Harbaugh Era Officially Begins

The John Harbaugh Era of Baltimore football began Saturday, as the new Ravens head coach arrived at team headquarters to face a throng of reporters in his introductory press conference.

But first, there were more important matters to complete.

Harbaugh pulled up to the Ravens' training facility at 11 a.m. with his wife, Ingrid, and 6-year-old daughter Alison and headed directly to his office overlooking the snow-covered practice fields behind the compound.

Ravens president Dick Cass brought out Harbaugh's contract, and in a moment of suspended excitement, the third head coach in franchise history was officially marked with a signature.

"I'm a football coach, I've been a football coach for a long time and I'm proud to be the football coach of the Baltimore Ravens," Harbaugh said in his opening statement. "This is an opportunity of a career, and it's a dream of ours that we've had for a long time. And, we can't wait to get started; we can't wait to go to work."

Owner Steve Bisciotti did the honors of unveiling his first head-coaching hire since taking over full control of the team four years ago, marking a fresh break from last year's 5-11 campaign that ended with Brian Billick's firing on Dec. 31.

The Ravens' road continues with the former Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach that stood out among a strong list of six candidates considered for the position.

"This was fairly easy for me because I've done this my whole life," said Bisciotti. "Hiring people is something that I've had a lot of experience doing, and I also had the luxury of a blueprint from what the Modells put together nine years ago in finding Brian Billick."

Harbaugh interviewed along with former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, Dallas assistant head coach Tony Sparano (now head coach of the Miami Dolphins), New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Indianapolis Colts assistant head coach Jim Caldwell.

The job was actually offered to Garrett first, but he elected to stay with the Cowboys in his current position with a large pay raise.

But, where Garrett only had three years of coaching experience, Harbaugh has coached for 24 years among the professional and collegiate ranks.

Bisciotti made it clear that Harbaugh was not what some have called a "second option." As such, those accusations don't rattle Harbaugh.

"As far being perceived as a second choice or a first choice, that's irrelevant to me," said the coach. "I never thought about it in those terms, never would. It doesn't matter. It's an opportunity to go forward. I know they looked at six great coaches here, any one of whom could have done a great job as head football coach, and I feel fortunate to be the guy who's going to get the shot."

The Ravens' search committee, led by Newsome, whittled down a list of 30 potential names to six prospective contenders that could lead the team.

"I was always in front of guys of great integrity that were being delivered to me from my football guys, saying, 'These are good football coaches,'" explained Bisciotti. "I was looking for the right kind of guy. I was looking for a leader that I could look at and say, 'I can see him standing up there in front of my team.'"

While Harbaugh's coaching history may not include any head coaching stints, it is filled with a rich and diverse history.

He started as a graduate assistant for his father, Jack, at Western Michigan in 1984. Harbaugh then went on to coach everything from tight ends, secondary, and strength and conditioning during stops at Pittsburgh, Morehead State, Cincinnati and Indiana.

The 45-year-old made a name for himself heading one of the NFL's top special teams units for the Eagles from 1998-2006 before taking over the secondary last season.

"I'm proud of the path I took," he explained. "I don't think you control your path. I think you start working for a guy and a coach puts you in a position and says, 'I need you to coach this,' and you coach it. Then, the next year he says, 'I need you to coach that,' and you coach that. And, if it's special teams, you coach that.

"You just do the best job you can and do what you have to do and you work as hard as you can and that prepares you."

Harbaugh's determination throughout his career endeared him to Bisciotti, who built his successful staffing firm from scratch.

"Do I like a guy that has to earn his resume? Yeah, I've kind of made a living on hiring people with thin resumes and it's worked out pretty well for me in the last 25 years," the owner remarked. "I think that works to John's advantage."

Harbaugh also has football in his blood. His father is a 41-year coaching veteran and even won the 2002 Division I-AA National Championship at Western Kentucky. His younger brother, Jim, played 14 seasons as an NFL quarterback, including the 1998 campaign with the Ravens. Jim is currently the head coach for Stanford.

Jack, who attended the press conference with his wife, was bursting with pride watching his son among the Ravens' brass.

"The people in Baltimore are going to find out that he's bright and that he brings a tremendous energy and enthusiasm," said the beaming father. "And, make no mistake about it, even though he has that young look, he is a tremendous competitor. He is a winner and a battler."

Harbaugh's first test will be assembling a coaching staff, which could include Ryan, who is in the running for the Atlanta Falcons' vacant head coaching position.

The architect of the Ravens' sixth-ranked defense in 2007 was fired along with Billick, prompting a wave of support from the Baltimore locker room for Ryan's return.

That support also came from the top.

"If Rex doesn't get the Atlanta job, and I hope he does, then I hope he stays here," Bisciotti stated.

On the offensive side of the ball, it is being reported that Eagles quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur and former Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron, whom Harbaugh coached under at Indiana (1997), are being considered.

With Newsome leaving immediately after the 45-minute press conference to fly to the Senior Bowl in Moblie, Ala., Bisciotti, Cass and Harbaugh stayed behind to chat with the media for another half-hour.

For Bisciotti, who typically stays away from the public eye, it was certainly a rare occurrence to see him hold court with recorders and cameras in his face. Perhaps what is more impressive, however, is that Harbaugh stood up to an intense day of interviews without batting an eye.

While he may be a first-time head coach, the Ravens believe they found a full-time winner.

"You have to take chances in life to be successful," Bisciotti said. "You have to be willing to do things that the masses wouldn't do, or I don't think that you're ever going to separate yourself from the masses. Is it a little bit more of a perceived chance? Yeah, if you didn't spend the last 15 hours with John Harbaugh.

"A lot of things went into a lot of candidates, but the bottom line is I feel good about our choice and I like the fact that John gets to build his legend right here."

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