The curtain is about to lift

Ravens' new leading man 'sure' he will be nervous for first preseason game

John Harbaugh

August 07, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The Ravens' offense was running a two-minute drill this offseason when John Harbaugh mistakenly called a timeout.

"But I was the head coach, so I made it a defensive timeout," Harbaugh joked. "So, that was easy."

It won't be that easy starting tonight, when the Ravens kick off their preseason against the New England Patriots.

Harbaugh, 45, is one of four first-year NFL coaches who will have four games of on-the-job training before the regular season starts.

Just as rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is learning the offense, Harbaugh is learning time management, the give-and-take with his coordinators and the pulse of his team.

"I expect not to know what to expect and how it's going to be like," said Harbaugh, who became the third coach in Ravens history when he was hired Jan. 18 to replace Brian Billick. "You talk about the rookies and how they're going to respond. ... I'm interested in how I'm going to respond."

There are questions about how Harbaugh will handle the game-day responsibilities as a head coach because he has never been a coordinator on offense or defense. He made the unusual jump to head coach after being a special teams coach for nine seasons and a secondary coach for one.

"I'm sure I'll be nervous," Harbaugh said. "I think every member of our program will be nervous because it's important and everyone wants to do well."

Harbaugh talks daily with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. He wants to keep informed about the direction of each unit and often suggests changes.

"Harbs sees the big picture," Ryan said. "He's got his finger on everything."

During games, Harbaugh will have the final say on all important decisions, such as whether to go for it on fourth-and-short. He said his interaction with the coordinators on the sideline would probably be "a feel thing."

"You have to let those guys do their job," Harbaugh said. "But, at the same point, you got to channel and direct their thinking based on how you're trying to strategize the game."

The most natural part of the job is addressing the full team, Harbaugh said.

With his background as a special teams coach, Harbaugh is used to delivering messages to large groups of players.

"That's probably the thing that's the easiest for me," he said. "I enjoy that part of it."

Harbaugh has changed the mind-set of the players.

Under Billick, the Ravens were allowed to absorb the big picture. Billick would regularly lay out the entire season from the structure of practice to days off.

Under Harbaugh, it's all about W.I.N. - which is posted outside the team hotel and stands for What's Important Now. Harbaugh intentionally doesn't give extended schedules because he wants his players to focus on the next practice and the next play.

It seems the players have accepted the change in philosophy.

"No question, that's the only way we're going to win - you got to buy in," tight end Todd Heap said. "If we want to be successful, we all got to be in it together."

Wide receiver Derrick Mason said: "You stand behind a coach, especially a first-year coach. Whatever he needs you to do, you do it. You might not necessarily think it's the right thing, but you do it because he has the team in mind. You keep your mouth shut and go about your business. But you might mumble here and there."

It's appropriate that Harbaugh's first game as a head coach comes against Bill Belichick, because the Patriots coach helped Harbaugh get the job.

During the Ravens' search in January, they spoke to Belichick about Harbaugh. Although they know each other only through other coaches, Belichick endorsed hiring a special teams coach because that position requires interacting with the entire team.

"It's going to be an honor and a thrill to go up before the game to shake his hand and chat," Harbaugh said before cracking a smile. "I hope he talks to me."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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