John Harbaugh has Ravens in right mindset heading into Super Bowl

Team loose and having fun, yet still focused while preparing for Sunday's game vs. 49ers

NEW ORLEANS

When John Harbaugh stepped to the podium here Monday night, it seemed to complete his evolution as a head coach.

It is Super Bowl week, a period that can drive a lot of head coaches nuts. If this was Harbaugh's first year with the Ravens, they'd probably have hauled him away in a strait jacket after about three days.

He is different now, much more relaxed. So far in public, Harbaugh has been well-dressed, humorous and handled the media circuses well.

His players are loose and having fun — and they are focused. It's the right temperament for this team.

"It was a lot different his first year," Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda said. "He didn't have his guys here, and some guys gave him fits and ticked him off. He didn't have his relationships built.

"But some of us have been together for five years now and we're more comfortable with him. We've had some great wins and tough losses together. We know him. We trust him and he knows when it is time to work, we will work."

The approach is a little different than that of his younger brother Jim, the San Francisco 49ers coach.

Jim Harbaugh was tight and tense when the 49ers arrived here Sunday night, and his players seem more business-like than the Ravens. The styles fit the personalities of the two coaches.

Jim has always had an edge and the demeanor of a tough guy. In 1998, when he was the Ravens' starting quarterback, he was impulsive and standoffish at times. John is just as competitive and can be as impulsive, but he is more rational and isn't afraid to apologize if he makes a mistake.

"A lot of rookie coaches come in and they want to do it their way," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "John was no different. But I've seen him grow as far as learning more about offense, special teams and defense. He absorbs everything.

"I don't think he had a strained relationship with his players, but like everything else, he improved as far as listening to them and letting them have input."

John Harbaugh knows when to push his team. When the Ravens were favored against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC wild-card round at M&T Bank Stadium, Harbaugh was grumpy and irritable all week.

He stayed after his players. He got testy with reporters. He probably fired the water boy and kicked the dog.

"When they come into your house, you have to have that type of attitude," Harbaugh said that week.

It's different now. The Ravens were heavy underdogs going on the road against the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, and Harbaugh relished the role. He kept his team loose, and created a "Why Not Us?" attitude. In both games, the Ravens attacked instead of being attacked as they unleashed quarterback Joe Flacco and the long ball.

"I can't say enough about him," said Ravens safety Bernard Pollard of Harbaugh. "He went though this season with us and it's been a long ride. We had that humbling experience with Houston this year and at that time we butted heads. That happens during the course of the season, but since then, we don't worry about outside things, just us, and we're willing to take chances because we believe in each other."

Here, there are fewer restrictions than in Baltimore and it's a free-for-all with interviews from the media.

Flacco and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs have been asked to do radio spots in Mexico and Brazil. Receiver LaQuan Williams was asked if he ever carried a grilled cheese sandwich in his back pocket.

Safety Ed Reed has openly talked about playing for New England coach Bill Belichick next season, and Pollard says there might not be an NFL in 30 years because of rules restricting contact.

Inside linebacker Ray Lewis has been interrogated daily from members of the media.

But according to the players, everyone is respecting curfew and the practices have been very spirited. Bourbon Street has not been a concern.

"Obviously, he [Harbaugh] has been looser, but still focused," Yanda said. "If we work hard, we know he will take care of us, so he doesn't have to get uptight. He knows we are professional, and we want to stay hot. We want to be locked in, and he knows this is a veteran group. It's been a great week so far. I think he has done a great job."

A few years ago, some of his players didn't like him or respect him. Now, they both have found common ground and a common goal.

"I think they're enjoying all of it," Harbaugh said. "I think they are enjoying the media part as well. You got a chance to see who they really are and what they're all about. The fact that their personalities were able to shine through in a really positive way is really good.

"And I think that attitude will carry over into the game Sunday. We'll be ready to play."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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