Chapter 1: Meet the new boss, not the same as the old boss

January 12, 2018 | Nestor Aparicio

his brother during the Super Bowl XLVII week festivities. And he was even an engaging guest on “The David Letterman Show” after the Super Bowl win. His first five seasons of nothing but winning football have made him very popular amongst the fans. Giving entertaining press conferences is not a part of Harbaugh’s makeup or personality, but he’s more likely to crack a joke in 2013 than he was in 2008 when every briefing was treated like a bit of a nuisance.

And after living in the shadow of his brother in a lot of ways for much of his adult life, it was his brother’s chilly façade in New Orleans that made John appear to be the softer, fuzzier Harbaugh during Super Bowl week.

And it was clear that even though the two brothers grew up in the same bedroom with the same values that their public personas were polar opposites and that was OK with their father, Jack Harbaugh. “The one thing that we watch and take great pride in is that both of them are themselves,” Jack said at the Super Bowl. “We were around Bo Schembechler for a long time and there were a lot of coaches that tried to emulate him. The first time you weren’t yourself, you were exposed and somewhat of a fraud. So, always be who you are and not follow anyone else.”

John Harbaugh’s favorite phrase is right over the door in Owings Mills as the players begin their work day: “W.I.N.” which stands for “What’s Important Now?”

“To me that’s always the goal,” Harbaugh said. “Get in the moment and ask yourself, ‘What do I have to get done right now? What’s important today? What do I have to get done in this meeting or this weightlifting session or this film study?’ Let me be the very best I can be in this moment and the rest will take care of itself.”

And Harbaugh’s open-door policy with the players caught on over the last five years. Players routinely visit and Harbaugh’s leadership council knows the way to the principal’s office each week.

When Ravens’ general manager Ozzie Newsome was asked why John Harbaugh handles adversity so well he said: “No. 1, he faces everything head on. He recognizes there are issues, and he deals with those issues. He doesn’t let those issues dictate where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. If there’s a problem, we deal with the problem, but then we move on. You don’t just sit there, and he doesn’t allow a problem to bring him down and bring his football team down.”

Thoroughly organized and detail-oriented, Harbaugh is just as hard on his coaches and as hard on himself as he is on the players. But over the five years of unparalleled success – and the proof is in the results with five trips to the playoffs in five years, 3 AFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl win – the stubbornness of his vision has come to be appreciated by those around him, especially those who saw his vision accepted after initially being rebuffed and starting the 2008 season with a 2-3 record.

In the end, Harbaugh got the “buy in” he was looking for and the success of a Super Bowl championship. Guys like Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs saw he was invested.

Harbaugh’s players saw that he was carrying ownership’s message and that the franchise wanted to win. In the end, all NFL players really want is to be coached and to be in the best position to win. When they see that what you’re doing works, they buy in. Player vs. coach has been the oldest struggle there is in sports and players don’t always love the personality of Bill Belichick, but they “buy in” and play hard and do what he asks because they know he’s smart. They respect his intelligence. They respect his vision. And they feel like they have the best chance to win.

Or as one NFL scout said: “No one is saying I don’t want to play in Baltimore because the coach is too tough. NFL players want to win, and John Harbaugh can show them how to do that.”

And from Bisciotti’s point of view, Harbaugh is still improving each year.

“He’s got this inquisitiveness,” Bisciotti said. “John’s kind of an opposite of a ‘know-it-all.’ He is engaging. He’s constantly interested in what I think, Ozzie, Dick, Kevin, coaches – what we all think. That’s not changed. That’s special. He doesn’t seem like he has the ‘I’ve got it now’ in his makeup. In life when you say you’ve ‘got it’ you’re closed to learning. That’s the beginning of the end for people when they’re trying to become great.”

Newsome says there’s a personal touch about Harbaugh that makes him special and moves him closer to players. “He’s eager to learn, and he’s willing to talk about things,” Newsome said. “One thing about John, he lets you know right away he’s not the smartest guy in the room. I’ve been around people that say every time you see them they think they’re the smartest guy in the room. John doesn’t carry himself that way. But, I don’t know if anybody works as hard as John. And you know what? John has a unique talent about him. I don’t know how great he is in front of a group, but in a one-on-one setting, there’s none better. To watch John operate here in the cafeteria, walking out on the field with a player, in the weight room with a player, and to see him spend five or 10 minutes with a guy, and how important that is, I don’t think you can put a measure on it.”

For all of the success, Harbaugh still bristles at the notion that he’s changed.

“I don’t think I’ve changed,” Harbaugh said. “That perception is funny. I’ve stood my ground. I’ve gotten better. I’ve grown into the job. I know where to spend my time and where not to spend it. But I have a vision and in that first year it was contentious sometimes. But I said, ‘I know what this looks like. We’re going to get there no matter how long it takes.’

“Over five years, that picture I had – this (2012) team had it. My vision became their way of looking at things. I learned a lot from Ed (Reed) and Ray (Lewis) and we built it together. It’s a world-view, a way of looking at things. It’s a belief system. It’s a culture, a value system.

“The team has taken on a value system. We’re always preparing, getting on same page, understanding it is hard work and that there will be disappointment and triumph. Saying they’ve ‘bought in’ doesn’t do it justice. It’s more like they’ve grown into it. You can’t just get in front of the room and say, ‘This is how it’s gonna be!’ You have to build trust, go through things and struggle together. ”

In March 2008, Harbaugh sat in the studio and ended his first long-form interview as head coach with this thought in regard to what he wanted to achieve as the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens:

“We want to win Super Bowls. We want to make history. We want to do things that have never been done in the NFL before,” Harbaugh said.

“Don’t we all want that in life? Don’t we all have dreams?”