Five current and former NFL coaches who are leaders on and off the field will launch a new tradition this month with the inaugural NFL-USO Coaches Tour. Ravens head coach **JOHN HARBAUGH**; Giants Head Coach TOM COUGHLIN; former Steelers Head Coach BILL COWHER; Titans Head Coach JEFF FISHERand*former Raiders and Buccaneers Head CoachJON GRUDEN *will travel to meet and greet servicemembers for several days in the Persian Gulf region.
The NFL and USO have organized overseas morale-building visits for more than 40 years. In 1966, the NFL teamed with the USO and became the first sports organization to send a group of players to Vietnam and other parts of Asia, demonstrating the league's support for America's troops.
In the past four decades, NFL stars including TERRY BRADSHAW, LARRY CSONKA, FRANCO HARRIS, HOWIE LONG, DON MEREDITH, LYNN SWANN and JOHNNY UNITAS have visited servicemembers on NFL-USO tours in such locations as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Japan, Korea, Kuwait and Somalia. Last year, NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL joined players on a USO trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, JARED ALLEN, DANNY CLARK, LARRY FITZGERALD and WILL WITHERSPOON spent 10 days traveling through Iraq and Kuwait visiting the troops.
Coaches participating in this month's NFL-USO Coaches Tour:
JOHN HARBAUGH, BALTIMORE RAVENS:
In his first season (2008) as Ravens head coach, John Harbaugh set an NFL record. Along with QB Joe Flacco, this pair established a mark for the most wins ever by a rookie head coach with a rookie quarterback. Baltimore won 13 games and advanced to the AFC Championship game where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers.
Harbaugh came to the Ravens after 24 years of pro and college coach experience. His father Jack, a highly-respected college coach, won the 2002 NCAA Division 1-AA national championship at Western Kentucky. His brother Jim played 14 seasons in the NFL, including starting at QB for the Ravens in 1998, and is currently the head coach at Stanford.
Harbaugh has great respect for those who serve our country through the Armed Forces. "These soldiers allow us to live freely in our country," he said. "They keep the world safe. They sacrifice for us every day. If I can help these men and women in any way, however small it might be, I will."
"One of my best friends in high school, Jim Minick, is a Colonel in the Marine Corp," Harbaugh continued. "He's done three tours in Anbar [Iraq]. He was a big part of the turnaround over there, and we've been talking about leadership and teamwork with him ever since he was ROTC at Ball State. These guys are what America is all about. You know, we talk about team and sports, we think team is important, having each other's back – and it is important – but we're just a small little slice of what that means compared to the military.
"I think everybody in this country is proud of everything that's being done over there by our young people. We have them out here all the time. They come out here and watch practice; they talk to our team, guys who have been through some amazing situations. I think I'm going to learn more and enjoy it more probably than they are, for sure. What am I going to say to them? I'm looking forward to what they have to say, and it's going to be a neat trip."
TOM COUGHLIN, NEW YORK GIANTS:
Long regarded as one of the NFL's premier head coaches, Coughlin reached the pinnacle of his profession in the 2007 season when he led the Giants to a victory in Super Bowl XLII. In 2008, his Giants won the NFC East championship with a 12-4 record, and advanced to postseason play for the fourth consecutive season, the first time they accomplished that feat in the 84-year history of the franchise. Coughlin also led the Jacksonville Jaguars to four consecutive postseason berths (1996-99) and is one of only three coaches in NFL history to accomplish that feat with two different teams.
Coughlin also recognizes the importance of giving back to the community. Since its inception in 1996, the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation has donated more than $2 million to help children with leukemia and other childhood cancers and their families.
"I have always had great respect for those who served," said Coughlin of his upcoming trip. "In my time, we had the draft. Today, these people who are in Iraq and Afghanistan are volunteers. To spend time with them is to be able to sense the intelligence and the passion of these people and to stand in admiration and awe of this combination."
Bill Cowher spent 15 seasons as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he amassed 149 regular season wins highlighted by a victory in Super Bowl XL. Cowher led the Steelers to eight division titles and 10 playoff appearances during his tenure in Pittsburgh and his 12 postseason victories are the seventh most in NFL history. Cowher also tied legendary NFL coach Paul Brown by guiding the Steelers to the playoffs in his first six seasons as head coach.
A native of Crafton, PA, Cowher was a linebacker and special teams standout for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns before moving into the coaching ranks. Cowher's father served in the Air Force from 1940-1945.
"I am really excited for this trip as I have a tremendous appreciation for our troops and greatly value how they protect our freedom each day," said Cowher. "Anything I can do to help inspire and thank our troops in anyway will be a tremendous honor for me."
JEFF FISHER, TENNESSEE TITANS:
Fisher is currently the longest tenured coach with one team in the NFL and holds the franchise record for wins with 133 in 14 full seasons leading the Titans. Under his leadership, Fisher has guided Tennessee to the playoffs six times, collected three division titles and one AFC Championship title in 1999. Last year was one of the most successful during his time with the team as the team matched a franchise record for wins with an NFL-best 13, captured the AFC South title and started the season with a franchise record 10 consecutive wins.
A former NFL player, Fisher played five seasons as a defensive back and returner for the Chicago Bears from 1981-85 after being drafted in the seventh round from the University of Southern California. Fisher is co-chairman of the NFL's Competition Committee, which is instrumental in guiding the league through rule changes and ways to improve the game, a role he has held since 2001. Active in the community, he holds an annual celebrity softball game each summer that benefits several Middle Tennessee charities.
Through his time in the area, Fisher has forged a strong relationship with the 101st Airborne Division (located near Nashville) and this past season made a parachute jump with several soldiers to the Titans practice facility to open a regular season practice.
Gruden spent 18 seasons in the NFL, 11 as head coach (seven with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and four with the Oakland Raiders). He led Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl XXXVII win in January 2003, just 11 months after signing on as Head Coach. Coach Gruden carried the Buccaneers to three Divisional Championships, and led the Raiders to two Divisional Championships. He is widely viewed as one of the league's best quarterback mentors.
Gruden recently signed with ESPN to join their Monday Night Football broadcast. He was born in Sandusky, Ohio and attended the University of Dayton, where he played quarterback for three seasons. He and his wife Cindy have three boys and are active in the Tampa community. He is humbled by the opportunity to visit the troops.