John Harbaugh's path to become head coach of the Baltimore Ravens was a remarkable journey. After spending 14 years in the NCAA at five universities and then 10 years as an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles, he was awarded the reins of the Ravens last year. It undoubtedly took dedication, focus and commitment. But one thing's for sure: his path was a persistent one.
"He's always been able to define a vision for himself," mentions his father, Jack Harbaugh, a 41-year coaching veteran. "He always had a plan that would allow him to be successful in pursuit of that vision. It was academics, it involved athletics, it involved friend-making, everything he was involved in, he, at a very young age, was able to define that vision, set a plan and follow it."
As John Harbaugh sees it, "Being successful is more about having the willingness to keep coming back every day. You keep getting knocked down, but you keep getting back up. Then you're always up. The only one that can back a person off is themselves, no matter what they do. I look at a guy like [Ravens director of player development] O.J. [Brigance, who is suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease]. The most persistent guy in the building is O.J. It's more of a decision or a choice that everybody makes. Toughness is a talent; persistence is a talent; courage is a talent. Those are things we're all gifted with, by God, but we choose whether to use them or not."
The choices "Harbs" has made, in terms of how he leads the team have been validated by the success we've all seen on the field. If you talk to some of the people with whom he works on a daily basis, the success is not by happenstance:
"He doesn't let up. When he sees something that he wants to accomplish, he's going to do whatever necessary to make sure we understand it as a team. He's going to be the same way each and every day. He's not going to, one minute say one thing and then the next it's something different. His persistence leads us to play the way we've been playing, because he's the same way, each and every day. He's not going to change. That tells us that this is something that our head coach wants. So, we have to continue to do what we need to do in practice to make sure that in games on Sunday that we accomplish what we need to accomplish."
"He has a tremendous plan. Everything he's ever done, from when he was a young coach to the heights of where he is right now, he's always had a plan. He's always been so competitive and so disciplined to make sure he's successful in that plan. John is one of those guys that every day that he does something in football, he knows he is either going to win or lose, and he refuses to lose. Whether it's meeting with the coaches and making sure that meeting is the best in the NFL or whether it's a really small meeting with the team, making sure that's the best in the NFL. He'll say, 'Let's make it the best,' and then he'll evaluate himself afterwards. Since he was a young guy in the football family he grew up in, everything was so competitive, and he was taught at a young age, that you win or lose. There's no in between. He's really made sure that he's a winner every chance he gets the opportunity to do so."
"On the field, it's the small things, like little things you always forget. It's the little techniques and everyday stuff in practice that has helped us be successful. You've got to do the little things before you can do the big things, little techniques, discipline stuff, the way he wants us to practice it all helps us accomplish the bigger things."
"I don't know any way that he's not persistent. He has high expectations for his coaches. He has high expectations for the players. I've never been around a guy who's more a leader than he is, because he's unflappable. I've seen him [when we were] losing last year, and he was the same. I've seen him [when we] won six in a row, and he was the same. To me, when you have somebody who has that kind of character about him where he doesn't change all the time, it gives the coaches a feeling of comfort, and it gives the players a feeling of comfort. I think his ability to be unflappable in the face of winning or losing allows him to stay persistent on us."
"Whatever he says, he's not going to back down off of it, good, bad or indifferent. I always go back to the 30-year-old days. [Coach Harbaugh gives the 30-and-over players every third day off in training camp.] There will be days that we're like, 'Hey, are we off?' And the man said, every third day, we're off, and every third day, we're off. And he sticks to that. Days that he knew [darn] well that we should've practiced. He says, 'Hey, I said every three days, so that's what we're going to do.' Me and Ray [Lewis] just look at each other, and say, 'OK!' I'm not going to fight him on that."
As for Coach Harbaugh, he believes "putting ourselves out there" as far as strengths and weaknesses, and [talking about] the good things and the bad things, allows everyone to hold each other accountable. And if they do it in a light-hearted way, "it gives everybody a chance to get better in every way without being lessened as a person or feel like they've been knocked down."
For him, "[Being myself] is the only way that I'd be interested in [being the head coach]. The only way that's truly a straight line. If you're side to side, back and forth, then you're not becoming something as efficiently and as effectively as you want. We don't have time to be waffling. There's no time to be grey in our communication. That's not to say, 'It's my way or the highway. It's to say, 'We're approaching it this way, and if you see a better way, then we'll approach it that way, but let's get it all out there.' There's no reason to waffle. Let's take a straight path to where we're going."
His messages are persistent; his communication never hazy; his vision is clear, and his course is straight.
Ravens followers are all following along that path, which we hope, this year, leads to South Florida.