Ravens Plucked Leader From Ranks in Harbaugh

Ravens Coach John Harbaugh manned the water cart during minicamp.
Ravens Coach John Harbaugh manned the water cart during minicamp. "He realizes that as a leader you have to be a student," owner Steve Bisciotti said. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 25, 2008

The cosmetic changes new Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh has made can be seen throughout the team's training facility in Owings Mills, Md.

The locker room has been reorganized. Players are no longer grouped by position. An oversize pair of glowing, fiery orange eyes stares out from the wall of the weight room, surrounded by the words "Attitude-Compete-Physical-Fast-Relentless-Finish." A plaque next to the door in the locker room reads "Team Team TEAM."

"Why did we do all that?" Harbaugh asked. "So they can see every day what the value system is, and be reminded of it."

Harbaugh, of course, is the biggest change for the Ravens, who began training camp Tuesday. The career assistant coach was hired to replace Brian Billick, who guided the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in 2001 but was fired after a disappointing 5-11 finish last season. So far Harbaugh, 45, has brought energy and enthusiasm.

"There's still a lot to be seen, and guys are still trying to figure him out," veteran place kicker Matt Stover said in early June. "I think that's the biggest thing: There's that big, huge question mark out there in players' minds. Let's really get to know John."

Harbaugh, in his 24 years of coaching collegiately and professionally, is a head coach for the first time. He spent nine seasons coaching special teams for the Philadelphia Eagles, and while that experience helped prepare him for this, it wasn't why the Ravens' front office chose Harbaugh to replace Billick.

"I think the reason that Mr. [Steve] Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome and Dick Cass gave me the opportunity is they could see intuitively that I was in line with what they're thinking," said Harbaugh, referring to Baltimore's owner, general manager and president. "You've got to respect the organization. I think that's why I was hired, because we're coming from the same place."

Bisciotti, who was making his first head coaching hire as an owner, was looking for a leader, a consensus builder and someone who shared his belief that leadership ought to be inclusive.

"There's a great quote from Warren Bennis, in a book called 'On Becoming a Leader.' He said leadership is like beauty. It's hard to describe, but you know it when you see it," Bisciotti said. "That's what John showed. He showed that hard-to-describe quality of, 'I would like to be led by this guy.' "

Harbaugh is affable and approachable. Every year at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, he and Jerry Rosburg, a longtime friend who coached special teams with the Cleveland Browns and the Atlanta Falcons, would go out for breakfast after the special teams prospects weighed in. They'd start out at the RCA Dome with two or three people, but by the time they reached the restaurant, the party inevitably would have tripled or quadrupled, and an hour would have elapsed.

"That's because he stops and talks to everybody," said Rosburg, who is now the Ravens' special teams coordinator. "He's like the Pied Piper."

Shortly after he was hired in January, Harbaugh met with as many players as he could. But after those more formal introductory meetings, he made a point of engaging players in casual conversations. The whole point was to try to get players to feel comfortable and be themselves.

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