Throwback Harbaugh has team going forward

ON THE RAVENS

Commentary

May 18, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

New Ravens coach John Harbaugh isn't trying to start any trouble, but he is not going to run from it, either.

He wants to develop a new work ethic and culture for the Ravens, a project that might take a year or two.

But until then, the Ravens should adhere to the new boss' rules because Harbaugh won't back down. He can't because if he does, he'll lose control early.

And he won't because of his background. He grew up the son of a coach, and is old school, which is why some of his policies seem so Lombardian.

Harbaugh is not going to change, and he shouldn't because this is the ideal approach for the Ravens. The emphasis on team had become lost under the former coaching staff, and watching the Ravens was sometimes like watching Showtime at the Apollo.

I applauded when Harbaugh canned the TV show, Ravens Wired. The only thing more contrived and scripted was pro wrestling. Now, can we get rid of all those radio talk shows hosted by the players?

It was amusing last week when Harbaugh made the Ravens practice outside in the rain. That would not have happened a year ago. The Ravens would have been inside the practice facility, just as in years past when it got too hot or too cold. Thank goodness, those days are gone. The Ravens are back to being a real football team again. Shoot, there are even fights, real bench-clearing stuff.

It shows the players are on edge and worried about their jobs. You want that kind of intensity and desire.

Harbaugh has made other changes, such as forcing veterans to stay for the duration of training camp instead of allowing them to go home after the first week. He won't allow benches on the fields for players to sit on during practice. He isn't allowing his locker room to be segregated into the haves on one side and the have-nots on the other.

Of course, you're going to have some veterans complain, and they're going to say we "used to be treated like men" under the former regime.

Excuse me, please. They were treated like prima donnas under the old staff. The Ravens, particularly on offense, were soft, and the entire team lacked discipline.

I suspect Harbaugh will be bumping heads with a couple of the veterans in 2008. But nothing will change because he has the backing of owner Steve Bisciotti.

I never thought Bisciotti liked the soft approach used by former coach Brian Billick. He tolerated it as long as he won, but that's not Bisciotti's style. Like Harbaugh, he is more hard-core, blue-collar-oriented.

And really, what did you expect? In pro sports, you usually hire the opposite of what you fire. Out with the good guy, in with the bad one.

Harbaugh, though, is not cut from the Bill Belichick mold. He's not disgruntled and angry at the world. He seems to have a decent working relationship with his players and wants open communication.

He wants to change the image of the Ravens around the country from that of a team of uncontrollable thugs, the Oakland Raiders of the East Coast. You could see that in the draft last month, especially in the middle to late rounds when the Ravens started selecting overachievers with clean backgrounds.

Harbaugh doesn't have an easy job. This team needs a face-lift. He has to teach a defense about being selfless instead of selfish, and having enough discipline that they don't continue to give up big plays.

He has to change the entire psyche of the offensive players so they are no longer considered stepchildren to the defense. These guys have to become tougher and meaner - and establish a work ethic and pace as fast and as furious as the defensive players'.

The Ravens are in the middle of a culture shock. It's long overdue. And if Harbaugh has to cut loose a veteran or two to prove his point, he'll try to work things out first, but he'll say goodbye if needed.

It's what he has to do, and the only way he knows. He won't back down.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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