Student vs. teacher

Big exam: Harbaugh can show what he learned under Reid

November 21, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

When John Harbaugh arrived here in January for the first of two interviews with the Ravens, he carried with him a copious, 5-inch-thick binder that held practice schedules, computer programs and assorted literature on running a football team.

He called it the "Andy Reid binder," with good reason.

In 1999, Reid won the Philadelphia Eagles' head coaching job - at least in small part - because of the thoroughness of that binder. In January, a replica binder played almost no role in Harbaugh's getting the Ravens' job, but it certainly was a declaration of where he was coming from.

Having spent nine years under Reid in Philadelphia - the first eight as special teams coach and the last as secondary coach - Coach Harbaugh embraces everything that's in that cumbersome binder.

On Sunday, when the Eagles visit the Ravens, the two coaches with a shared football philosophy and similar tough-mindedness will stand on opposite sidelines for the first time, pull on their headsets and put aside all personal feelings.

The pre- and post-game handshakes might be different, but the game will still be the same, both said this week.

"You're going against your brothers. It means something. It's exciting," Harbaugh said. "There's a little bit of something at stake, and it'll be fun before the game. But when the game starts, it's going to be our players playing against their players, and whoever plays the best is going to win."

Know this: In Harbaugh's first season as head coach, Nov. 23 was the only date he remembered from the 2008 schedule. And that every few weeks, he and Reid talk on the phone or text-message each other.

The formative years of Harbaugh's coaching career were shaped by his father, Jack, and Michigan icon Bo Schembechler. The past nine years, though, were shaded in green and belonged to Reid.

Aside from his organizational outlook on running a team, one of the biggest lessons Harbaugh got came in 1999, Reid's first season in Philadelphia.

He watched Reid turn over a depleted organization, lay down rules and take on all challenges. Perhaps the most famous incident from that first season was when starting guard George Hegamin left the team in training camp after being demoted. A contrite Hegamin returned a day later, but Reid, wanting to send a message, had him push a blocking sled the length of the field after practice - while reporters watched. At final cuts two weeks later, Hegamin was released.

"That was huge," Harbaugh said of Reid's ability to take control of the locker room as a rookie head coach. "Having gone through that, that gave me strength.

"The thing Andy did, he never backed down from anything he thought was right. ... There were probably four or five run-ins with veteran guys where Andy just stood up, didn't take a step back and said, 'This is how we're going to do it.' That was encouraging to me to come in here and know that I was going to do that."

Reid had to overturn his first Eagles roster. Harbaugh, inheriting a losing team filled with accomplished veterans, had to reshape his. He didn't publicly punish or criticize any players during camp, but he established a similar tone with his demanding and physical practices.

It was exactly what owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome wanted to see.

"We truly endorsed basically everything [John] wanted to do with the locker room, with the signs in the hallway, all those things, and how he wanted to go about the practices," Newsome said. "Because we felt like, No. 1, the players would respond to it. And the ones that didn't would weed themselves out. We felt it was the right way to go about getting this organization from a football standpoint back on the right track."

The Ravens responded by winning six of their first nine games and are just a game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North at 6-4. Reid went 5-11 his first season, then jumped to 11-5 and a playoff berth in 2000.

"I'm proud of what he's done," Reid said of Harbaugh's start. "I'm proud of the players who have rallied around him. That's very impressive to me. ... He's a great football coach. He could coach any position on the field and have success with it."

Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who once hired Harbaugh for his Indiana University staff, sees a similar toughness in mentor and student.

"You just see a mental toughness and an ability to lead men," Cameron said. "I've always thought Andy Reid did an outstanding job of that, and I know John always had those characteristics to a degree."

In Baltimore, Harbaugh knew he had talented players. His thrust was to give them more direction, rather than a new identity.

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