable words from Steve Bisciotti first shared by The Sun’s Mike Preston.
“I have to be patient to let people fail, but I don’t have to be patient enough to let people repeat failure. I’ll be more apt to get my way next year if their solutions don’t change the problems. That’s fair, that’s where I am as owner.”
“My way” suggests that Harbaugh is getting his way – for now.
“Their solutions” suggests that the road map to recovery is on Harbaugh’s GPS.
And from this chair trusting that GPS could leave us fans SOL.