Harbaugh hired as next Ravens head coach

OWINGS MILLS -- John Harbaugh was hired as the Baltimore Ravens' new head coach Friday as team owner Steve Bisciotti placed his stamp on the franchise by entrusting his football team to a career assistant who met his criteria for energy, youth and football knowledge.

One day after being snubbed by Jason Garrett, the Ravens landed their second choice to replace fired coach Brian Billick in Harbaugh, a 45-year-old Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach with an extensive special-teams background.

Bisciotti offered Harbaugh the job at 5:35 p.m. in the Ravens' executive boardroom, and Harbaugh promptly agreed to a four-year contract worth between $2 million to $2.5 million annually. The Ravens will formally introduce Harbaugh as the third head coach in franchise history today at a noon news conference.

"They've got a great organization, a tremendous owner, a tremendous general manager and a good football team sitting there right now," Harbaugh told Philadelphia reporters after leaving the Ravens' training complex in a limousine. "I can't wait to get started. It's an opportunity I want to make the most of. I'm going to do everything possible to be successful."

Harbaugh has never been a coordinator in the NFL, but began building a reputation as the league's Special Teams Coach of the Year in 2001.

Harbaugh was regarded as a dark-horse candidate initially as the Ravens pursued bigger names such as Garrett, the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator. Baltimore held discussions with former San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, who was the team's primary fallback option if it hadn't worked out with Harbaugh.

Harbaugh was persistent, though, and he won over a search committee headed by Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome with his intensity, positive attitude and organizational skills.

Bisciotti called former majority owner Art Modell, who still owns one percent of the team, to make him one of the first to learn that Harbaugh had been hired.

"We have the head coach, and we're very excited about it," team spokesman Kevin Byrne said.

Although many players lobbied for popular former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, former Baltimore linebacker Brad Jackson said that Harbaugh will quickly win over any doubters.

"There will be those challenges initially, I can tell that from the mindset of some of the current players I spoke to," said Jackson, whom Harbaugh recruited to the University of Cincinnati. "I'm kind of putting those guys at ease and saying, 'Trust me, coach Harbaugh is a good man.'

"He will be able to command the respect. Obviously, Mr. Bisciotti and Ozzie and those guys wouldn't have made the decision to hand him the keys to the building if he wasn't able to do it."

Harbaugh isn't the first NFL head coach to emerge from the kicking game, following a distinguished group with roots in special teams that includes Marv Levy, Bill Cowher, Dick Vermeil, Mike Ditka and Bill Belichick.

"It's not a well-traveled path, but we'll prove special-teams coordinators can coach," Harbaugh said. "But a football coach is a football coach. I guess the Ravens saw something they liked."

After nine years coaching the Eagles' special teams, Harbaugh moved to secondary coach last season to improve his chances to become a head coach as he learned under the tutelage of aggressive defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.

"I couldn't be happier for John and his entire family," Eagles head coach Andy Reid said in a statement. "He has worked very hard to become a head coach in the National Football League. I know how much this means to him.

"He is very deserving of this opportunity and we will miss him in Philadelphia. John is a good friend, a great coach, and he has played a vital role in the success we have shared here. I wish him all the best in Baltimore."

Even though Garrett was their top pick, the Ravens were pleased to hire Harbaugh following an 18-day search that began when Billick was dismissed along with his entire staff.

Meanwhile, an effort has already begun internally to retain Ryan. Harbaugh and Ryan worked together in 1996 at Cincinnati.

San Diego Chargers linebackers coach Ron Rivera is another possibility for that post if a deal can't be worked out with Ryan, who has coached the Ravens' defense for the past three years.

Former Miami Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron, who employed Harbaugh on his Indiana staff, and Eagles quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur are the top offensive coordinator candidates.

"Now that we've got everything settled in that department, we've got to see what kind of changes are going to be made," Ravens linebacker Gary Stills said. "I've heard of John Harbaugh before, and I'm just interested in playing some football.

"If he's somebody that the front office believes in, then that's somebody I believe in, too, because I trust the people who make those decisions. Some of the guys want a fresh start. Let's see what kind of fresh start it is. Hopefully, it's not a total change."

A finalist for the UCLA job that went to former Ravens offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel, Harbaugh becomes the NFL's ninth-youngest head coach. The former Miami (Ohio) defensive back who grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., was a finalist for the Miami Dolphins' job that went to Cameron last year.

Harbaugh has diverse coaching experience, working for 13 years in the college ranks as he coached defensive backs, tight ends, running backs, special teams and even in strength and conditioning.

Harbaugh began coaching in 1984 at Western Michigan, moving on to the University of Pittsburgh as a tight ends coach prior to working eight seasons at Cincinnati (1989 to 1996) and the following year at Indiana as a secondary and special-teams coach.

"Coach Harbaugh is a heck of a recruiter, and whether you were from the suburbs or the inner city, he was able to relate to you one-on-one," Jackson said. "He always looked you in the eye. He's always honest.

"Some people may be scratching their heads right now and saying, 'Where is this guy coming from?' But I keep reminding current players on this team that coach Harbaugh is a special-teams coach who related with offense and defense every week. Friends of mine like Takeo Spikes and Trent Cole had nothing but great things to say about him."

Despite the fact that he has never been a head coach before, Harbaugh expressed confidence Jan. 8 following his first interview that he was up to the task.

"I don't think there's any one way to prepare to be a head coach," Harbaugh said at the time. "I don't think you are a head coach until you become a head coach and you find out what your style is. Andy Reid was never a coordinator before he became a head coach, and he's one of the best in the league."

Harbaugh arrived at the Ravens' training complex at nearly 9 a.m.for his second-round interview as the only coach other than Garrett to interview twice.

The Ravens plan to fly in Harbaugh's parents for his announcement.

The Ravens didn't have any doubts that Harbaugh would turn them down, a sentiment that became obvious after his first interview.

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

"Good people, from Ozzie and Steve to everybody in the organization. It's been challenging, but it has been fun."

Harbaugh comes from a football family.

His father, Jack Harbaugh, coached for 41 years, leading Western Kentucky to a Division I-AA national championship.

And his brother, Jim Harbaugh, was the Ravens' quarterback in 1998 and now coaches a Stanford team that upset USC last season.

Rounding out the high-level sports connections, Harbaugh's brother-in-law is Marquette basketball coach Tom Crean.

"It's going to be a family atmosphere with him," Jackson said. "At the end of the day, that's the only way you can win."

The Ravens' search committee began the process by interviewing Indianapolis Colts assistant head coach Jim Caldwell, who eventually withdrew his name from consideration. Then, the Ravens met with Garrett, who turned down their offer to remain the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator, Cowboys assistant Tony Sparano, who's the new Dolphins' coach, Ryan and New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Marty's son.

Now that the Ravens have their coach, they can begin moving on from a Billick era that lasted nine seasons and included a Super Bowl title that ended in disappointment following a 5-11 campaign.

"When you're in this process of finding a head coach, you're kind of in limbo as a team," tight end Todd Heap said. "Now, we can finally go forward. It's going to be an exciting time."

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

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