These are tense times at Owings Mills.
And these are tense times with the fans of Baltimore’s football steam.
Not surprisingly, it all stems from one loss. One defeat, at home, to the Steelers, and suddenly reality has set in for everyone around town. The reality is this: The cakewalk-to-the-playoffs came to an end on Sunday night when Joe Flacco’s 4th-and-2 toss to Ed Dickson landed two feet in front of him.
What was a 16-game marathon has evolved into a 4-game sprint and the Ravens can’t pick now to stub their toe. They’ve been good-to-very-good most of the season in compiling an 8-4 record. They need to finish strong to make the post-season, where, as we saw last year when they went to New England and trounced the Patriots, anything can happen.
But despite the 8-4 record and the relatively safe position in the playoff race, people in town remain uneasy, including head coach John Harbaugh.
Tuesday night on his radio show, Harbaugh’s tension-level was on full display when he lashed out at a caller who chimed in with his own idea on how to fix the football team.
The reaction on Wednesday was very lopsided – in my world of sports media, that is – as fans reached out to me via the radio and WNST.net to express their displeasure with the coach for “berating the fans like that”.
I think we all need to slow down a bit and do a little more examining of exactly what happened on Tuesday night.
For starters, just to put this on the table, let me make one quick observation on John Harbaugh as I see him from my eyes. This season, and in particular the last 4-6 weeks or so, it’s fairly evident to me that John is more tense (around and/or or with the media) than he has been in his other two seasons in Baltimore. I’m not the only media member who senses that…it’s a routine part of the media room/press box discussion on a week-to-week basis: ”What’s up with John? Why is he so tense?” is something that’s bandied about quite regularly these days. Why is that? I don’t know, really. I had my own minor dust-up with the coach in the locker room after the Carolina win three weeks ago. He’s been caustic with several members of the local media at various points this season.
But that’s not a big deal to me. I know these are tense times at Owings Mills. I understand there will always be occasions when the coach doesn’t want to divulge information to the media and when pressed on it, frustration will set in and voices will rise. I completely get it.
What happened on Tuesday night, though, was much different than media members gathered at the facility or stadium quizzing John Harbaugh on why the Ravens didn’t try a 49-yard field into the wind on Sunday night.
Tuesday night was the call-in show where Harbaugh took time out of his day to field questions and engage with fans of the team for an hour.
Personally? Honestly? I think it’s silly for John Harbaugh to take questions from fans on the radio on a Tuesday night…every week…for 16 straight weeks.
If I were John Harbaugh — or a coach in the NFL — I wouldn’t do it. Why? Because for starters, I could be using that time better, to get ready for the next game, and second, I’m in a virtual no win position unless the team goes 16-0.
Being the coach of the Ravens turns into a 16-week “human resources job evaluation” for Harbaugh. Every week, starting on Monday with the media and rolling over into Tuesday with the fans, the coach gets evaluated for his performance and that of his team.
Do you get evaluated like that, every single week, 52 times a year, at your place of employment? Most “regular Joes” get ONE evaluation a year and you sweat your way through that and think to yourself, “Hell, I’m glad this only happens once a year.”
Harbaugh gets it every single week. And I know people are NOT going to like to hear this, but the coach gets evaluated by people who have very little knowledge of exactly what goes into coaching…or preparing a team…or executing a game plan.
That’s the truth, as much as it hurts. When you’re evaluated at your job, your performance is dissected by someone who has a very keen sense for what your position dictates and the skill set that is required to get the job done.
Harbaugh gets evaluated by people who wouldn’t know a “skinny post” if it hit them in the nuts.
Now, if you gave me $2 million a year, I’d probably be willing to endure those weekly bitch-sessions with the press and the fans. You probably feel the same way.
But it’s easy to say that now, from the outside, when you’re not the one taking the bullets.
If you missed EXACTLY what happened on Tuesday, a caller questioned Harbaugh on defensive line coach Clarence Brooks and asked if the club intended to fire Brooks (not sure why…I assume because of his department’s “poor performance”…which doesn’t make sense either, but whatever). Harbaugh reacted angrily to the caller and