Harbaugh reflects on Ravens, Rice and Michigan 0
Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh watches his team play the Houston Texans during their NFL AFC Divisional playoff football game in Baltimore, Maryland, January 15, 2012. (Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS)
As I began my interview earlier this month with Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, I told him I'd been following the football exploits of his family since the late 1970s.
That's when his father, Jack Harbaugh, was a defensive backs coach at the University of Michigan, a team I've followed more than a little closely for 36 years.
I've known so many of the Harbaugh stories. Such as the time in the late '70s when little Johnny and Jimmy Harbaugh were playing catch off to the side, and their ball skittered onto Michigan coach Bo Schembechler's main field, interrupting his precisely timed Wolverine practice. An outraged Schembechler ripped into assistant coach Harbaugh and his youngest son, little Jimmy — now the 49ers head coach.
John Harbaugh has been head coach of the Ravens since 2008. Only the Patriots and Steelers, with 50 apiece, have more wins than the Ravens' 49 in that span, playoffs included.
Harbaugh has taken Baltimore to the playoffs in each of his four seasons — twice to the AFC championship. The Ravens were a chip-shot field goal away from reaching the Super Bowl in February.
I asked Harbaugh, now 49, about the secrets of his success, what his Ravens have left to win, and his youthful days in Ann Arbor:
JK: Ray Rice told me he thinks what separates the Ravens from other teams is you. He provided the analogy that you take them far out to sea, then take them deep down. And they all trust you implicitly to bring them back up for a breath when they absolutely need it — that you won't ever drown them, even if it feels that way at times. Is that your analogy?
JH: "I don't remember using it, but I'll take credit for it. To me that's trust, maybe. As coaches and players we use that a lot — you learn trust, you earn trust. Hopefully now five years into this thing, the guys understand that it's each other's job to push each other to the brink.
"We can do so much more than we think we can. And we have each other's back, we have each other's best interests at heart."
JK: Your team has pretty much done it all the past few years except get to, and win, a Super Bowl. Is there anything left for your team to accomplish other than that?
JH: "I guess that's true. The thing about last year is ... I felt even in our locker room after the game that we were a smashing success as a team, because of the way they handled a devastating defeat. We were right there, we had the game won. We literally dropped it, and missed the (field goal). And it wasn't just those two plays, there were plays throughout the game. And all of our guys stood up and said, 'Hey, it was my fault. If I'd have made that play...' And to a man, everybody took responsibility. That's what teams are all about."
JK: Critics say that without Ray Rice, your offence is nothing. Can Ray keep on being such a vital part of both your passing and running games, or do you have to get other people involved more?
JH: "Ray Rice, as great as he has played for us, has not been the whole team ... You have to have all players making plays. As many yards as Ray gets, he doesn't get them by himself. It's a team game. Somebody throws him the ball, somebody blocks for him.
"We try to build as many weapons around our weapons as we can. And I think we can continue to enhance that."
JK: And you don't need a Patriots or Saints pass-crazy offence to win in the NFL today, do you? You guys have proved that.
JH: "I think we know what good football looks like. It's irrespective of how you move the ball. It pertains to good football. Good, solid, field-position football. You don't make mistakes. You play solid defence. You don't turn the ball over. You get first downs, and you control the clock.
"And you can do that any way you want. You can do it throwing, you can do it running, you can do it blitzing, you can do it playing (zone) coverage. That stuff is more relative to your personnel. "We're all for having the top offence in the league, and we're going to try to get there. But we're mostly for being the winningest team in the league."
JK: Was Bo yelling at you, too, that day when you and Jim were kids?
JH: "Absolutely. But who do you think was the one who sent Jim out there to get the ball!? And Bo threw Jim off. I was the older brother. It was my prerogative...
"But our two (NFL) programs are really founded on those principles. And for us, the principles remain the same — they're written in stone. Methods can change, but the principles are in stone."