Peter Schmuck: Harbaugh's hard style works for Ravens

Coach isn't easy to play for, and he certainly isn't Rex Ryan, but results speak for themselves

August 09, 2011|By Peter Schmuck

It didn't take long after free agent wide receiver Malcom Floyd decided to re-sign with the San Diego Chargers on Friday for the whispers to begin anew.

There were reports — since disputed by Ravens sources — that Floyd turned down more money from the Ravens, which dovetailed nicely with the knee-jerk assumption that Derrick Mason signed with the New York Jets because every veteran in the Ravens' locker room would rather have Rex Ryan as their coach.

That's absurd.

If either of those players, or anyone else on Ozzie Newsome's free-agent wish list, chose not to play in Baltimore this year because John Harbaugh is a tough, old-school head coach who expects every ounce of effort every day, then good riddance. That's a scouting report you can't get anywhere else.

"I'd rather have that reputation," Harbaugh said Tuesday. "That way, you get the guys who want to work."

Mind you, no one is actually saying that Harbaugh's hard-driving coaching style had anything to do with Mason's or Floyd's decisions, but there have been some notable defections during his tenure and an undercurrent of supposed discontent that seemed to bubble up when superstar Ed Reed told ESPN during the lockout that his teammates originally wanted Ryan to replace Brian Billick.

Though Reed soon clarified his comments — which referred to a time when Harbaugh was not yet in the picture — he still contributed mightily to the perception around the league that Harbaugh is not an easy guy to play for.

Maybe he isn't, but his record in just three years as a head coach would seem to indicate that his approach is working just fine. He led the Ravens to the AFC championship game with a rookie quarterback in his first season as a head coach and has been in every postseason since.

And, while we're on the subject, since when was the measure of a head coach how much his players enjoy practice?

The Ravens play in the same city that deified Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, who wasn't exactly Mr. Touchy-Feely while he was leading the Orioles to greatness. This is also the town where a tough customer named Don Shula started to carve out his place among the greatest coaches in NFL history.

Harbaugh made it clear during his introductory news conference in early 2008 that he was a no-nonsense guy from a traditional coaching background. His emphasis on "the team, the team and the team" might have fallen on a few deaf ears in the locker room, but most everyone has gotten with the program and thrived in it.

He doesn't apologize for driving the players hard, but he does dispute the notion that he doesn't have a good relationship with them.

"I think you can have a great relationship and you can inspire somebody to be the best at what they do,'' Harbaugh said. "If you're not willing to push people to achieve the most they can achieve, you don't deserve to call yourself a coach. I think if you watch me, I believe in relating to people and correcting problems. That's also [Steve Bisciotti's] way, and I think it's the right way."

The fact that we're even having this conversation is reflective of a generational change in the way society views authority figures. Ryan has quickly become an NFL folk hero — with the help of HBO's "Hard Knocks" — because he has seemingly broken the NFL coaching mold with his jolly public persona and buddy-buddy approach to player relations.

No one can deny it has worked for him. The Jets have reached the AFC title game the past two seasons, and his players sing his praises to their friends around the league. Harbaugh's style may be more traditional, but his record also speaks for itself.

Interestingly, HBO has been regularly running a terrific documentary about NFL coaching icon Vince Lombardi, whose name graces the NFL championship trophy and whose legend was built on a my-way-or-the-highway approach that didn't endear him to his players until he had filled up their trophy cabinets.

Harbaugh is no Lombardi. He proved that when he let some of his veteran players talk him into cutting off practice a half-hour early Tuesday. But he is a throwback, and he is going to be in your face if you're not 100 percent on board with what he's trying to accomplish.

He's a tough master. It's not like that was ever a secret.

"It says right on the front door — 'Work Hard,' " Harbaugh said. "If a guy doesn't want to work hard, he's not going to fit in here."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" on Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal.com.

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