John Harbaugh Nostalgic In Return To Philadelphia


As John Harbaugh was walking out for Ravens practice, he was repeatedly stopped by countless Eagles staff members.

He chatted with a small group in the weight room for so long that Senior Vice President of Public and Community Relations Kevin Byrne came up to him and joked with the group that they were going to make the Ravens' head coach miss practice.

Harbaugh spent a decade (1998-2007) as a defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator in Philadelphia. He got his start in the NFL with the Eagles and they're the only other professional team he's ever worked for.

Harbaugh and the Ravens have come back to Philadelphia before, once for a preseason game in 2011 and again for a regular-season game in 2012. But the Ravens' four-day stay in the City of Brotherly Love allows Harbaugh to return to his former everyday office and the time to soak it in more.

"Being here brings back incredible memories and moments," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh said he thinks about former Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid, who is now in charge of the Kansas City Chiefs. Harbaugh thought about former Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook, who Harbaugh gleefully took credit for discovering as a returner out of Villanova.

Most of all, Harbaugh talked about Jim Johnson, the Eagles' defensive coordinator from 1999 to 2008, who died in 2009.

"I learned more football in the NFL from him than anybody else," Harbaugh said.

"[I think about] nothing more than Jim Johnson. Nothing more so than the guy I would consider the greatest defensive coach in the history of football. We're running half his schemes out here right now. A great man, a great mentor, a great teacher."

Harbaugh said the Ravens have taken their defense "back to square one" to run old-school schemes like Johnson did. Baltimore always has a support player at the end of the line of scrimmage. He always had somebody in every gap. Johnson was also known as a blitz architect.

"The first thing he did was slap the playbook on the table and said, 'You outta know most of this anyway, but learn it,'" Harbaugh said.

In addition to the people, little things brought Harbaugh's memories flooding back. He remembered the bushes lining the practice fields, and noted that they've grown. He recalls fans sitting in the trees to watch practice.

Most comically, Harbaugh remembered the demolition of Veterans Stadium on March 21, 2004.

"I remember sitting right in this office right here and seeing the Vet come crashing down," Harbaugh said. "And then, like in slow-motion video, seeing the rats and cats running with the dust behind them."

Harbaugh mimicked the motions of the rats running from the rubble.

He joked throughout his press conference, especially with the Philadelphia media that used to cover him (and claimed he was their go-to guy for quotes). It was abundantly clear that Harbaugh enjoyed being back.

Since then, however, Harbaugh has moved on to bigger and better things.

In Baltimore, Harbaugh has made a name for himself as one of the best head coaches in the league. His 10 playoff wins are the most of any head coach in the NFL since 2008, and he put the franchise's second Lombardi Trophy in Baltimore's trophy case.

Entering his eighth season as the Ravens head coach, Harbaugh said he's learned how to handle people better.

He gave credit for his success to the organization around him, starting with Owner Steve Bisciotti and General Manager Ozzie Newsome. But while he deflects the acclaim, Harbaugh's growth during and since his Philadelphia days is a major reason why the Ravens are among the NFL's top teams.

"If you can survive [a couple years], then you get a chance to get your feet under you a little bit as a head coach and figure out what you believe in. The thing that's interesting to me is that everything we believed in the first day, we still believe in this day," Harbaugh said.

"Now you're eight years into it and your players believe in it completely. You get the veterans teaching the young guys, this is how we do things. The methods you can change. You can change what time you practice, what time you go to bed or what offense you run. But the principals – rough, tough, physical, fundamentally sound football team that works hard – that never changes."

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