Ravens fans placated by the NFL’s decision to award the franchise with three prime-time games at M&T Bank Stadium may raise their hackles when they read an analysis piece on NFL.com.
Gregg Rosenthal, the website’s Around the League editor, has compiled a power rankings list of the 32 head coaches in the NFL. It’s a tiered list trying to answer the question of which coach is better suited to lead and build a team right now.
Rosenthal placed the Ravens' John Harbaugh in a category labeled “Middle of the pack,” joining the likes of the Atlanta Falcons’ Mike Smith, the St. Louis Rams’ Jeff Fisher, the Houston Texans’ Gary Kubiak, the Chicago Bears’ Lovie Smith, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Marvin Lewis, the Seattle Seahawks’ Pete Carroll and the Arizona Cardinals’ Ken Whisenhunt.
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Rosenthal’s reasoning? “Harbaugh is an effective coach that inherited a great situation,” Rosenthal wrote. “He fits the Baltimore Ravens well.”
There’s no denying that when the organization hired the former Philadelphia Eagles assistant prior to the start of the 2008 season, a perennial top-five defense was in place and a front office headed by general manager Ozzie Newsome and assistant general manager Eric DeCosta was adding important players via the draft and free agency.
But the team had just completed a 5-11 campaign in 2007, and the locker room had reportedly tuned out Brian Billick. In Harbaugh’s first year, he relied on rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and discovered a rising star in rookie running back Ray Rice.
And while he does entrust his top lieutenants to manage their tasks effectively, Harbaugh has instilled a work ethic in the locker room and on the practice field that helped him become the only head coach in league history to win a playoff game in each of his first four years.
What’s especially galling about the power rankings is which coaches are regarded as being better than Harbaugh. Putting the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin in the “Top shelf” category is a no-brainer, but the presence of the San Francisco 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh is a head-scratcher. Yes, Jim Harbaugh turned around an organization dealing with inner strife and a 6-10 mark in 2010 into a team that went 13-3 and advanced to the NFC championship game, but this coming season is only his second as a NFL head coach.
The second tier of coaches -- labeled as “next level” -- include the Green Bay Packers’ Mike McCarthy, the New Orleans Saints’ Sean Payton, the Eagles’ Andy Reid and the New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin. No argument there.
But the third tier that is described as “Knocking on the door” includes the New York Jets’ Rex Ryan, the Detroit Lions’ Jim Schwartz and the Oakland Raiders’ Dennis Allen.
Ryan is a defensive genius, but his penchant for providing scintillating soundbites has overshadowed a team that has fallen short of expectations. Schwartz has revitalized a franchise that was the laughingstock of the league, but the Lions players may have set an unofficial record for legal troubles in the offseason, and who can forget his infamous run-in with Jim Harbaugh last year? And Allen has yet to coach a game in the NFL.
This should not be interpreted as an effort to vault John Harbaugh alongside the likes of Belichick and Tomlin, but Harbaugh deserves a little more respect than what he is getting.