Eisenberg: Retaining John Harbaugh Shouldn't Come as a Surprise

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Let's call it the Friday Night Surprise. The Ravens' decision to announce they're bringing back Head Coach John Harbaugh and working on a contract extension certainly came out of nowhere.

But is it really such a surprise? I don't think so.

The notion that Harbaugh was supposedly on a "hot seat" after 11 seasons in Baltimore took root when Owner Steve Bisciotti surprisingly said after the 2017 season that he'd considered making a change at head coach after a third straight non-playoff season but elected not to do so "at this time."

That comment made headlines, but if you paid attention, Bisicotti went on to profusely praise Harbaugh in the same press conference for keeping the team together through some tough times during the 2017 season. Nary a negative peep was heard from the owner, actually, and that was no surprise, either, because Bisciotti maintains great affection for Harbaugh and the job he does. One idle remark didn't mean that had changed.

As this year has unfolded, whenever someone asked me about Harbaugh's status, I've responded that it all comes down to his relationship with Bisicotti, and honestly, they've always had a great relationship and still do.

I don't know if Harbaugh's job was ever seriously in jeopardy in 2018. I doubt it. And regardless, the situation has taken a sharp turn in recent weeks. If anything, Harbaugh was the one with leverage.

He's one of the NFL's best and most successful coaches, and not just because he has a Super Bowl triumph on his resume. He has only had one losing season in 11 years. His teams are always well-prepared and they play hard week in and week out.

Whenever the great media rumor mill has floated the idea that he might become available after this season, the general response was he would be out of work for about 10 minutes. He would have his choice of jobs, both pro and college.

I don't know if this happened, but if the Ravens ever wondered whether they could find another head coach on the open market with a similar track record of putting out quality NFL teams, well, the answer is no.

I've always found it curious that some have steadfastly blamed Harbaugh for the Ravens' run of three straight non-playoff seasons.

The shortage of game-changing playmakers on the roster, some missed high draft picks and the injuries and inconsistent play of the quarterback surely all played a part.

Blaming the head coach for everything was, and is, way too easy. Any explanation for the Ravens' recent shortfalls is way more complicated than that. Truthfully, Harbaugh may have done more with some of his rosters than many coaches would have.

Sure, you can make a coaching change if you want, but if your coach is going to be out of work for about 10 minutes before getting another job, maybe you should reconsider.

That's what I mean about Harbaugh being the one with leverage in recent weeks. He's a commodity. It isn't surprising to hear that he and the team are working on an extension that will keep him in Baltimore beyond 2019.

No doubt, he has done an excellent job this season. The Ravens were in danger of falling out of the playoff picture when they had a 4-5 record at the bye, but they've rallied around rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson while adopting an entirely different playing style. Not an easy coaching feat, by any means.

Jackson has come a long way since he showed up at rookie minicamp last spring. Harbaugh and his staff deserve some credit for that, and also, for finding a rugged, no-nonsense style that fits his personnel and makes the Ravens dangerous.

If they don't make the playoffs this year, it's because they didn't adopt that style sooner – not that they could have, given quarterback Joe Flacco's stature and contract.

Regardless, they're going forward with it now, and Bisicotti obviously has seen enough to believe Harbaugh is the right coach to lead that charge into 2019 and beyond.

The late-season timing might be a surprise, but given Harbaugh's record and how this season is playing out, that's the only surprise.

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