Now it starts: Meet new boss

ON THE RAVENS

On John Harbaugh

July 22, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

When John Harbaugh makes that walk down the steps from McDaniel College's field house to the practice field, he'll be under the microscope for the rest of the year, and the tone for the 2008 season will be set during the next 25 days of training camp.

The eyes of an entire city will be on Harbaugh, the Ravens' first-year head coach, but he'll be scrutinized more by his players, who are trying to develop a feel for the new boss.

Harbaugh has had at least six minicamps, and he established a rapid tempo for practices. But those camps were part-time. Training camp is full time, 24 hours a day, nearly four weeks.

The players will be watching to see how Harbaugh runs practices, handles injured players and deals with disciplinary matters. They'll be looking to see how he interacts with players, assistant coaches and the media, and whether he is strict when it comes to bed checks.

The key for Harbaugh is to be consistent and not back down from confrontation. Because if he does, he will lose respect quickly.

That's an unlikely scenario. Harbaugh is too smart. He knows the MO of this team and is aware there are still some surly veterans on the roster who could make his life difficult.

Harbaugh also had to look at film from a year ago and notice the illegal procedure and unsportsmanlike conduct calls against the Ravens, most of them the result of a lack of discipline.

He wants to change that this year, and it all starts this morning when the rookies take the field for the first time. Many coaches, especially those from the old school, believe teams are built during training camp.

Harbaugh is old school as far as discipline, but modern when it comes to common sense.

"Training camp is tough," said Harbaugh, 45, in his first season as a head coach. "Training camp is hard. It's different than the old days. I've heard the term 'old-school training camp.' I don't know if that's real accurate, because back in the old days, you had 120 players in training camp and you ran those 3 1/2 -hour practices. That's not what we're talking about here.

"We're going to run an intelligent camp. I think guys are going to work hard. They're going to get tired. Their legs are going to get weary, because that's how you get good. The goal is not to be a fresh football team coming out of training camp, because that's impossible. The goal is to be a strong football team coming out of training camp, and that's what we're going to try to build."

It's the right approach: hard, smart and fair. The Ravens took advantage of predecessor Brian Billick's Club Med approach to training camp. If it was too hot, the Ravens practiced in the air-conditioned facility at Owings Mills. If it was too cold or it rained, they went inside, too.

That won't happen now.

Under the old regime, there was limited hitting at training camp and players were allowed to go home after practice and sleep in their own beds after a few days. Not anymore.

It's a good thing. Teams really do develop chemistry in training camp, because you have to learn to live with your teammates. All the outside forces and extracurricular activities are cut off. You live together, eat together and sleep together and basically develop the same mentality as those who serve in the military.

And you forge relationships because it's the most miserable, painful, boring time in your life, and the only people who really understand are those living with you in the same conditions.

Harbaugh can't help but run a tough camp, because that's the way he was raised. Harbaugh's dad, Jack, coached football for 41 years and won the 2002 NCAA Division I-AA championship at Western Kentucky.

He learned the game from coaches he hung around in his younger days, like Bo Schembechler and Sam Wyche. He was mentored by the legendary Sid Gillman and later tutored by current Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, who is as no-nonsense as they come.

Harbaugh wants to change the Ravens' image and culture. So, expect to see some changes, like less trash-talking and taunting. He'll demand some subtle things, like players keeping their shirttails in during practice.

Harbaugh has removed benches from the sidelines, so no players are allowed to sit when they're not on the field. He canceled the team-produced Ravens Wired, a television show that miked up a player every week. Harbaugh thought it promoted individual, not team, play.

And Harbaugh doesn't mind a fight now and then during training camp, much like New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. He wants intensity full time, and he wants to keep his players on the edge.

During two of the past three years, the Ravens had serious locker-room problems. If they lose early, some trouble might surface again. There are going to be off-the-field incidents in which players get arrested and times when players come late to meetings or practices.

It's all part of the game. These will be more times when Harbaugh is tested, and the Ravens will want to see how the coach reacts. But he can do a lot to ease future problems in the next 25 days.

Training camp is the time for him to send a message and set a tone for the future.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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