Harbaugh vs. The Media – Some days it’s fun, some days it’s not

October 13, 2009 | Drew Forrester

Another Monday, another Battle Royal between members of the media and John Harbaugh at 1 Winning Drive. 

Harbaugh, predictably, wasn’t exactly Sir Smiles on Monday as he dissected Sunday’s loss to the Bengals.  What did everyone expect out there?  More laughs than an episode of Three’s Company?  John’s not really the laughing, giggly type when the team wins, let alone when they drop a key division game at home.  

The Monday gatherings — and the post-game give-and-take with the coach as well — have become laborious at best, awkward at worst and, generally, almost more trouble than their worth. 

I’ll defend Harbaugh for a minute on this one, even though I’ve been somewhat vocal about his reluctance to answer questions throughout his 24 game head coaching tenure.  

Some of the questions he faces every week are just idiotic.  For the record, I asked what I thought was a great question after the Browns thrashing and he brushed it aside with a rambling 40-second answer that was clearly indicative to me that he thought my question was…well…perhaps…idiotic.  

I guess I could have gone with the one that leaves everyone in the building giggling to themselves each and every Monday afternoon:  “John, tell us about (insert the name of the team the Ravens are playing next — here)…that’s a pretty good football team, isn’t it?”

Harbaugh always answers that one.  It’s the dumbest question of the day, but a sound bite is a sound bite and for most of the people attending Monday’s ritual, that’s REALLY why they’re there.  Hell, a handful of the folks in the room loosely draw a paycheck from the team — so they’re not going to ask something that rocks the boat.

Monday, the day after a home loss to the Bengals in which the team’s running game was apparently employed by Chick Fil-A, a member of the local press corps asked Harbaugh, “As you all review the game, do you wish you would have used the running game more?”

On the idiot scale, that one was a “10”. 

On a “good question scale”, it was also a “10”.

But really now — what on earth is Harbaugh supposed to say?  

“You know guys, yeah, we talked about it today and now we see that we made a major tactical error on Sunday by not running the ball more.  That’s probably what cost us that important game against the Bengals.”

Is he supposed to say THAT?

I can see that headline in The Sun now:  “HARBAUGH SAYS GAME PLAN WAS WRONG FOR BENGALS”. 

That’s the way to have the team gain confidence in the coaching staff. 

We all know the Ravens didn’t run the ball enough on Sunday.  Anyone with half-a-brain can tell you that.  Anyone who watched the game or was there, in person, can say without hesitation the Ravens just didn’t produce an effective offensive flow on Sunday.  

John Harbaugh is in the business of convincing his players that he has them prepared for the game to the best of his and their ability.

Admitting to the media the day after a loss that perhaps his team’s game plan was wrong would be silly and counter-productive for him and his staff. 

“Coach, do you think you guys should have used Derrick Mason more on Sunday?”

“Yeah, guys, you know, we realize now that we made a major mistake not involving Derrick more on Sunday.  I don’t know what the hell Cam and I were thinking about on Tuesday of last week when we put the Bengals game plan together.  What dopes we are, huh?”

Most of us believe that Derrick Mason wasn’t involved enough on Sunday in the loss to the Bengals and it’s another reason why the Ravens offense came up short. 

But you can’t expect Harbaugh to admit to that.

Now…on the flip-side, John has to understand something.  These press conferences and sessions with the coach aren’t exactly everyone’s idea of a day at the beach, either.  We’re all well aware he’d rather not do the question and answer thing.  He is, after all, the football coach.  He’s been in the league and collected a NFL paycheck more than every member of the media in Baltimore combined.  To sit in front of him and ask him tactical questions about the game is somewhat borderline-comical.  

But the reality of the situation is this:  The media’s main job is to secure information and distribute it to the fans.  If done correctly, the media merely serves as a conduit between the paying customer and the team.  That’s one of the reasons why the Orioles bush-league treatment of WNST is, well, bush-league.  Your dealings with the media are just as much dealings with the fans of the team.  And the fans are the ones who bankroll the franchise.

So John has to understand that the media has to ask him SOMETHING…and a lot of times, members of the press are asking questions on behalf of the fans.  

“Why didn’t Willis McGahee run the ball more on Sunday?”

“Where was Derrick Mason?”

“Why was Chris Carr returning the kick at the end of the game?”

These were questions that thousands of fans mumbled as they left the Stadium on Sunday.  To the degree that those people pay John Harbaugh’s salary, those questions deserve an answer.

It’s Harbaugh’s job to provide an answer that doesn’t betray the confidence or privacy of the team and their competitive position in the AFC North.  But it’s also his job to realize that some of the questions that he gets asked MUST get asked.

If John Harbaugh stood at the podium on Monday for 25 minutes and DIDN’T field a question about Willis McGahee not having a role in Sunday’s game plan, he’d be better served to just take the press out for lunch and 9 holes of golf.  

He’s not going to answer questions about tactical situations that could possibly be distributed around the league and perhaps used to game plan against the Ravens.

No one expects him to do that.

Some of the questions need to be better.  That’s a definite.

I have been there on plenty of Monday afternoons and NOT asked a question, simply because I couldn’t come up with one that I thought met the standards of what I’d deem “a quality question”.

I asked what I thought was a good one the day after the Cleveland game — “How do you go about shaking the opposing coach’s hand when you’ve just beat him 34-3, you were throwing the ball with 4 minutes to go leading by 31 points, and you know from every account that said coach (Mangini) is getting more grief than Kanye West the morning after he trashed Taylor Swift?”  I wanted to know what Harbaugh said to Mangini at midfield after the game with that situation having played out in the win over Cleveland. 

John took the question seriously for about 10 seconds, then lost interest and just threw out the obligatory, “We just wish each other luck and move on from there.  It’s football.  Both teams are competing hard.”

It was a good question in my mind.

Maybe not, though, in John’s mind.

But it was much easier to answer than – “In hindsight, did you and the coaching staff lose the game for the team?”

If I were Harbaugh, I’d give a snarky answer to that one too.

When the team wins, everything is better, including the weekly press conferences.

When the team loses, the air gets a little thick in Owings Mills. 

And when the questions from the media are as bad as the team’s offensive game plan and 2-minute defense, nothing is going to get accomplished. 

But when the questions are decent and worth consideration, Coach Harbaugh should answer them.  

Then again, maybe we media folk should just be happy that the team is willing to let the media fire questions at them a few times a week.

The other team in town doesn’t provide that luxury.