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Harbaugh's Day One energy good sign as Job One nears

The Baltimore Sun

New Ravens coach John Harbaugh said all the right things during his introductory news conference yesterday, but the most important thing came out sounding like a well-worn cliche rather than a call to arms.

"We can't wait to get started," he said during his opening remarks. "We can't wait to go to work."

That's good, because there already is plenty on his plate. Here's a look at Job One, Job Two and beyond for the first-time head coach charged with rescuing the Ravens franchise after last season's disappointing 5-11 finish:

Job One: Saving not-so-private Ryan

Harbaugh is lining up candidates for the new coaching staff -- a process that could take several weeks -- and it will be interesting to see what happens if defensive coordinator Rex Ryan ends up being the second choice for the Atlanta Falcons head coaching job.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said yesterday that he would like to have Ryan back, and from a purely strategic standpoint, why not? He's recognized as one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL and would provide continuity while a new offensive coordinator works to revitalize the team on the other side of the ball.

It's not that simple, of course, because of the political and psychological implications of retaining a spurned head coach candidate who was a popular choice among the players. That's something Harbaugh will have to weigh carefully, and something that might require his seemingly considerable people skills to pull off if he wants Ryan to stay.

Job Two: Tackling the Ogden situation

If Harbaugh wants to extend the honeymoon period that began with his media-charming performance yesterday, he'll need to lead the Ravens back into the playoff hunt next season. To do that, it might help to have the 10-time Pro Bowl tackle back for one more season.

Harbaugh said he would try to meet one-on-one with every Ravens player, even if he has to travel to see some of them. I'm guessing one of the first trips will be to Las Vegas to introduce himself to the big guy, who confirmed during the early days of the search that the choice of a new coach would be a factor in his decision to return or retire.

If Ogden stays home, the Ravens will recover some room on the salary cap, but they'll have one more big hole to fill heading into the draft.

Job Three: Projecting toughness

Harbaugh inherits a team with some strong personalities that conceivably could steamroller an inexperienced head coach, but don't let the affable manner fool you.

He's known to be a very intense guy who is willing to go nose-to-nose with a player to get his point across. His solid record as a special teams coach speaks to that intensity and his ability to communicate with players at every status level on an NFL roster.

Still, he hasn't been tested as a head coach, and he has a team leader (Ray Lewis) who wasn't afraid to criticize a very established head coach when things were starting to go bad a few months ago. Bisciotti chalked up some of the unruly behavior to the frustration that comes with a losing season, but team discipline remains an issue until Harbaugh makes sure it isn't.

Job Four: Figuring out who's armed and who's dangerous

The quarterback situation will evolve into the most pressing issue of all by the time the Ravens head to training camp in late July. Steve McNair, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith are all under contract, which may not be good news for the new head coach.

The Ravens can't afford another quarterback shuffle like the one that helped undermine the 2007 season, but they are short on cap room and might not be able to afford to do anything about it. Even so, it sounds like the team is open to other options.

"Whether it's someone on the roster that can be developed, or it's someone that we go out and get, I know that we're shoulder-deep in that evaluation already, before I even get here. I'm ready to jump in and get going, get going to work on that," Harbaugh said.

Job Five: Making a clean escape from Philadelphia

Eagles fans can't be happy to see a successful coach leave the organization, so it might be wise to slip quietly out of town.

Confidential to Harbaugh: For reasons you will understand soon, do not hire Mayflower for your move to Baltimore.


Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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