By Jamison Hensley
January 20, 2008
"By the way, did you know I said that?" Bisciotti said with a laugh, patting Harbaugh on the back.
Without hesitation, Harbaugh casually responded: "Yeah, I read that somewhere."
Despite doubts from others that he might not be ready to become a head coach, Harbaugh commanded yesterday's 40-minute news conference, exuding the poise and confidence that led him to become the third coach in Ravens history.
Harbaugh has never been a head coach during his 24 seasons, but the former Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach embodied all of the qualities the Ravens wanted in the leader who will replace Brian Billick.
He is passionate about the game, having grown up in a football family in which his father was a longtime coach and his brother an NFL quarterback.
He is a captivating communicator, whether he's explaining his coaching philosophy or joking about his unspectacular playing career as a defensive back at Miami (Ohio).
And he is a coach with a vision, one in which Pro Bowl players will be treated the same as rookies.
"There are three important things in putting together a football team: No. 1 is the team, the second-most important thing is the team and the third-most important thing is the team," Harbaugh said. "We're going to stick with that through and through, beginning to end, and that's what it is all about."
The hiring of Harbaugh to a four-year deal ended a grueling, 18-day search.
It seemed as if the Ravens had their coach a few days ago, but Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett turned down the team's offer.
A day later, the Ravens turned to Harbaugh.
"Being perceived as a second choice or first choice, that's irrelevant to me," Harbaugh said. "I never thought about it in that term and never would. It's an opportunity to go forward. You feel fortunate to be the guy that's going to get the shot."
The decision to hire Harbaugh is the riskiest move in Bisciotti's four years as majority owner.
In addition to never having been a head coach, Harbaugh has never been an offensive or defensive coordinator, making his mark in the NFL as a special teams coach. But Bisciotti signed off on Harbaugh even though he could have played it safer with a veteran coach such as Marty Schottenheimer.
"You have to take chances in life to be successful," Bisciotti said. "You have to be willing to do things that the masses wouldn't do or I don't think you're ever going to separate yourself from the masses.
"Is it a little bit more of a perceived chance? Yeah, if you didn't spend the last 15 hours with John Harbaugh. But the time we spent with him gave me a comfort level that we hired the right guy. The bottom line is I feel good about our choice and I like the fact that John gets to build his legend right here."
Harbaugh said his priorities are to assemble a coaching staff and meet the players, whether it's in his office, over the phone or by visiting them.
The three biggest challenges facing Harbaugh appear to be:
• An offense that has ranked in the bottom half of the NFL for nine of the past 10 seasons.
"I can say this about our offense: We're going to be tough, we're going to be physical, we're going to be disciplined and we're going to play really hard," Harbaugh said. "If we do those things, we'll be just fine."
• An uncertain quarterback situation with banged-up Steve McNair, inconsistent Kyle Boller and inexperienced Troy Smith.
"It does start with the quarterback in the NFL," Harbaugh said. "We have a good quarterback in Philadelphia, and that's a big part of the success up there. Whether it's someone on the roster right now that can be developed or whether it's someone we have to go out and get, I know we're shoulder-deep in that evaluation already before I even get here. I'm ready to jump in and get to work on that."
• The image that Ravens players are out of control and need discipline.
"When you talk about discipline in football, you're talking about guys making good choices in critical moments and being poised," he said. "We've got smart guys on this football team, and I think there is a plan in place for getting your team to that point. That's part of the process, and that starts [today]."
The Ravens decided by late Friday that he could tackle these problems.
Their search committee agreed that he was the choice but wanted to ask him another round of questions before offering him the job.
Before anyone from the committee spoke, Harbaugh said: "I don't have all the answers, but I think I can be your head coach. And I think with the people here, I can be a great head coach."
At that point, Bisciotti leaned forward and said: "Then, you can be our head coach."
About 19 hours later, with his wife and parents sitting in the front row of the team auditorium, Harbaugh officially became the Ravens' head coach.
"I'm a football coach and have been a football coach for a long time," Harbaugh said. "I'm proud to be the football coach of the Baltimore Ravens. This is an opportunity of a career, and it's a dream of ours that we've had for a long time."
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