Several years ago Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome had a franchise changing decision to make in trying to replace Brian Billick. The NFL, more than any other professional league, is about the head coach. Players come and go, injuries determine seasons, and contracts are not guaranteed. Outside of a few franchise quarterbacks, the head coach is the foundation unto which long runs of success are built. Finding the right head coach outweighs every other decision a team makes. If you stumble upon a defensive mastermind with questionable people skills and begging for a second chance, you could have yourself the next Bill Belichick. If you hire a “hot” college coach without much knowledge of how they can relate to the NFL, you could have yourself Bobby Petrino or Steve Spurrier. If you are turned down by the most sought after offensive mind in the game, narrowing your decision to an special teams coordinator and a cocky defensive guru, you were the Baltimore Ravens in the winter of 2008.
John Harbaugh or Rex Ryan? That was the decision deliberated on by the executives of this Raven franchise. Ryan had the pedigree from his dad, the bombastic personality, and familiarity with the players. Harbaugh had more of a stoic personality, but he came from an Andy Reid tree of coaches that produced winners elsewhere. If Ryan had a drawback, it would be the question of if his loud and brash style would last long tern as a head coach. Harbaugh’s drawback was lack of experiences as a coordinator or assistant coach, as well as his total personality shift from former coach Brian Billick.
Two years later the debate can still be had. Ryan and Harbaugh actually teamed up in 2008 to help lead the Ravens to the AFC Title Game. 2009 saw Ryan get his own gig with the New York Jets and lead them to a 9-7 record (identical to the 2009 Ravens) and their own trip to the AFC Title Game. Harbaugh is 20-12 in two full seasons as a head man, including 3 postseason wins. Ryan is 9-7 in one season, including 2 postseason wins and plenty of Super Bowl predictions for 2010.
As we take a look at the direction of the Jets on Hard Knocks and Super Bowl darlings of so many pundits, compared to the Ravens and what we saw last night in their first preseason game, the question remains: Who would you rather? Gang Green took Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard to help for the #1 defense in the NFL. Baltimore is as balanced as ever, and the no nonsense regime of Harbaugh seems to be fully implemented, especially into the young guys like Flacco and Rice who have known nothing else in their pro careers.
Ryan or Harbaugh? Did Newsome and Bisciotti make the right decision two years ago? Who will have more success over the next 5 years?
The only way to truly settle this debate will be on the field starting with Monday Night Football next month. Baltimore and New York are rivals again. The greatest game ever played in the 1950′s by the Giants and Colts. Super Bowl III with Namath upsetting the Colts. Harbaugh vs. Ryan. It seems the football universe revolves it’s way around a NY-Baltimore rivalry every generation or so.
The NFL world will answer this question as the years pass, but how about you the Baltimore Raven fan…who would you rather?