They said that John Harbaugh lacked the unflinching bravado of a Rex Ryan, the strategic genius of a Jason Garrett and the creepy gaze of a Jim Caldwell (OK, I made that last one up). Since the Ravens ended up hiring Harbaugh instead of those other guys when Brian Billick was axed after the 2007 season, too many spoiled Baltimore athletic supporters have been quick to bash Harbaugh, pointing out who he is not and qualities he does not possess.
The mighty micro-manager of Baltimore isn't the flashiest dude rocking the head coach's headset on Sundays. His vapid post-game soliloquies, college-style gimmicks and conservative approach to football have some fans wishing he would go coach for another team. But you can't ignore the history Harbaugh made with Sunday's 20-10 win over the Browns.
The 11-4 Ravens have earned three consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history. The Eagles and the Colts (should they win the AFC South) will be the only other teams who can say they made it to the past three postseason tournaments. And Harbaugh became just the fourth head coach since 1990 to lead his squad to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons.
Not too shabby for a guy who was coaching the Eagles' special teams unit three years ago. "I guess the Ravens saw something they liked," Harbaugh quipped the day he stunningly got the Baltimore gig.
What the Ravens saw was an energetic leader, strong-willed yet fair, who could be a glue guy in a locker room filled with Hall of Fame talent and larger-than-life personalities. From the get-go, Harbaugh demanded accountability. He trusted his coordinators. He protected his young quarterback, Joe Flacco. And with an unexpected run to the 2008 AFC title game, Harbaugh won credibility and the respect of his players.
In his tenure, he has won a lot of football games, too. The Ravens are 31-16 in the regular season under Harbaugh, and the 48-year-old has three playoff wins on his résumé.
Like his style or not, Harbaugh was clearly the right choice for the job. Unfortunately, it might take a Super Bowl (or four) for some folks here to realize it.
I find it hard to fathom that fans are this frustrated with a team that is one win away from a 12-4 season. It's been a crazy, wide-open year in the NFL, and even though the Ravens will probably enter the playoffs as a wild card, their championship chances are as good as those of anyone.
Yet there is a sector of the fan base that still thinks the Ravens would be better off with Rex Ryan (I'm sure a few players feel that way, too). And with each unwelcome distraction for the Jets -- from the strength coach tripping foes to the head coach sniffing toes -- the Rex Ryan time bomb ticks closer to the obliteration of the organization.
You can be sure Harbaugh will still be standing here long after the dust clears in New York.
Of course, the Ravens have to sign Harbaugh to a new contract first. His current deal is up at the end of 2011, and keeping him in a purple polo shirt will be one of the organization's top offseason priorities. "That is so far from my mind right now," Harbaugh said Monday.
He might not be a wizard of Xs and Os like Bill Belichick or a master motivator like Mike Tomlin. But if the Ravens make it to the Super Bowl, those insatiable, hypercritical Harbaugh haters will finally see the coach for who he is.