According to various sources, John Harbaugh has agreed to an extension to remain head coach of the Baltimore Ravens past next season, the terms of which have not yet been announced. This is the formalization of a move that has been expected since well before the current season ended, and while it will invariably catch flak from some fans, it was the logical move for a team that while it hasn’t reached the Super Bowl, has been among the AFC’s elite teams over the past three seasons under the leadership of Coach Harbaugh. Moreover, with the labor uncertainty creating the strong possibility of a lockout next season, the Ravens are wise not to go into this season (or lack thereof) with a lame duck at head coach.
I will be the first person to tell you (okay, maybe the second or third) that the Ravens have not played up to their ability. A few weeks ago I drew a comparison between Baltimore and Pittsburgh, with Pittsburgh playing up to every inch of their talent when the game is on the line while Baltimore regularly takes the pressure off midway through a game and never gets it back. It is clear that despite the presence of Pro Bowl players across the roster, Baltimore has not made it over the hump and managed to disappoint many despite a 12-4 regular season mark. Their postseason collapse at the hands of that very same Pittsburgh team already marks among the lowest points in this young franchise’s history, blowing a 21-7 halftime lead with turnovers and an anemic offense that blew opportunities to take back the lead late in the game.
Harbaugh has also come under fire for running excessively hard practices, the opposite of the charge levied at his predecessor, Brian Billick. Harbaugh was brought on to be a disciplinarian, and his discipline at times has bordered on insecurity, alienating players and putting undue trust in his assistant coaches over his experienced veterans. The list of players he has clashed with is long, but includes such Ravens legends as Ray Lewis and Derrick Mason. With his firing of Jim Zorn, which quarterback Joe Flacco took as a personal shot on his performance, he may have created further contention in the locker room.
However, the NFL is not about making friends, it is about winning games. Tom Coughlin was an overly harsh dictator until his New York Giants won the Super Bowl, and with every time he has missed the playoffs he has faced allegations of losing the team, an allegation that dissipates when his team starts winning again. Brian Billick, was hit with accusations of running a country club training camp and failing to instill a toughness in his team when they were losing, but he was saving his veterans and preventing unnecessary hits when the Ravens went on a roll. Player-friendly or discipline-oriented coaches can both win in the NFL, and so far John Harbaugh has won, at least more than most.
Have his teams won the Super Bowl yet? No, but he has yet to have a losing season and not only that he has won a playoff game every year with a young, developing quarterback. He has handled strong egos and has accumulated a career record of 32-16, 36-19 including the playoffs. Harbaugh is certainly not the best coach in the NFL; I can’t put him in the league with Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, Andy Reid, Sean Payton, or Mike McCarthy, but I can say rather unequivocally that he has the track record to compare against almost any other head coach (yes, including Rex Ryan). For all his faults as a head coach, John Harbaugh earned his extension and the right to lead this team for the next few seasons.