Friday, January 2, 2009

A blueprint for a first-time head coach

Second post of the day about the Ravens, but this was too good to pass up.

John Harbaugh has provided a blueprint for first-time head coaches. As this article puts it, "everything about the Ravens' surprising season has carried the Harbaugh touch."

After reading the article, I'll culled a few key points:

1. Build a strong staff. Coach Harbaugh's staff includes offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, a former head coach in college and in the pros; defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, a favorite among the players and a member of Brian Billick's coaching staff when the Ravens won the 2001 Super Bowl; Wilbert Montgomery, the former Eagles RB who won a Super Bowl as a coach with the Rams; and offensive line coach John Matsko, a 35-year coaching veteran who was on the Rams' staff (along with Wilbert Montgomery) that won a Super Bowl in 2000.

2. Have a plan and stick to it. According to one BAL player: "He didn't blink once, not once, from the things he wanted to do. He had a plan and he stuck with his plan. You have to respect a coach that win, lose or draw he says, 'This is what we're going to do,' and not, 'Let's change this or that.' The great thing about John once he set a path, he wasn't going to deviate from it. His path was that he wanted to do the right thing for his team."

3. Make the rules clear and enforce them. "Harbaugh has definitely had the courage of his convictions and has been a strong disciplinarian whenever it's been called for. Although injuries were also a factor, Harbaugh benched McAlister for violating team rules, including showing up late for meetings prior to a 31-3 loss to the Colts."

4. Let your team know you that you respect and care for them. "When Harbaugh took over the Ravens, he had large signs that say, 'Team, Team, Team,' emblazoned all over the training complex. Harbaugh continually has called the players 'mighty men,' which draws amused smiles from reporters, but his praise has paid off with mutual respect.

"He tells us all the time that he's proud to stand with us as our coach on Sundays," said one Ravens player. "How could you not want to play for someone who is proud to be your coach? You play hard because it's your job, but he makes it more fun to do it."

According to the article, "Besides instilling toughness through more physical practices, Harbaugh has also demonstrated a capacity to care. He didn't rush cornerback Samari Rolle back to work when his father, Harry Rolle, died of a sudden heart attack, encouraging him to take as much time as he needed to grieve."

One BAL player described Coach Harbaugh as "humble," saying "He treats everybody with respect. You have no choice but to play hard for a coach like that."

5. Allow the players to take some ownership. "Harbaugh gave veteran players ages 30 and over every third day off during a grueling training camp... and gradually built in more time off into the practice schedule when the Ravens were forced to have their bye in the second week of the season when Hurricane Ike caused the postponement of their game against the Houston Texans. Plus, he gave the entire team Christmas off prior to a pivotal regular-season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars."

"I think really what's most impressive about coach is just his flexibility with his players," said [LB Ray] Lewis, who has championed Harbaugh's team concept and even cancelled his radio show at team officials' suggestion prior to the season. "He's very interactive with his players. There's really no decision he makes without coming to us to really figure out what's best for the team. That's a great thing to have when you have a first-year coach and you're trying to adapt to things. You realize that he's not just trying to run you into a program and say, 'Do what I do, do what I say.' It's about what makes us better as a team, that's what you appreciate about him just from a man's perspective."

As the article describes, "Harbaugh allowed the players to vote on what to do about Christmas before suggesting an even more inviting schedule change. He said they could practice on Tuesday, which is usually their normal day off, and take Thursday off for Christmas Day to be with their families."

"He asked, 'Well, what do you want to do?' We were arguing about whether it should be Christmas morning, after Christmas morning," [DE Trevor] Pryce said. "He said, 'Why don't we try this? And we said, 'Yeah, that's it.' That's the kind of guy he is. The Christmas thing was a big thing. That was his idea. He doesn't want to be out on an island by himself."

6. Focus on the little things, but don't be afraid to delegate. "More than anything, Harbaugh has demanded attention to detail and timeliness while delegating authority to his coordinators. Harbaugh has straddled the line between being a so-called players' coach and instilling a harder edge for a team that was known for complaining about officiating a year ago and drawing costly personal fouls. Now, the Ravens run a tighter ship under Harbaugh."