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News » Baltimore coach remains driven

Baltimore coach remains driven

Baltimore coach remains driven
On this, the Eagles' players did not differ. John Harbaugh's tongue was legendary. In an instant, he could turn from that pleasant-looking, mild-mannered Midwestern guy into an unforgiving, tyrannical coach who neither spared feelings nor minced words.

Any imperfection, big or little, from a missed assignment to questionable effort, would unleash the beast.

Harbaugh, a former Eagles assistant, is in his first season as the Baltimore Ravens' head coach.

"But we all mend," he said. "You know, you've got to have a tough skin."

For all his idiosyncrasies - the wicked tongue, the maniacal preparation, the intolerance of imperfection - Harbaugh has been motivated by one goal. He wants to win.

That was the case during Harbaugh's 10 years in Philadelphia, where he served for nine seasons as the Eagles' special-teams coordinator and then for one as the secondary coach, and it certainly is the case now that, for the first time in his career, the 46-year-old is in charge of his own team.

"He doesn't care about your personality, and he doesn't care what you think about him," Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "He cares about winning. Success. 'You either can help me or you can't.' That's how he is, and he'll let you know. He'll tell you in a minute that stuff 'rolls downhill, so if I'm getting it, you're getting it.' At least he's honest."

Harbaugh grew up the son of legendary Football coach Jack Harbaugh, who won the 2002 Division I-AA championship at Western Kentucky. His younger brother, Jim, is the head coach at Stanford, and his sister, Joani, is married to Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean.

Harbaugh always aspired to be a head coach, which is why, before last season, he asked the Eagles' Andy Reid if he could become a position coach. He wanted to diversify his experience so that when a college, pro coordinator's, or head coaching job became available, he would be marketable.

After the 2007 season, Harbaugh interviewed for the UCLA job, then for the Ravens' vacancy. On Jan. 19, the Ravens introduced Harbaugh as the third coach in team history, following Ted Marchibroda and Brian Billick.

When Harbaugh took over, he stressed three things: team, team and team. The Ravens were coming off a 5-11 season that included a nine-game losing streak, but the defense was solid and the team had nine picks in the April draft.

Harbaugh retained defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and hired former San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to lead the offense, then used the 18th pick in the draft to select quarterback Joe Flacco, from Delaware.

The results have surpassed even the most optimistic expectations in Baltimore.

Heading into Sunday's game against the Eagles, the Ravens are 6-4. They had a four-game winning streak snapped by the New York Giants on Sunday, and return home after having played five of their last six games on the road.

Baltimore's defense ranks third in the league, as does the running game. Before the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game last night, Baltimore was one game behind the Steelers for the AFC North lead.

Even so, Harbaugh didn't want to acknowledge the team's success this week. All the record means, he said, is that the Ravens will finish no worse than 6-10 this season.

"It makes the plane rides home a lot better," Harbaugh said. "It's more fun, but the train ride last week wasn't so much fun."

He added that the success "may give credibility in the players' minds to say, 'OK, some of it is paying off.' . . . So I guess they are somewhat pleased with the progress we've made, but every day is a new day and we have a long way to go."

That's kind of how Quintin Mikell felt as a rookie. A free agent from Boise State in 2003, Mikell knew he had to stand out on special teams to make the Eagles' roster. He dedicated himself to impressing Harbaugh, and in Mikell's opinion, that's why, six seasons later, he's a starter in the Eagles' secondary.

"I felt like there were times where maybe coaches disagreed whether I should be here or player personnel disagreed, and I felt like he had my back, him and McDermott," Mikell said, referring to former secondary coach Sean McDermott. "I was pretty thankful for that. . . . So I feel like I am here because of him."

Cornerback Lito Sheppard feels he's an Eagle in spite of Harbaugh. When he was a rookie first-round pick in 2002, Sheppard said, he and Harbaugh clashed because Harbaugh wanted him to be a lead blocker on the return team. That was something Sheppard had never done, and he didn't intend to start.

"I ended up not dressing some games my rookie year because we couldn't get on the same page because of special teams," Sheppard said. "I think that kind of followed me up until I started playing on defense and got a chance to kind of wipe out some of those negative experiences. Seriously, if I wouldn't have been doing good on defense, it probably would've ruined my career because I didn't feed into the plan of playing special teams."

That's how it goes in the NFL sometimes. Not everyone gets along. But would Sheppard play for Harbaugh again?

"I wouldn't mind," he said. "I mean, Football is a fraternity, so regardless of whether we agree or disagree with somebody, we all need each other."

And they all need something Harbaugh is striving for: to win.

Contact staff writer Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 21, 2008

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