A takedown in praise of John Harbaugh
So here I was planning to get all existential in this here space and rattle off a piece on aging and now NFL.com has got me ready to go to the mattresses with a good old-fashioned sports rant.
The article in question is "NFL Head Coach Power Rankings" by one Gregg Rosenthal and the minute I saw it I knew I had to set my phasers to roast. Normally I do not get hot and bothered by lists; they are subjective after all and are generally intended to stir up page views and ratings, nothing more. Thus how you can get things like ESPN putting a picture of Tim Tebow up in a collage about greatest left-handed athletes.
This will be the one time I mention Tebow in this space lest he end up playing against the Ravens at some point, so as Ash said in "Army of Darkness," "Listen up you primitive screwheads."
I am not a Tebow "hater." I have no beef with Tebow, who seems like a generally nice kid.
While I think he is a nice enough guy, my problem with him is the absurd media circus that surrounds him. That's not his fault, of course, but the problem is the coverage he gets obscures the fact that he is not a very good professional quarterback.
Not that he doesn't have some talents. He's good runner. He can get guys to follow him. He has shown an ability to win games.
But he lacks arm strength and accuracy, two attributes that are very important to have if you are to be a good NFL QB. He tries, but you can't teach those attributes. Denver couldn't wait to get rid of him and replace him with Peyton Manning because Manning, despite being one hit away from forced retirement, actually has those attributes. Good teams ate Tebow for lunch last year by playing to his weakness as a pocket passer.
Tebow's cult of fans and media sycophants, ESPN in particular, do him no favors as he attempts to learn and grow into a competent pro quarterback. ESPN doing live updates every morning from Jets camp and giving fawning coverage to a backup quarterback is up there with some of the most shameless things even they've ever done, and this is the network that has never missed an opportunity to flaunt and celebrate its own importance.
---End of sidenote---
So what got me hot and bothered over this list?
Putting Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh in the "middle of the pack"of NFL coaches.
That's right, middle of the pack, behind the likes of Andy Reid and Rex Ryan and Jim Schwartz and even Dennis Allen, who has yet to coach a game.
Yes, someone actually made a list where a guy who never coached a game in the NFL was rated ahead of a guy that has never missed the playoffs in four years, holds a .688 winning percentage (44-20), a division title and two AFC championship games.
Here's Rosenthal's brief comments on Harbaugh:
"Harbaugh is an effective coach that inherited a great situation. He fits the Baltimore Ravens well."
Ok, let's deconstruct that.
Harbaugh inherited a team that finished 5-11 under Brian Billick the previous year. That Ravens team lost nine games in a row at one point, including one to an 0-13 Miami Dolphins team.
Going into his first year, Harbaugh's quarterback depth chart consisted of Kyle Boller, Troy Smith and rookie Joe Flacco. The first two members of that list are currently out of football and, at the time, Flacco was an untested rookie from an FCS school.
Harbaugh also inherited a defense that many thought was aging (granted, football pundits and fans say this every year), still had its share of head cases like Chris McAlister and an offensive line in transition (longtime stalwarts Jonathan Ogden and Mike Flynn had retired; fourth-year center Jason Brown was the longest tenured lineman). The wide receivers were Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and the Demitrius Williams/Yamon Figurs/Marcus Smith poo-poo platter.
Does that sound like a great situation for a rookie head coach to find himself in?
Yes, Harbaugh inherited a good ownership and general manager situation with Ozzie Newsome and Steve Bisciotti. But they were both here from 2004-2007 when the Ravens missed the playoffs three out of four years too.
So who was ranked ahead of Harbs? Allow me.
Now wait a second. John's brother did a great job in his first year turning San Fran back into a winner, but are we really anointing him a top-3 coach after one season? Can we let him, you know, maybe prove it wasn't a fluke year in the creampuff NFC West?
Ok, he's won a championship so I can give you that one.
Not even coaching this year.
Excuse me, Andy freakin' Reid? Really? The same guy Philly fans have been trying to run out of town on a rail for eight years? The guy who runs four-minute drills with two minutes to go? The guy who is guaranteed to screw up clock management in a big spot? The guy who throws at least one horrible challenge flag every game? That guy?
The following guys were given the label "knocking on the door." What door?
Ha! The same guy that just brought walking distraction Tim Tebow into camp this year? Any Ravens fan that saw Rex's defenses in Baltimore could see last year's disaster of a Jets season coming a mile away. Fat off success, Rex would give too many guys too much leeway, they'd start bickering with each other and the whole operation would blow up in his face.
But hey, he's loquacious and quotable and guarantees Super Bowl wins in August, so the media loves him. Just remember, there's a reason Ozzie Newsom never handed Rex the keys in Baltimore, and it's not because he couldn't coordinate.
The same Jim Schwartz that has overseen a team that hoards personal foul penalties and gets arrested so much they could be called "Bengals North." That Jim Schwartz? Yes, Schwartz has done well in turning the Lions from laughing stock to a good team. At the same time, this franchise was picking in the top-5 of the draft for a decade, with only the staggering incompetence of Matt Millen holding them back. Eventually they were going to hit on a freak like Calvin Johnson and a solid QB like Matthew Stafford.
By the way, here's where the Ravens' first pick has been in the four years since Harbaugh was hired as coach: 18, 23, 43, 27 and 35.
Granted, there was wheeling and dealing in moving to those spots. Point is, Harbaugh has made the playoffs every year without the benefit of a top-15 draft pick.
Here's the Lions draft positions since Schwartz took over: 1, 2, 13, and 23.
Who? I had to look up the fact that Allen coaches the Raiders now. Rosenthal says he has a gut feeling about him. Great reason to put him ahead of a guy who's actually, you know, won a game as a head coach.
And I won't even mention the guys who were put in the middle of the pack with Harbaugh.
Pete Carroll? Sure, if you're talking Pac-12 coaches, he's right up there.
Marvin Lewis and Mike Smith, who've never won a playoff game.
Look, I know us Ravens fans tend to be a bit reactionary to even the slightest mention that our team may not be the best. Yes, we have a large inferiority complex. But come on, not putting Harbaugh in the upper echelon of NFL coaches flies in the face of common sense. Even Steeler fans could probably agree on Harbaugh's standing among the league's best. His record speaks for itself.
It's almost as if the writer put Harbs that low to rile up the notoriously touchy Raven fan base and inspire lengthy diatribes like this about how wrong he was, knowing that all along we're the suckers for clicking. Sort of the same rationale that keeps Skip Bayless employed
If so, mission accomplished.