Dear John, about as real as four leaf clovers…
Tony Lombardi: Coach recently you discussed your frustrations over letting two games against the Steelers slip away. The general consensus of the fans given the timing of those comments, it is March after all, is very direct – “Get over it!” Can you?
John Harbaugh: Well the fans are right to a degree because you do need to dust off and move on. After all the character of a man isn’t really defined by his success but rather the way in which he handles adversity. But what the fans and to a certain degree people like you don’t get is that like that copier dude, we live and breathe this stuff.
When I wake up every morning, it’s to the smell of grass and sweat and those rubbed down leather footballs. It’s what I do and then when I shake off those morning cobwebs and get my bearings straight, reality sets in. The season is over and the next is uncertain and the emptiness is overwhelming. So until you or the fans walk in these shoes, don’t you dare tell me to “Get over it!”
TL: Your players might not feel much differently than the fans though coach. From what I can tell they get over it even faster than the fans do. Is that an accurate read?
JH: The players have no choice but to get over it. The game is too fast and they need to be focused on the next task at hand which is winning the next football game. Otherwise, that too will be taken from you. It’s like that in football and in life. That’s part of life.
But these players, c’mon… We know they’ve been coddled from the womb. They’ve been given things throughout their lives because they’re tremendous athletes. It’s easy to get over it for them because someone is always there to give them something else to ease their pain. It’s when the coddling is over and the hand outs are gone that they realize that getting over it is difficult.
You see they only learn when they start losing stuff and you find out that life is just a game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small.
I mean one half-step too late or too early, you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They are in ever break of the game every minute, every second.
On this team, we fight for that inch! On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for that inch. We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch. Cause we know when we add up all those inches that’s going to make the friggin’ difference between WINNING and LOSING – between LIVING and DYING.
TL: Go to the movies much coach?
JH: Hey sometimes I have to in order to help me get over it.
TL: Back to the players for a moment. Many believe that if they don’t say “CLAW with their finger nails for that inch” that you are too quick to put them in your now infamous doghouse. We’ve seen it with Chris McAlister, Willis McGahee, Todd Heap to a certain extent and then there’s Jared Gaither and Dannell Ellerbe.
JH: So what’s your point Tony?
TL: Is there a doghouse and if so, why?
JH: Chris McAlister was a supreme athlete who took his talents for granted. I’ll take a roster of 53 guys who are overachievers willing to fight for those inches over guys like McAlister any day of the week and twice on Sundays. McAlister needed to be taught a lesson and he wasn’t willing to learn it so he’s no longer here and the last time I checked, outside of a cup of coffee in New Orleans no one else wanted him either.
Willis, I love Willis McGahee because he learned a lesson. He’s a different player and a different man so the doghouse was good to him. The same with Todd. He needed to toughen up a bit and the DH (doghouse) did him well too. We’ll see if Ellerbe comes around and I’m sure you and the fans will say “Get Over It” to this as well but the way he showboated on his touchdown during the preseason last year, that still doesn’t sit too comfortably with me.
TL: Last year Terrell Suggs sported a tee shirt that wasn’t exactly flattering towards the Steelers. If a less accomplished player had worn that shirt, might he have been given some DH time?
JH: Are you suggesting that we play favorites?
TL: It seems that way to me.
JH: You know you media guys are too much – always looking to fan the flames of controversy, especially Coleman and that guy Drew. I think for our first presser this year I’ll get one of those shirts from Suggs and doctor it up and replace “Pittsburgh” with “Media.”
TL: Can’t wait!
TL: Cam Cameron was often a topic of controversy with the team last season for obvious reasons. Organizationally you guys invested heavily to beef up the offense only to see it fall well short of expectations. Why should we think that 2011 will be any different?
JH: There is so much more to success and failure on offense than play calling. It’s about execution. It’s about staying true to your assignments. It’s about cadence and pre-snap reads. It’s about players being on the same page and recognizing and reading keys in a matter of seconds. It’s about the offensive line making pre-snap adjustments and not leaving players un-blocked.
Was it Cam’s fault that Flacco didn’t check out of that play when Polamalu’s sack and forced fumble changed the game? Was it Cam’s fault that Ray Rice fumbled in the Divisional Playoff? Was it Cam’s fault that Anquan dropped a touchdown pass?
TL: Coach you mentioned audibles. Cam is on record saying that audibles are overrated. Maybe Flacco didn’t have a check down there. Don’t you think taking audibles away from him handcuffs the offense, particularly when facing defenses like the Steelers that are very familiar with you? Don’t you think Joe needs those tools in order to grow?
JH: Joe has been as productive through three seasons as any quarterback in the league’s history. Is he where we want him to be? No. Will he get there? I have no doubt.
TL: This season you plan on being more involved in the offense. If Cam is doing such a good job and is one of the game’s finest coordinators as you’ve often suggested, how will your involvement help given that your background as a positional coach has been limited to the secondary and special teams?
JH: Fair question although I do resent it. Here’s the thing, I want to influence the attitude of the offense. I want to help them develop a killer instinct in order to successfully finish games – even put teams away. When they have their foot on an opposing defense’s throat, I want them to press down and choke the life out of that defense. Not ease up and give them a chance to get their offense the ball again.
TL: Are you suggesting that Cam’s offense hasn’t had a killer instinct?
JH: Draw your own conclusions Tony. I think I’ve been pretty clear here.
TL: You just signed an extension that will keep you in Baltimore through the 2014 season should all go as planned. Brian Billick signed a similar extension but was fired shortly thereafter when it was decided that he had lost his team. If…and I’m just saying if things don’t go well early in ’11 offensively and the team is losing as a result, will you still stick it out with Cam Cameron, escalate your commitment in a way reminiscent of Billick to Kyle Boller, risk losing your team and fall on your own sword like your predecessor?
TL: Yeah you’re right…Back to the notion of taking the field, what are your thoughts on the labor issues facing the league today?
JH: It’s depressing really. As a coach we are caught in the middle. I’m employed by one of the game’s greatest owners yet because of my job I am more regularly in touch with the players. So I’m torn. The trouble in my opinion is that there’s a general distrust between the sides and without trust each side needs more assurances and to get those assurances it takes time and probably an overkill in the area of due diligence. So I’m just hoping for the best and for both sides to allow cooler heads to prevail so that we don’t ruin a great game by creating an apathetic fan base.
TL: Ready for a little word association?
JH: Sure, anything to stray from these boring questions…
TL: Ray Lewis
JH: The Ultimate Mighty Man
TL: Jared Gaither
JH: Fruit Loop
TL: Donte Stallworth
TL: Le’Ron McClain
JH: Robby Alomar
TL: Marc Bulger
JH: Arizona Cardinals
TL: Jim Harbaugh
JH: He owes me!
TL: Pittsburgh Steelers
JH: Get over it!
TL: Nicely done coach!
JH: Hey c’mon, how about a few more?