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