“I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day.” – James Joyce.
Joyce has probably never before been used to describe an NFL training camp, but here, in Baltimore, it’s certainly symbolic of what the Ravens are trying to do in this debut season for coach John Harbaugh.
What Harbaugh is trying to establish today, right now, is newness. A fresh approach isn’t bulletproof, but the luxury of not knowing what lies ahead is. You can’t shoot what you can’t see. Today, and tomorrow, even, no one is going to know if John Harbaugh is the right man to lead the Ravens — or the wrong man to lead the Ravens. Only one thing will determine the answer to that — winning. The Ravens hired John Harbaugh because they stopped believing in the old system. A new system, with new ideas, new people and new goals, is only useful if those goals are attained. Anyone can come along and talk the talk. The best people are the ones who walk the walk.
The pitfalls of hard work contribute to physical and mental failures. Harbaugh’s approach to the game tests both. At the nine-day mark of training camp, 23 different players have been injured enough to miss time from practice. Is that Harbaugh’s fault? Not necessarily. Should he be blamed? Not really. Will he? Absolutely. But only if the team doesn’t win. If the ’08 season features more losing than winning, skeptics will quickly point to the summertime blues when “Harbaugh worked the players too hard…” However, if the Ravens surprise the experts and battle their way through the AFC North and a bear of a non-conference schedule to bounce back into the playoffs, Harbaugh will be lauded as the guy who “toughened those guys up and got them ready to battle in the trenches.” It’s John Harbaugh’s team and the results will be attached to John Harbaugh. Fair? Not totally. But it IS the American Way. Someone has to take the blame. Or get the credit.
John Harbaugh’s rise (or fall) will not happen overnight. He faces a myriad of issues in his first season as a professional coach, the least of which is guiding a room of men in the same direction when virtually every single one of them has his own agenda. I said that was the least of his issues? Make that his biggest issue, actually. He’ll come across players who don’t care for his style. In fact, there are already some who don’t. What to do with them? What’s the solution if the team languishes at 4-8 with four weeks to go and a handful of veteran players suddenly feel their quad muscle tighten in practice? What decision gets made in week #2 if two members of the starting defense slip in at 1:30 am and miss curfew by 90 minutes? Send them home and risk a loss? That’s why John Harbaugh gets paid the big bucks.
There will be on-field decisions to be made, almost on a weekly basis, that will have the eyes of an entire city cast upon the Ravens’ new head coach. It’s a pressure-filled position, for sure. And when you’re the guy taking over for the ex-coach who just happened to “fluke his way” to a Super Bowl title during his tenure…well…you can only hope you can pull off a fluke like that during your time in town. Anything less, of course, won’t be good enough.