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Harbaugh cracks the Top Ten in ESPN’s Head Coach power rankings…

A little national recognition for John Harbaugh is way overdue…

To paraphrase the words of another great coach in the history of the state of Maryland—Lefty Driesell— “John kin coach…”  Yes he can, and Harbaugh has proven it at a very high level.

ESPN.com has been doing some nice “Power Rank” ratings of individual positions in the NFL, and they finally got to the Head Coach category. For the first time since his initial hiring by the Ravens in 2008, Harbaugh landed in the Top Ten…although tied for 10th with the legendary coach Mike Shanahan, who is now under contract with the Redskins…

That part I don’t get.  Harbaugh is just entering his prime as the ultimate Head Coach who “gets it”—the rapport with younger players, the command of his X’s and O’s, the willingness to teach his players how to win in uncomfortable situations, and an incredible ability to delegate responsibility wisely to his assistants.  Shanahan, on the other hand, just seems out of sync with the modern game in Washington…and will be best remembered for his golden oldies days with the Denver Broncos and John Elway. Harbaugh should have earned the 10th spot all to himself in this poll…or better..

We don’t talk enough about how good a head coach Harbaugh is—either in this column or in this town.  Already we take him for granted because he blends in so well with his players and staff. Heck, John still looks like he’s in good enough shape to take the field if necessary in a nickel formation…

John Harbaugh looks much younger than he really is —he’s about to turn 49 years old — and I think that young look of his tends to make us forget how truly educated and experienced he is, and how much senior knowledge he brings to the sideline for every game the Ravens play. And he communicates so seamlessly with his troops, it’s easy to forget he’s really the guy in charge sometimes…which again deflects Ravens fans’ understanding of just how much he controls the team’s fortunes.

Harbaugh has the ultimate football pedigree. Born in Toledo, Ohio in 1962, John’s father was Jack Harbaugh, a Midwest coaching legend in his own right, and a man who was an assistant under Bo Schembechler at the nearby University of Michigan. In fact, John graduated from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, during the time his father was an assistant under Schembechler.  John played collegiate football for Miami University of Ohio, where he was a defensive back.

Undrafted by the NFL, John Harbaugh spent time in the college ranks as an assistant at Indiana U. (1997), U. of Cincinnati (1989–1996), Morehead State University (1988), and Western Michigan University (1984–1987).

Harbaugh was first hired in the NFL in 1998 by Philadelphia Eagles then-head coach Ray Rhodes, and was one of four assistant coaches retained by new head coach Andy Reid in 1999. Getting hired by the Eagles was a huge break for Harbaugh, as it expanded his future coaching potential beyond the college ranks…and certainly confirmed his ability to articulate his objectives for a team achievement goal in an interview setting. If nothing else, John Harbaugh is one of the most articulate people you will ever meet…and a great interview to this day, even with a press corps that hounds him after a tough loss.

In 2004, Harbaugh was mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Gary Darnell as the head football coach at  Western Michigan. But Harbaugh chose to remain with the Philadelphia Eagles.

In 2007, after serving as a Special Teams Coach for 9 years, John was switched to Defensive Backs coach. Andy Reid did so in order to fulfill John’s desire to obtain a head coaching position in the future, as special team coaches are rarely hired as head coaches. The move paid off the following year, as Harbaugh was announced as Head Coach of the Ravens on January 19, 2008. Harbaugh only interviewed for the job after the first choice for the Ravens, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, turned the Ravens down… Harbaugh was not considered a favorite to get the job. But he impressed owner Steve Bisciotti and GM Ozzie Newsome in his interview enough to make the relatively unusual jump from secondary coach to NFL head coach.

In his rookie season as a head coach, Harbaugh guided the Ravens to an 11–5 regular season record, good enough to qualify them for the playoffs as a wild card team. In the playoffs, Harbaugh oversaw upset victories over the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans before losing for the 3rd time that season to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game.

Pretty impressive stuff for a head coach who had to talk himself into the league…

Overall in his NFL head coaching career, Harbaugh is now 32-16 in regular season games, and 4-3 in playoff games.  He hasn’t missed the playoffs yet in his first three campaigns with the Ravens. Finally, people around the nation (and ESPN) are beginning to notice what a gem the Ravens have in Harbaugh.

How did the ESPN voting go?

Ranking the Head Coaches: How They Voted

Rk Head Coaches John Clayton Tim Graham Paul Kuharsky Mike Sando Kevin Seifert James Walker Bill Williamson Pat Yasinskas Tot
JC TG PK MS KS JW BW PY
1 Bill Belichick 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 80
2 Mike Tomlin 5 2 2 6 2 2 3 3 63
3 Andy Reid 2 5 3 2 4 3 5 2 62
4 Mike McCarthy 7 3 4 4 3 4 2 4 57
5 Sean Payton 4 6 6 5 5 5 6 5 46
6 Tom Coughlin 3 8 5 3 7 6 9 8 39
7 Rex Ryan 8 4 7 7 6 9 4 10 33
8 Lovie Smith 6 9 9 8 7 16
9 Mike Smith 7 9 10 6 12
10 Mike Shanahan 9 10 7 7 11
10 John Harbaugh 10 9 8 8 9 11
Others Receiving Votes
12 Ken Whisenhunt 10 10 8 10 6
13 Jim Caldwell 8 10 4
Key: JC=John Clayton; MS=Mike Sando; KS=Kevin Seifert; PY=Pat Yasinskas; TG=Tim Graham;
BW=Bill Williamson; JW=James Walker; PK=Paul Kuharsky
Rank: 1=10 points, 2=9 points, 3=8 points, 4=7 points, 5=6 points, etc.

Well, for my money, Harbaugh deserves higher placement in the poll over the Giants’ Tom Coughlin—but Coughlin has that dang Super Bowl trophy, which always sways the ESPN crowd. And the New York media thing continues with Rex Ryan at #7…come on, are you serious? Rex coached under Harbaugh at Baltimore, so I mean no disrespect, but Harbaugh’s body of work exceeds Ryan’s at this point. And Lovie Smith? —I mean, a nice guy and a good coach, but come on!…

I guess Special Teams coaching alumni get no respect in the NFL… But John Harbaugh’s professionalism, charisma and overall winning record in the NFL suggests they should…In my “Machine” opinion, Harbaugh is a phenom who should be counted in the Top 5…and Baltimore is lucky to have found him.

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.

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