Is John Harbaugh a Player’s Coach?

Street Talk Is John Harbaugh a Player’s Coach?

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What type of coach has the longevity to stick around in an organization, a players’ coach or a disciplinarian? This is a question the Ravens have to wrestle with a bit in the enigma who is John Harbaugh.

While I previously wrote about how organizations that hold on to good coaches tend to have more success than those with a quick trigger finger after a couple losing seasons, the debate on which “coach type” is better will rage on as it has with many other organizations trying to find that winning formula.

The current jury is divided.

Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seahawks, is unquestionably a players’ coach- so much so that his own players have boasted to media members that free agents “want to play for the Seahawks” or “want to play for Pete.”

Carroll has long been known as a ‘rah-rah’ guy, but one who doesn’t go ballistic on a player when he has a bad day, or come up with dinky rules and silly punishments when players stay out too late, or get caught with drugs, (though the League has oft-held a different view) or hanging out in unsavory places.

His team is the best in the NFC and has been riding the success of Carroll’s turnover-driven, pass-coverage-driven defensive mantra right to the Super Bowl, drawing some comparisons to the alleged “greatest defense of all time,” the 2000 Ravens.

But Carroll’s laid-back attitude contributed to his firings in previous stops with the New York Jets and New England Patriots, when a perception that Carroll wasn’t holding players accountable for poor play took hold of ownership’s thinking in both places.

Not to mention, Carroll was the captain of the USC ship that was forced to vacate a national championship when Carroll either didn’t know about, or refused to listen to allegations that Reggie Bush was being paid to play at the school, or (though it has never been proven) had known all along and did nothing.

But no one can dispute the success Carroll has achieved in Seattle, including multiple playoff berths, and wins, and now his first Super Bowl appearance since taking over the team just a few years ago.

On the other hand, perceived players’ coach Rex Ryan only narrowly survived firing by Jets owner Woody Johnson after motivating his team to wins in the Jets’ last two games, including a stunning road win over Miami that should have vaulted Baltimore into the playoffs this year had the team appeared for the fourth quarter of their contest against the Bengals, or had Cincinnati’s head coach Marvin Lewis returned the favor the Ravens gave him the year before and rested starters.

But Ryan was almost sacked, two seasons in a row now, for a perception that he lost control of his players, like the story that WR Santonio Holmes quit on the team because of his frustrations with quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Disciplinarians have done pretty well, but not universally so. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was the exact antithesis of former coach Jim Fassel who was generally regarded as a players’ coach.

Coughlin’s regimented routines, honed by formerly assisting former Giants 2x Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells, instilled a militaristic discipline on the Giants in which few details were ever left to chance. Whenever things haven’t gone well, Coughlin, to his credit has largely stood up for his players while insisting that any blame be levelled at him. Two Super Bowl wins during the Coughlin era has been quite appreciated by Big Blue faithful disappointed with the Giants’ Super Bowl XXXV loss under Fassel.

It goes without saying that another Parcells disciple, Bill Belichick is a staunch disciplinarian who regiments (and punishes) for even the manners in which his players talk to the media. When Wes Welker, the former Patriot All-Pro receiver, joked around about Rex Ryan’s alleged fetish for feet, he was benched and silenced by Belichick in the team’s next game.

Few Patriots, aside from defensive captain Vince Wilfork, veteran Rob Nimkovich, and of course QB Tom Brady, even talk to the media. Belichick’s teams, with the except of a few barbs traded between Brady and his nemesis Terrell Suggs, rarely even comment on their opponents save the trite, “they’re a good team.”

Three Super Bowl wins and two more appearances under Belichick have shown that the Patriots choosing discipline (with the firing of Pete Carroll to get Belichick) was the right course.

Yet former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano was also known as a staunch disciplinarian who the players and team came to quickly despise, or at least tune out. Schiano’s Belichick-esque renderings fell on deaf ears when veterans allegedly felt they were being treated like college players, or worse. Schiano was unsurprisingly booted from the Bucs for Lovie Smith, who is known as more of a players’ coach.

John Harbaugh has so far been a bit of a quandary. On one hand, his players readily say he is a players’ coach. Harbaugh was described to me by several Ravens at a recent event as “one of the guys– and that’s why we like him.”

Yet, Harbaugh has also shown a mean streak. In last season’s run up to the Super Bowl, a near-mutiny occurred when veteran players objected to wearing pads in practice after a blowout loss to the Houston Texans. The resultant meeting calmed things down and the team went on its spectacular run.

That didn’t stop Harbaugh from tossing Bernard Pollard quickly aside after the big game, despite Pollard having played much of the postseason with multiple broken ribs, which were re-broken during the early goings of Super Bowl XLVII, despite Pollard’s relatively small cap number.

Anquan Boldin was jettisoned as well when GM Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh refused to find just $2 or $3 million more in cuts in the salary cap to be able to keep him.

Harbaugh’s players’ coach mentality has excluded anyone who has disagreed with him, including defensive player Marcus Spears this season, and of course OL Bryant McKinnie lived in Harbaugh’s doghouse for all but the final game of the 2012-13 regular season.
So where do the Ravens view Harbaugh on the spectrum?

Maybe part-Carroll, part-Coughlin.

But certainly not, they hope, a coach who loses the team, or enough games not to be able to stay around.

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Tom Moore

About Tom Moore

TOM MOORE is from Baltimore and writes on sports for Press Box, and he previously served as a columnist for The Baltimore Examiner on many topics related to Baltimore and Maryland. Described by many as a ‘Renaissance man,’ Mr. Moore has hosted the weekly radio program The Tom Moore Show on AM 680 WCBM since 2003, and sings in a jazz/standards band, which released its first record in 2010, “Restless Journey” available on I-Tunes. Mr. Moore has also acted on stage in local theaters and on TV programs such as the NetFlix series “House of Cards” and HBO’s “The Wire.” An NCLL Final Four lacrosse player at the University of Richmond, Moore transferred to, then graduated from the University of Maryland in 2000 with a degree in Journalism. From 2000-2002, he worked as a producer for ABC Radio WMAL in Washington, DC where he was part of the station’s 2001 Edward R. Murrow Award-winning news team. A busy Maryland attorney (known better as Thomas Maronick Jr.) by day, Moore is a lifelong baseball, football and lacrosse fan and may be reached at [email protected] More from Tom Moore


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