Paul Domowitch: Ravens coach Harbaugh learned well from Eagles coach Reid
OWINGS MILLS, Md. - The barbarians are at the gate, and those aren't holiday candles and carving knives they're carrying. They are
OWINGS MILLS, Md. - The barbarians are at the gate, and those aren't holiday candles and carving knives they're carrying. They are torches and pitchforks.
Andy Reid's Eagles are teetering perilously close to the edge of a third season in 4 years without reaching the playoffs, and, in the wake of Sunday's ugly, 13-13 tie with the one-win Cincinnati Bengals, a rapidly growing number of folks in Yo!town are clamoring for the coach's head. When a fair journalist such as my colleague John Smallwood suggests that it's time to can the winningest coach in Eagles history, can the J Boys (Joe Banner and Jeff Lurie) be far behind?
John Harbaugh can't hear the Fire Big Red war drums here in suburban Baltimore. WIP's signal fades out just north of Havre de Grace, and the first-year Ravens head coach has a few more pressing things to do right now than check out Philly.com or the fan rantings on Internet message boards.
For the record, though, the former Eagles assistant thinks that anybody in favor of running Reid out of Philadelphia should have his head examined.
"Any talk that he should be fired is ridiculous," said Harbaugh, who spent 9 years on Reid's staff before taking the Ravens job in January after Brian Billick was fired. "Andy Reid is a premier coach in the National Football League. Philadelphia is lucky to have him. He made history there."
Harbaugh, 46, is an NFL head coach today largely because of what he learned from Reid. So, there is a sad bit of irony in the fact that the pupil could nudge the teacher another step closer to the exit door Sunday if his 6-4 Ravens manage to beat the 5-4-1 Eagles at M & T Bank Stadium.
"It's an awkward situation," Harbaugh said. "I'm still an Eagles fan. On any other Sunday, I want them to win. My wife and I root for them.
"The other side of the coin, though, is you want to make a good showing, a good impression. You want to go out and do well and show him that he taught you well. I want to win. But not just because it's the
Eagles. Because we're trying to make the playoffs."
While Reid is catching a hundred different kinds of hell from disenchanted Eagles fans, they're killing the charismatic Harbaugh with kindness down here. Ten games into his first season, the Ravens already have won more games (six) than they did all of last season (five). And they're doing it with a rookie quarterback (Audubon's Joe Flacco).
A win over the Eagles Sunday would put them in good position to make the playoffs. They have the 1-8-1 Bengals next week and then play three of their final four games at home.
"We know where we're going," Harbaugh said. "It's irrespective of wins and losses. But the wins along the way help solidify in the minds of the players what we're doing."
Much like Reid 10 years earlier, Harbaugh didn't bring the kind of resume to his first NFL head-coaching job that would immediately impress his players. Reid was an obscure quarterbacks coach when Lurie hired him. Never had been a coordinator. Never had called plays.
Harbaugh, hired by the Eagles the year before Reid arrived, spent nine of his 10 seasons in Philadelphia as the special-teams boss and his last season as the defensive backs coach.
He inherited a Ravens team that had its fair share of strong-willed veterans with big egos.
"Watching how Andy handled everything his first year in Philly was huge," Harbaugh said. "Having gone through that and seen that, that gave me strength. The thing Andy did, he never backed down from anything he thought was right.
"He had George Hegamin pushing the sled that summer. There probably were four or five direct run-ins with veteran guys where Andy stood up and said, 'Listen, this is how we're going to do it. If you don't want to do it this way, there's the door.' "
Harbaugh had to convince the Ray Lewises, Ed Reeds and Derrick Masons that he had a plan and that it was in their best interest to buy into it. He laid down rules and got the players to follow them.
Harbaugh is a coach's kid. His old man Jack was an assistant on Bo Schembechler's staff at Michigan and a head coach at Western Michigan and Western Kentucky.
The son got his coaching foundation from his father and learned almost everything else about being a head coach from the man who will stand on the other side of the field from him on Sunday.
"From the first day he got to Philadelphia, I listened to everything Andy said," Harbaugh said. "I watched how he handled everything. Every meeting we had, I always took notes. What he said after losses. What he said after big wins. I didn't necessarily go back and look at everything [he wrote]. But maybe just by writing it down, it kind of sinks in."
The biggest thing he learned from Reid, though, didn't come from anything his former boss said. It came from a sign that hangs in Reid's office at the
"He's got this sign behind his desk that says, 'Don't judge,' " Harbaugh said. "First time I saw it, I'm thinking, God, that's kind of what we do as coaches. We judge everybody. We evaluate.
"But his point was that there's a difference between evaluating and judging someone. Everybody comes from different backgrounds. They have different experiences, different life perspectives, different ways of dressing. [His point was] don't judge people on that kind of stuff. Try to figure out who they are in the first place."
Unlike Reid, Harbaugh doesn't have his head buried in a play sheet during a game. He doesn't call offensive or defensive plays. He wisely retained Rex Ryan to run the defense and hired Cam Cameron to be his offensive coordinator.
"I think it's better for me," Harbaugh said. "That's the model [owner] Steve [Bisciotti] and [general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] wanted. They didn't want a coordinator/head coach.
"I'm involved in all three phases of the game. But it's good, at least from my perspective and my background, to be able to kind of pick and choose where I want to get involved. So, if I want to get involved in the offensive line one day, I can jump in there. It frees me up to be involved with any part of the team I want. For Andy, that wouldn't make sense, because he's an offensive coach."
Through 10 games, the Eagles have the second-greatest run-pass disparity in the league. They've thrown the ball 152 more times than they've run it. Only the Colts, with 156 more passes than runs, have a greater disparity.
Only eight NFL teams have more rushing attempts than passing attempts. Ironically, two of those teams are coached by former Reid disciples - Harbaugh and the Vikings' Brad Childress. The Ravens have run the ball 91 more times than
they've thrown it. The Vikings have 312 rushing attempts to 308 passing attempts.
The Ravens' offense is everything the Eagles' is not. They average a league-high 36.9 rushing attempts per game. They have three running backs with at least 85 carries. They have a bruising, 260-pound fullback
(Le'Ron McClain) who can block and get the job done in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
McClain, whose 99 carries are second on the team to Willis McGahee's 134, has five touchdown runs and is 7-for-7 in third-and-1 situations. The Ravens got him in the fourth round of the '07 draft, one round after the Eagles took Tony Hunt.
"Andy's background is BYU and Lavelle Edwards," Harbaugh said. "He's also West Coast [offense]. We're not that different philosophically. I believe like he does that you can't just run the ball to win. You've got to be able to throw the ball.
"He would tell you, [you have to] throw the ball early. On first down. In the first three quarters. Then run the ball to finish the game. I can see us doing that one day. But with a first-year quarterback and the people that we have, I think we're set up a little more right now to run the ball."
And how ironic would it be if the Ravens beat the Eagles on a 1-yard touchdown run by McClain. You'd be able to hear the Fire Big Red war drums a hundred miles away. *
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