Harbaugh wins if C-Mac goes…

October 30, 2008 | Drew Forrester

John Harbaugh is in pretty good position right now.

That is, as long as some combination of Walker, Ivy, Washington and Rolle fills in well for Chris McAlister.

McAlister is *apparently* on the verge of being moved to the team’s injured reserve list.  Such a move would end his 2008 season.

And, likely, his Ravens career.

If it works out that McAlister gets placed on I.R., you can count that as a win for John Harbaugh.

A win for the team, too?  Only if the guys taking his place fill in admirably.  And with the list of potent wide receiver-quarterback duos the Ravens face from here on out, it’s going to take a lot just to “fill in admirably”.

But if McAlister packs it in for the year, it’s a knockout victory for Harbaugh.  It could be a temporary loss for the on-field product, but in the long haul, Harbaugh gets the “w”.

Forget what Ed Reed said this week about “the players not totally buying into Harbaugh’s philosophy yet”. That’s a player, sticking up for another player.  I know for a fact that a lot of players HAVE bought into Harbaugh and his staff.  Do a few players resent his “tough guy” approach?  Sure.  But players – some group of them – wouldn’t have liked Schottenheimer’s approach…or Cowher’s approach…or Garrett’s approach.  The last coach they had “treated them like men” and some of the players didn’t even like THAT approach. 

Phooey on Reed and the rest of them who are critical of Harbaugh.

That kind of in-fighting and public chirping is about 80% of the reason the former coach got the axe and $18 million worth of free boating lessons.

Just shut up and play football.  Like Ray Lewis is doing…

Harbaugh is starting to weed out the strife-causers.  He can talk about knee injuries all he wants.  He can publicly support McAlister for his “great work ethic” and his “competitive spirit” and blah, blah, blah.  He’ll be glad to see #21 gone.  True that.  And even if it’s McAlister who is “leaving on his terms” with this supposedly-serious knee injury (two weeks ago he didn’t have an injury…and he hasn’t played in two games…but now his knee is shot?  Ummmm…OK, then) it’s still a win for Harbaugh.  Life will go on without the great Chris McAlister.

I’ve always liked Chris McAlister as a player.  I still do.  When he’s healthy and has his head on right, he’s one of the best cover corners in the league.  I’ve believed for a long time he’s one of the most under-rated Ravens ever.  He’s a slam-dunk Ring of Honor entry for the Ravens.

Then again, I don’t coach the team.  And when a guy can’t abide by the company manual for 16 weeks out of 52, something’s wrong.  When he can’t make meetings on time, something’s wrong.  When a player is openly insubordinate of his coach and/or his staff, it can’t be tolerated.  

Like a player said to me last week, “21 does whatever he wants to do.  Or he did before.  I guess that’s changing and he doesn’t like it.  Oh well.”

“Oh well.”

How about that for a strong defense for a fellow teammate? 

“Oh well.”

So if McAlister DOES hit the I.R., Harbaugh gets his first major locker room win.  Sure, publicly, they’ll say all the right things about how it’s a shame to lose a Pro Bowl player.  And how a guy with that much experience is invaluable.  And they’ll probably throw something in there about other guys on the team needing to step in and try to fill his shoes, even though it’s going to be tough because McAlister is such a great competitor.

Publicly, they’ll say the right things, because the Ravens always do.  

Privately, Harbaugh wins.  He stood up to McAlister.  And even though C-Mac’s “injury” suddenly got severe enough to warrant a trip to the I.R., it saved Harbaugh a tough talk.  He’d rather play without him anyway.

Don’t forget that Rex Ryan has a role in all of this too.  More, in fact, than people realize.  Rex Ryan’s trying to earn a head coaching gig somewhere next year.  Who does he want to tie his fate to over the last 10 weeks?  McAlister…disgruntled, insubordinate and unprofessional?  Or someone like Cory Ivy or Fabian Washington?  Yes, they’re both not the caliber of McAlister.  But they show up on time, work hard, make the meetings and give everything they have.  Rex wants a head coaching gig.  He’ll go with the guys who are trying to HELP him get that job, not the guy trying to help him LOSE that job.

It’s going to take a while, but Harbaugh will eventually surround himself with players who believe in his style and his philosophy.  That might mean a lot of new faces in purple over the next couple of years, but it’s John Harbaugh’s team now.  He decides who comes and who goes.

Just ask Chris McAlister.

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