Harbaugh said Tuesday that he's sticking with much-maligned offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, a surprising decision given the team's persistent offensive struggles after the firing of Marc Trestman following a Week 5 loss to the Washington Redskins.
“I watch Marty every single day. I watch him coach. Marty doesn't need validation from me. I don't need to stand up here and say, ‘Marty Mornhinweg is a good football coach.' He's proven that,” Harbaugh said in his end-of-season news conference at the team facility. “I think when you watch him coach every single day and you talk to the players about the direction that we are going and how he teaches the game, what he emphasizes and the way he builds the offense, our players believe in him and they believe we're on the right track. That's part of it as well, but more than that, I believe in it. I believe in where we're going with it.”
Harbaugh, whose team finished an 8-8 season Sunday and missed the NFL playoffs for the third time in four years, also announced that defensive coordinator Dean Pees and associate head coach and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg will return next year. Harbaugh does anticipate a few additions to his staff in other areas.
Mornhinweg's return, though, was the headliner of the 45-minute news conference, since it was widely assumed and speculated that Harbaugh would spend the early parts of the offseason searching for his sixth offensive coordinator in as many seasons.
When the Ravens promoted Mornhinweg from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator Oct. 10, they said the former Detroit Lions head coach would be in his new role for the rest of the season. There was no commitment beyond that.
The offense's struggles over the final 11 games — the group was less successful in several categories than it was with Trestman calling the plays — didn't appear to bode well for Mornhinweg's chances of getting the job long-term. However, Harbaugh said he believes that retaining the 54-year-old longtime coach and having him direct the offense “is the best way to go.”
He said he discussed the decision with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome, but that it was ultimately his call.
“They challenge me every way you can be challenged to think things through, and believe me — and I hope fans understand that — those decisions are taken very seriously. It's not just sitting there saying, ‘Oh, yeah, it's easier to keep anybody.' Actually, it's easier to do the opposite and everybody's happy for a little while,” Harbaugh said. “What is it going to take in every single area for us to go out there and play the kind of football we want to play and we need to play? I lay awake at night thinking about it, driving to work, driving home on what the best way to do it is and who the best people to do it are, and that's the conclusion I came to.”
The Ravens offense finished 17th in the NFL in yards per game (347.7) and 21st in points per game (21.4) despite passing the ball a league-leading 679 times. An inability to establish or stick to the run contributed to Trestman's undoing. Some of the problems in the running game persisted under Mornhinweg, as did a lack of execution in hitting on big plays down the field.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco criticized Mornhinweg's game plan as too conservative in a home victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 27. Three weeks later, Harbaugh rebuked Mornhinweg's decision to have Flacco pass the ball with the Ravens in control in the fourth quarter in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Flacco was intercepted, accelerating the Eagles' comeback and leading Harbaugh to later call the decision the “all-time worst [play] call.”
However, Harbaugh believes that the Ravens made progress offensively as the season went on and he wanted to stay the course. He still believes the West Coast offense is the best-suited attack for Flacco's skill set, and he thinks a little continuity at the play-caller spot will be beneficial.
“I'm excited about where we're going, because I believe that we're going to be physical. I believe that we're going to run good, solid concepts that Joe can execute efficiently,” Harbaugh said. “I believe, within that system, there's room for a lot of creativity. That's what we have to chase.”
Harbaugh acknowledged that Mornhinweg and the rest of the coaching's staff's “job one” is improving the play of Flacco, who is coming off one of the worst seasons of his nine-year career. Flacco threw 15 interceptions and finished with an 83.5 quarterback rating, which ranked 24th in the NFL.
“It does start with Joe. It starts with your quarterback. We need our quarterback to be playing at a level that changes the game in positive ways for us and makes a big difference,” Harbaugh said. “There are ways for Joe to play better, and he and I talked about that at length” Monday.
Harbaugh said he has started the process of hiring a quarterbacks coach, who will work hand-in-hand with Flacco and Mornhinweg and try to add more creativity to the offense. The head coach also emphasized the team needs to make several offensive additions in either the draft or free agency.
He would like to add a speedy running back and a quality possession receiver, and solidify the offensive line. He expects a greater commitment to the running game, which has often been ignored the past two seasons. The Ravens set a franchise low in carries in each of the past two years.
“Marty believes in running the football, and I believe in running the football,” Harbaugh said. “We have not run the football well enough or enough, really, for the last two years. That has to change. I think it goes hand in hand [with] being good at it and doing it a lot more than we do it.”
A day earlier, Flacco and other Ravens, including standout guard Marshal Yanda, acknowledged that they'd like to run the ball more. Flacco also said he didn't anticipate any changes at the offensive coordinator spot. At the time, it sounded as if he were avoiding a topic that he's surely grown weary of talking about in recent years.
As it turns out, Flacco was exactly right, and it's now on Harbaugh and Mornhinweg to make it work.
“My heart, my gut and my head says this is the best way to go,” Harbaugh said.