Ravens meet with John Harbaugh

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens' search for a new head coach took a different turn Tuesday as Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach John Harbaugh became the sixth candidate to interview for the job, meeting four hours with team officials at the team's headquarters. Unlike the majority of coaches interviewed who have specialized in offense, Harbaugh has built his reputation on special teams.

Harbaugh, 45, coached the Eagles' special teams for seven seasons before shifting to defense last year. He was named NFL Special Teams Coach of the Year by his peers in 2001.

Although Harbaugh has never been a head coach at any level, the brother of Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh is highly regarded in league circles for his innovations on special teams and his football pedigree. He's viewed as a dark horse candidate for the Ravens' opening created last week when team owner Steve Bisciotti fired coach Brian Billick and his entire staff.

"I don't think there's any one way to prepare to be a head coach," Harbaugh said before leaving the Ravens' training complex to return to Philadelphia. "I don't think you're a head coach until you become a head coach and you find out what your style is.

"Everybody applies their experiences, their talents, their efforts and then you see what happens. Andy Reid was never a coordinator before being a head coach and he's one of the best in the league."

Meanwhile, the Ravens have yet to request permission to interview Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The Baltimore native has been contacted by the Atlanta Falcons and could interview with them as soon as Thursday or Friday.

Schwartz is still expected to be contacted by the Ravens at some point.

Harbaugh's special-teams units have ranked first overall several times under a ratings system compiled by Dallas Morning News NFL columnist Rick Gosselin. Among the standouts coached by Harbaugh: kicker David Akers, special-teams ace Ike Reese, running back Brian Westbrook and punter Sean Landeta.

Harbaugh played defensive back at Miami (Ohio) prior to diverse stints as an assistant at Indiana, Cincinnati, Morehead State (Ky.), Pittsburgh and Western Michigan, coaching everything from running backs to outside linebackers, tight ends, special teams, defensive backs and even helped players with their strength and conditioning. Harbaugh is the son of former Western Kentucky head coach Jack Harbaugh.

"John wants to be a head coach some day and maybe a defensive coordinator," Eagels coach Andy Reid said when Harbaugh began coaching the Eagles' secondary last year. "This gives him a different responsibility. It gives him a professional opportunity to step out of that special teams mode and it strengthens our staff."

Harbaugh worked last season under aggressive defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who's known for devising confusing blitz packages.

However, the Eagles ranked just 18th in pass defense this year, intercepting 11 passes and allowing 16 touchdown passes with quarterbacks compiling an 80.3 average passer rating against them.

"As you come up in the ranks, college and pro, you try to learn as much as you can," Harbaugh said. "I've had great mentors from Andy Reid and Jim Johnson and other coaches down over the years. That prepares you more than anything else."

The Ravens' search committee, which includes Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and team president Dick Cass, have also interviewed Indianapolis Colts assistant head coach Jim Caldwell, Dallas Cowboys assistant head coach Tony Sparano, Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, recently-dismissed Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

"Up, down, sideways, from the very top, it's a very impressive place to visit," Harbaugh said. "I knew the Ravens had a great organization. Now, I see why.

"I know I've enjoyed every minute of it. It seems like it went by like that, and it was over. Good people, from Ozzie and Steve to everybody in the organization. It's been challenging, but it has been fun."

NOTE: Ryan interviewed Tuesday with the Miami Dolphins after meeting with Falcons owner Arthur Blank on Monday. Ryan's interview with Dolphins executives Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland is expected to continue today.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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