In-Depth Look at John Harbaugh's Coaching Journey
When Head Coach John Harbaugh sat down next to Lamar Jackson during the Ravens' Week 6 win against the Cincinnati Bengals last season, he told the second-year quarterback that he'd changed the game.
"You know how many little kids in this country are going to be wearing No. 8 playing quarterback for the next 20 years because of you?" Harbaugh said.
The statement encapsulated Harbaugh's evolution as a head coach.
Entering his 13th season in Baltimore, Harbaugh's resume is among the best, but it's the relationships with his players that have made the biggest impact on his career.
An in-depth feature by The Athletic's Dan Pompei detailed Harbaugh's evolution as a head coach, and how the 57-year-old became a figure that current and former players gravitate to.
"Anyone who was with Harbaugh early in his tenure as coach of the Ravens but hasn't been with him since might have a difficult time believing their relationship is real," Pompei wrote. "But after 12 seasons in Baltimore, Harbaugh isn't the same coach he was."
Pompei's feature began talking about Harbaugh's early years as a head coach. Taking over for Brian Billick in 2008, Harbaugh established an old-school approach derived from his father.
"Practice started at 1 p.m., and every player had better be on the field at 12:45, he warned," Pompei wrote. "Each had to wear the same color shoes for practice. Thigh pads were not optional, nor were hip pads. They would hit as much as the rules allowed, every other day, even through the preseason. Tired? Sore? He didn't want to hear it. On travel days, players were not allowed to wear jeans, gym shoes or sandals. And a collared shirt was required.
"Veterans who didn't play special teams, like middle linebacker Ray Lewis and running back Willis McGahee, were accustomed to having free time during the special teams portion of practice. But Harbaugh insisted they be present and watch. And then he made them run down on kickoff return on the scout team."
Pompei wrote that veterans like McGahee, Terrell Suggs, and Antwan Barns pushed back. In one instance, Suggs and Barns weren't allowed on the team bus before an away game because they weren't wearing dress shoes. They were sent home to get new shoes before being allowed to rejoin the team.
With strict guidelines came success early in Harbaugh's head coaching career. The Ravens reached the postseason in his first five seasons, winning a Super Bowl in 2012.
But Harbaugh told Pompei that he was concerned about some of his relationships with his players, so he formed a leadership council of veterans to help. Locker room leaders like Lewis, Ed Reed, and Joe Flacco helped curate issues and Harbaugh took detailed notes.
"He took notes about practices, about team meetings, about relationships with players that were going well and others that were going poorly, about motivational techniques, about game plans, about his talks with [former NFL Head Coach Dick] Vermeil, about books, about his daily Bible study, about brainstorming sessions with his father and his brother, Jim, now the head coach at Michigan," Pompei wrote.
Harbaugh attributed his evolution as a head coach to the relationships with his staff. He also gained a different perspective watching in the stands as a parent while his daughter, Alison, who will attend Notre Dame University this fall as a freshman to play women's lacrosse, grew up.
"He had to be quiet and let the refs do their jobs," Harbaugh's wife Ingrid said. "He couldn't say things to the coach. Other parents are yelling and screaming, and I'm sure people expect him to do the same, but he didn't want to draw attention to himself. It was good for him to kind of take it in."
"It's taken me all these years to get better at it, and I still struggle with it as a leader," Harbaugh added. "But I'm way better at it, more persistent in being patient than I was."
Last season, Harbaugh led the Ravens to a franchise best 14-2 record and was named the NFL's Coach of the Year. Throughout the season, we saw the emergence of "Big Truss," vibrant post-game press conferences and locker room sessions.
That's come from a genuine bond between a head coach and his players.
"He works on his relationship with every player on the roster and just about every member of the organization," Pompei wrote. "At practice, he moves around the field and makes it a point to talk with players from every position group. It might take him as long to walk from his office to the cafeteria at the Under Armour Center as it does to drive from his suburban home to M&T Bank Stadium because he stops to talk with almost everyone."
The Ravens have made it clear their goal is to win a Lombardi Trophy this season. But now 13 years wiser as a head coach, Harbaugh has a full perspective on his journey.
"[H]is journey as a coach has been about relationships as much as victories and defeats. He realizes that now," Pompei wrote. "It's funny sometimes the things that happen in the pursuit of dominance."
Robert Griffin III Says There Will Be No Preseason, But Undrafted Rookies Still Stand a Chance
By this time last year, the Ravens had already completed rookie minicamp, OTAs, and mandatory minicamp. They'd be gearing up for the start of training camp in a few weeks.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it an entirely virtual offseason up to this point, leaving us with more questions than answers. Quarterback Robert Griffin III seemed to break some news yesterday.
No preseason games would make it more difficult for teams to evaluate players. But The Athletic's Zrebiec doesn't believe the Ravens will stray away from unproven talent.
"They take a lot of pride in unearthing undrafted free agent gems and view them as an important part of their roster building," Zrebiec wrote. "Hitting on a few undrafted free agents and watching them become core special teamers and ultimately offensive or defensive contributors helps make the salary cap work.
"A potential smaller roster in July and August is expected to give way to an enlarged practice squad in September. The idea is for teams to have plenty of options close by if some roster players get the virus. The additional practice squad spots will also allow teams to keep around and develop more young players — long a request of Harbaugh — even if they are not expected to contribute in 2020."
Zrebiec noted that the Ravens' 21-man undrafted class is the biggest in the NFL, and that could serve as a distinct advantage.
"If it's mandated that teams cut down to 80 players, the Ravens could drop nine undrafted rookies and they'd still have a dozen more on their roster," Zrebiec added.
While the pandemic will give teams a smaller window to evaluate players, the Ravens are still one of the best at identifying undrafted talent. At least one undrafted rookie has made the 53-man roster for 16 straight seasons.
Jackson Cancels 'Funday With LJ' Event Amid Coronavirus Surge
Jackson was scheduled to host his third annual "Funday with LJ" event in his hometown of Pompano Beach, Fla. this weekend, but was forced to cancel due to concerns about COVID-19.
Social gatherings of groups of more than 10 people are currently not allowed. The event planned to have go-karts, 7-on-7 flag football, and other activities.
However, given the surge in cases, Jackson's camp took precaution by canceling the event.
"The spokesperson told the newspaper that Broward County, where the event was scheduled to be held, had put a limit on attendance for the event because of Florida's spike in coronavirus cases," ESPN wrote. "Based on the number of people who had already registered, Jackson chose to cancel rather than turn people away, the spokesperson said."
The Sun Sentinel reported on Tuesday that the positive test rate in the state reached 20.8 percent, "the highest yet for a single day."
● If teams fly to cities on the day of road games, Zrebiec said it could work for the Ravens: "[I]f any team could get away with it, it's probably the Ravens, at least for seven of their eight road dates. Road games in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia are bus trips/train rides anyway. Flights to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Providence (New England Patriots) are all 90 minutes or less. The only reasonably long flight will be to Houston in Week 2."