Harbaugh: 'We're going to have fun'

OWINGS MILLS -- Brad Jackson will never forget John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens' new head coach who once made his weary legs hurt even more, his ears ache and whose dynamic presence triggered a huge smile this weekend as they hugged during an impromptu reunion.

A former Ravens linebacker who played on the Super Bowl XXXV team, Jackson was recruited to the University of Cincinnati by Harbaugh over a decade ago as he convinced the Ohio native to turn down bigger schools to give the lower-profile Bearcats a shot.

Jackson has some advice for Ravens players unfamiliar with Harbaugh, the former Philadelphia Eagles' secondary coach: Be prepared to work hard and to have some fun.

"Personally, I remember how he was at Cincinnati during winter conditioning the most," Jackson recounted. "Here it is 4:30, 5:30 in the morning and they didn't have Starbucks back then, but he was running around, acting crazy. His drill was the hardest drill. He was in your face yelling and screaming and he was always fired-up.

"He coached us hard, but you loved him for it. He would coach you hard and then he would hug you and tell you, 'I friggin' love you.' He's trustworthy, he's loyal and he never stops working hard."

Whether it's Jackson or the Eagles players who worked under Harbaugh for the past 10 years, players swear by the man they call "Harbs."

The ninth-youngest head coach in the league earned their allegiance through loyalty and caring, but his former charges say don't mistake his kindness for weakness.

Eagles safety Brian Dawkins described Harbaugh to Philadelphia reporters as "a very detail-oriented guy, a very demanding guy who might ruffle a few feathers."

And Philadelphia cornerback Sheldon Brown called Harbaugh "a very thorough guy who will have his i's dotted and his t's crossed."

Jackson said Harbaugh isn't shy about confrontations. A physically fit 45-year-old who once played defensive back at Miami (Ohio), Harbaugh isn't afraid to roll up his sleeves and get dirty.

While Harbaugh was the assistant head coach at Cincinnati in 1996, a huge melee broke out in spring practice between the offense and the defense. He didn't hesitate to put himself in harm's way and break up the fight, according to Jackson.

"It was a big fight and coach Harbaugh came in and asserted his authority even before our head coach could do anything and stopped the brawl," Jackson said. "He asserted himself and he'll be able to handle anything. There will be challenges initially with the Ravens, but I've been talking to current players and kind of putting these guys at ease and saying, 'Trust me, coach Harbaugh is legit.'

"He will be able to command the respect. Obviously, Steve Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome 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."

Jackson said that Harbaugh is a born salesman. As a recruiter, he built a reputation as a closer who was extremely persuasive with high-school athletes and their moms.

Although the Ravens' locker room can occasionally be a volatile environment, Harbaugh's father, Jack Harbaugh, who won a Division I-AA championship as the coach at Western Kentucky, isn't worried that his son might be in over his head.

"In his 10 years in the NFL, he's seen it all, every type of personality, including Terrell Owens, and he's been able to deal with it all," Jack Harbaugh said. "He will come to work and the players will see how hard he works, how much he wants them to get better. When players see you care, they will follow you to the end of the world.

"When players buy into what you're telling them, then nothing can stop you. They're all great athletes or they wouldn't make it to the NFL. When you get all 53 guys moving in the same direction, then look out."

Former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese played for Harbaugh for seven years, earning his way into the Pro Bowl as he followed his coach's advice on how to bust wedges, tackle in the open field and chase the football.

"He's one of those coaches who has fire in his belly," Reese said. "He's a coach who will get after you when he needs to, but he can relate to the veteran players and the young ones. The players will love playing for him. I don't know anyone who hasn't."

Eagles return specialist and running back Reno Mahe predicted quick success for Harbaugh, who hasn't been a head coach at any level and has never been a coordinator in the NFL.

"He'll do a great job," Mahe said. "Any special teams coordinator that can make them compete like he did can do anything."

With Harbaugh, there's not just a stick. Sometimes, a carrot is attached.

In Philadelphia, he would reward his unrecognized special-teams players with gold stars for big hits or long returns.

Periodically, he would hand out prizes like an iPod.

"I want to clarify that you can't give out extra awards in the NFL due to the salary cap, so the players bought those iPods just for the record," Harbaugh said with a smile Saturday after he was introduced as the third head coach in Ravens' history. "One thing about football is we're going to have fun. We're going to laugh. We're going to work very hard. We're going to pay attention to detail.

"We're going to do all the things you normally do as a football team, but that's fun. If you don't like that stuff, why even play the game or coach?"

NOTES: Harbaugh contacted Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis during his first day on the job. "Riding the train, he gave me a quick phone call," Lewis said during an ESPN appearance Sunday."The electricity of his voice, the passion for what he feels, with his personality, I think it's really going to capture a lot of personalities in that locker room. One coach out, one coach in, with our new coach, with his personality, I think our team is ready to do some great things." ... Bisciotti said that he has yet to speak to Brian Billick since he fired him Dec. 31, but that he hopes to soon. Billick declined comment after packing up his belongings three days after he was dismissed, saying, "It wouldn't be the smart thing to do right now."

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

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