The Story of John Harbaugh and Bryant McKinnie

Photo courtesy of Sabina Moran and Press Box

Bryant McKinnie promised to report to training camp in 2012 at the weight prescribed by the team.

He didn’t!

Instead he showed up late and out of shape.

The story goes that McKinnie had a bit of a mishap at his home in Miami, fell down a few stairs and injured his back. When word of the alleged mishap reached team headquarters in Owings Mills eyes rolled like slot machines in Vegas.

John Harbaugh had reached his breaking point with McKinnie. He had heard and seen enough and he was ready to completely part ways with the eccentric left tackle. But somewhere along the way cooler heads prevailed and the Ravens head coach gave McKinnie another chance, albeit a small one.

The mountainous offensive lineman was given four weeks to get his house in order, although he probably used a more descriptive word than “house”.

So let’s set the scene.

McKinnie is out of shape and reports late. He essentially stiffs the Ravens by failing to honor his commitment that he made at the end of the 2011 season to the team, the game and even himself – one that convinced the Ravens to give him a $500,000 roster bonus.

His love of the game is questioned. He soaks in the South Beach scene, aspires to be a music record producer and took out a bad loan a year earlier to help finance that ambition. The loan is eventually past due and the creditor has McKinnie’s wages garnished. The garnishment represents half of what McKinnie will earn during those 17 Fridays in season.

Adding insult to injury, McKinnie is ordered to the team’s answer to solitary confinement – the Harbaugh doghouse.

Here we have a man whose love for the game is in the balance; he’s playing in large part to pay back a loan; he’s out of shape and really just longs for the day that he can be the next Quincy Jones.

Those four weeks seemed destined to end in failure.

But thanks to a few who cared and inspired McKinnie, he gradually worked his way back guided by a newfound commitment. He made steady progress towards his goal of losing 26 pounds. His focus was clearer and his daily activities more purposeful.

With each small goal attained along the way, McKinnie, described by those who know him as a deep, complex and intelligent man, began to gain a sense of accomplishment. With each taste of attainment, he craved more.

It slowly began to change his life.

John Harbaugh took notice.

Although still in the doghouse, Harbaugh would stop McKinnie in the halls of team headquarters to compliment and encourage the gradually shrinking big man.

One source close to the situation described the developing relationship between the head coach and his player as one of “mutual respect.”

Harbaugh took an interest not just in the player but in the man as well. He wanted to bring out the best in McKinnie – to help him harvest his diverse talents all the while understanding that players are wired differently and each requires unique handling.

Once Harbaugh recognized the progress, he didn’t give up on McKinnie. Despite the chains that still bound McKinnie to the doghouse, the links were lengthening and the end of those dog days seemed possible.

Eventually that is exactly what happened and McKinnie was restored as the Ravens starting left tackle. He won’t make anyone forget Jonathan Ogden but it was rather obvious that three offensive line positions improved when McKinnie returned to the lineup during the Ravens Wild Card Playoff Game against the Colts.

The improved offensive line play continued right on through the playoffs.

By the end of the season, McKinnie wasn’t worried about the difference that he made in the Ravens’ offensive front. He was just happy that the team was winning.

And now he hopes to remain a member of the World Champion Baltimore Ravens.

This story is really about two men who despite their differences opened their minds, hearts and their lines of communication. When those things are in play, a lot of good can happen.

It’s also a story about the Harbaugh doghouse.  Clearly it exists but it isn’t the place where a hard-nosed coach sends his players to spite the team. Instead it is a purgatory of sorts where players and their head coach can knock heads and send the relationship into a permanent tailspin (see Chris McAlister) or where they can come together, get on the same page and take the relationship to unchartered heights.

At the end of the McKinnie saga, a player who now has an opportunity to extend a lucrative career and a coach with a developing sense of when to nurture and when to kick a player in the ass, both grew and matured independently AND together.

And we also learned who let the dogs out!

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About Tony Lombardi

Tony Lombardi
Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan. A diehard Fab Four fan, Tony is a frustrated musician who thinks beating on the steering wheel is akin...more

12 Raves on “The Story of John Harbaugh and Bryant McKinnie

  1. Joseph Borowy on said:

    Great article…I had sensed this going on but couldn’t put my finger on exactly what had happened. You could feel McKinnie’s commitment while watching him play in the playoffs. Clearly he had bought in. It’s good to see that John could have such an impact on a player regarded by many as thug-like. Another reason it feels great to have John Harbaugh as head coach.

    …though, I have to admit, in my recent South Beach trip (just a few weeks ago), I gave a second look to every tall, large black guy that walked by, wondering if it was him!

  2. Jerry B on said:

    Good piece, Tony! I’m not a fan of Harbaugh’s proverbial and infamous, “doghouse”, but this appears to be an instance in which it’s purpose was achieved. In fact, in a radio interview with McKinnie conducted immediately following his re-instatement at LT, he praised “coach” (didn’t name him) for “keeping his promise” that he would regain his starting position if and when he “shaped up”! That says alot about the character of both men…….

  3. Steve on said:

    This article is a testament to Harbaugh’s coaching ability as a leader of men not and X and Os guy. I was watching the Football Life on Kurt Warner last night and it was interesting to hear Mike Martz admit that he pushed Kurt Warner too far and Martz believes that is why Warner had a rough final season in St. Louis. Goes to show you that understand what you can do with your players and how far you can push them is just as if not more important then anything else.

  4. larry on said:

    I don’t buy it , A fat out of shape McKinnie was still better than Harewood or Reid , Harbaugh should play the best players wheter he like them or not

  5. Shas on said:

    Nice piece Tony.
    I have never liked the term “doghouse” (much like the nonsensical term “number-one receiver,” but that’s another story). Use of the term doghouse implies that some players are sent to the bench because they aren’t performing as well as the guy in front of him, while other guys are sent to the “doghouse” because the coach is such an egomaniac and he would rather make a statement than win games.

    No one is going to convince me that there weren’t performance reasons for benching McKinney. While his mess of a personal life might have been anathema to Harbaugh’s Team Boy Scout ethic, McKinnie’s personal issues also very much affected his ability to contribute I believe. Arriving at camp with a lame story and a bad back is evidence enough, much less the need to lose 25 lbs during the year. That should be enough to convince conspiracy theorist that there were valid reasons for what Harbs did.

    Besides, even if a 75% McKinnie was better at left tackle than a 100% Oher, a 75% McKinnie may not have been good enough to get Flacco through the playoffs. So sending McKinnie a message, that is to say sending him to the doghouse, made him a better person so he could put the work in to fully become the player they needed him to be.

    I equate it to what Mike Singletary as head coach of the Forty-Niners did for Vernon Davis when he sent him to the locker room. Even Davis now admits it made him who he is today. Even if it hurts the team in the short term, sometimes you need one step back to go two steps forward.

  6. Josh on said:

    I like my team having a coach demand the best out of his players. McKinnie displayed no commitment in the beginning of the season, and he was rightfully in Harbs’ doghouse. But Harbaugh has shown an ability to get the most out of his players (look at all of the UNDRAFTED guys we have contributing), and McKinnie earned his way back into the starting lineup. If there is a place for him here, great. I hope he is smart enough to realize that we can compete for years to come.

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