Eisenberg: Harbaugh, Not Garrett, Was Right Choice

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"Sometimes the best deal you make is the one you didn't make," Ravens president Dick Cass said Monday, reflecting back on the chain of events that brought Harbaugh to Baltimore.

Cass didn't intend that as a slight to Garrett, just as a compliment to Harbaugh, even though it's certainly open season on Garrett and head coach Wade Phillips in Dallas with their 1-6 team in flames after a shocking implosion.

"He's a great guy and may still turn out to be a great head coach," Cass said of Garrett, "but what do you think is going through his mind right now?"

He could be coaching the Ravens today. Cass and owner Steve Bisciotti interviewed several candidates, including Harbaugh, and tried to hire Garrett. He was the league's "hot" coordinator that year with the Cowboys coming off a 13-3 season.

But as negotiations dragged on, Cass began to have second thoughts.

"In the end, it was my impression that Jason really was not all that interested in leaving Dallas," Cass said. "He never expressed that, nor did his agent, but we couldn't agree on a (salary) price. And as his doubts arose, so did ours. In the end, we mutually walked away."

On one hand, Cass didn't blame Garrett.

"He had just built a home there, and Tony Romo had developed into what people thought was an elite quarterback," Cass said. "He could stay there and be the offensive coordinator and 'head coach in waiting' for 'America's Team,' which had a premier quarterback. I think he found that more attractive than becoming the head coach of a (Baltimore) team with a very unstable quarterback situation and had been 5-11 the year before."

The Ravens, at the time, had Kyle Boller, Troy Smith and Steve McNair at quarterback. McNair would retire before the 2008 season.

But although he understood Garrett's rationale, Cass, a veteran of more than two decades of league affairs, also thought any first-time head coach should want to come to Baltimore.

"You have patient ownership and an outstanding front office that's going to get you good players, a team that is willing to spend money, in a good football town, I think that's a great situation for any first-time head coach," Cass said. "We wanted someone who would jump at it, someone who understood what a good situation it was and really wanted to be here over anywhere else by far."

That wasn't Garrett. He left Baltimore without a formal offer, Cass said, and also interviewed in Atlanta before returning to Dallas, where owner Jerry Jones gave him a sizable raise to remain offensive coordinator. He made more money as an assistant that season than any of the league's first-year head coaches.

Meanwhile, the Raven turned to Harbaugh, who had coached the secondary and special teams in Philadelphia and "had blown us away in his interview," Cass said. They found a coach who wanted to be here, and a few months later, they drafted a quarterback, Joe Flacco.

"We thought 2008 would be sort of a difficult year for our fans, and that if we could get a quarterback in the draft and if he could develop and show some promise, we could head into 2009 with some hope, and 2010 would be the year we really showed some progress," Cass said. "But John talked Rex (Ryan) into staying, and he won over the veteran players, won over Ray (Lewis), and we went 11-5 (in 2008) and played in the AFC championship game, a great achievement. John is organized, a good communicator, a good leader, great at bringing in good coaches, which is the force of his personality. A 25-14 record is very good, especially when you're not going in with an elite quarterback. John has done a first-rate job for us."

Especially considering they tried to hire someone else first.

"Sometimes" Cass said with a smile, "you're not as smart as you think you are."

John Eisenberg *covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.*

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