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John Harbaugh Embraces Challenge of Coaching Staff Changes

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh watches from the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh watches from the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla.

When Head Coach John Harbaugh was hiring coaches to his staff this offseason, he knew that legendary coach Nick Saban could relate to the process.

During his run at Alabama as one of the most successful college coaches in history, Saban often had talented coaches leave his staff for other opportunities.

"It's a big challenge," Harbaugh said at the NFL Scouting Combine Tuesday. "You have to be very conscientious about that. You have to's a small world [in] football, but it's a very sought after world. There's a lot of people trying to get in. There's a lot of talented people out there that could really make a difference, and you just have to figure out who they are.

"I had a great conversation (with) Coach Saban … [I] happened to talk to him about two weeks ago. One of the things he talked about was all the coaching changes he had over the last 10 years because of their success. Coaches would come and be there for a year or two, then they'd go get a head coaching job."

Harbaugh faced the same challenge after the departures of Mike Macdonald to Seattle (head coach), Anthony Weaver to Miami (defensive coordinator) and Dennard Wilson to Tennessee (defensive coordinator). Assistant Offensive Line Coach Mike Devlin also left to work under Harbaugh's brother Jim at the Los Angeles Chargers.

While Harbaugh was happy to see those coaches earn new opportunities, he's extremely excited about the recent additions to Baltimore’s staff — Mark DeLeone (inside linebackers coach), Dennis Johnson (defensive line coach), Doug Mallory (defensive backs coach), and Travelle Wharton (assistant offensive line coach).

"We had a lot of positions to fill, and we filled them with guys that are going to be great fits for us that are going to make us even better," Harbaugh said. "That's what you try to do. You try to acquire the best players you can and hire the best coaches you can and just build the best team that you can. Then if it goes well, guys get an opportunity to go somewhere else and kind of chase their career and advance."


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After the Ravens reached the conference championship game, won the AFC North and finished with the best regular season record in the NFL (13-4), Harbaugh knew his staff likely wouldn't remain the same. However, during his 16 seasons in Baltimore, Harbaugh has been one of the league's best at building a strong staff, and the departures gave him another opportunity to interview candidates who can bring their expertise to Baltimore.

"Dennis Johnson with the D-line from Baylor– you're going to see his energy and his fire," Harbaugh said. "He's an attention to detail guy. Doug Mallory, he's one of the greatest secondary coaches in the world right now. He fits us because he's been in a similar system for the last number of years. He understands the way our system operates. That's going to be a huge plus for us.

"Mark DeLeone is a coach's kid, but when you start listening to him talk ball, he just blew me away with his knowledge and his relationships with players and his relationship with Roquan [Smith]. With Travelle Wharton coming in … he's a former player. I just loved the interview with him."

Harbaugh cast a wide net during the search process and has adjusted his approach over the years. He is constantly searching for younger coaches who can bring innovative ideas, and Saban felt the same way as he got older.

"When you're young, and you're 35, you know who all the 35-year-old coaches are," Harbaugh said. "Now, you get to be in your 60s, or 70s in Coach Saban's case, you probably know who the 60- and 70-year-old coaches are, but you don't know the 35-year-old coaches as much. He had to train those guys every single year. I think that does become a big challenge of success."

General Manager Eric DeCosta has no doubt the pieces are in place to help the Ravens remain championship contenders.

"I think John does an amazing job building out a staff," DeCosta said. "I think last year's staff was really an incredible job of building out and helping our team. We feel really good about the guys that we brought in this year. A lot of work was done by the assistant coaches, by the coordinators and by John to get that done. We're excited about the skills that they bring to the table."

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