The Ravens rewarded John Harbaugh for one of the best starts to an NFL coaching career, signing him to a contract extension Monday that is believed to put him in the middle tier of highest-paid coaches in the league.
Although the team declined to announce the terms of the deal, a league source said Harbaugh signed a three-year extension worth about $12 million. Harbaugh's average salary of $4 million makes him the second-highest paid coach in the AFC North, just behind the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin, and on the fringe of the top 10 in the league (the Chicago Bears' Lovie Smith, who is 10th, receives $4.8 million annually).
Harbaugh, 48, was entering the final year of his contract (which averaged a little over $2 million per season) after becoming just the fourth NFL coach since 1990 to earn a playoff berth in his first three seasons. This marked the first time in the Ravens' 15-year history that they reached the postseason in three consecutive years.
After signing his extension Monday morning, Harbaugh is locked up through the 2014 season.
"Steve [Bisciotti, Ravens owner] said that we want to make sure John remains as our head coach," team president Dick Cass said in a statement. "Having John increases our opportunity to compete for the NFL championship every year, which is our goal."
Some questioned the Ravens when they hired Harbaugh to replace Brian Billick in January 2008 after their first choice, Jason Garrett, turned them down. Harbaugh had previously never been a head coach and had spent most of his NFL career as the special teams coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.
After becoming the third coach in Ravens history, Harbaugh immediately placed his stamp on the team by changing the culture of the Ravens. The practices became more physical and the meetings became longer. He backed up the words from his first news conference as Ravens head coach and stressed a team-first mentality.
Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are the only NFL team to win a playoff game in each of the past three seasons. He has a 32-16 record (.667) in the regular season and a 4-3 mark in the playoffs.
An extension was expected to be reached this offseason because Cass told The Baltimore Sun a day after the season ended that a deal would be "done soon." The sides had agreed to wait until the offseason to discuss a deal to avoid any distractions.
When Harbaugh signed the deal 30 days after the playoff loss at Pittsburgh, the team made a low-key announcement of the extension. The Ravens chose to release statements from Harbaugh and Cass instead of holding a news conference.
"This is much appreciated and I am thankful to Steve [Bisciotti]," Harbaugh said in a statement. "I want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him, Ozzie [Newsome], Dick [Cass], our players and everyone else in the organization as we work to bring championships to Baltimore. We have a lot of great people who are Ravens. I'm proud to be part of this. We all push each other and pull together. I said it when I came here: 'It's about the team.' And we plan to be a championship team."
This past season, the Ravens posted their most regular-season wins under Harbaugh (12) despite losing their top cornerback (Domonique Foxworth), a starting offensive tackle (Jared Gaither) and their top draft pick (Sergio Kindle) to injuries before the season opener.
In 2008, his first season, he tied an NFL record (since 1978) for turnarounds by a head coach taking over a team with a losing record. The Ravens went from a 5-11 team under Billick to an 11-5 team under Harbaugh.
In 2009, the Ravens overcame penalties, kicking problems and a three-game losing streak to earn a wild-card berth once again. Harbaugh and Joe Flacco became the first rookie head coach and rookie quarterback to reach the playoffs in their first two years together. The Ravens delivered one of the bigger surprises of that postseason when they routed the New England Patriots, 33-14, in the first round.
"It's a good contract for him," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He won all three years here, and it's a good thing for the team moving forward."
Despite his early run of success, Harbaugh has had to deal with his most adversity this offseason. His defensive coordinator (Greg Mattison) surprisingly left to take the same position at the University of Michigan. His quarterback (Flacco) spoke out about his unhappiness after the firing of quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn. And his decision to keep coordinator Cam Cameron after the offense finished No. 22 has been criticized by the fan base.
"At times, you can bump heads," fullback Le'Ron McClain said. "But we're a family. You move forward and past things like that."
Harbaugh is the winningest Ravens head coach after his first three seasons with the team. His 36 wins (including playoffs) is one more than Billick had from 1999 to 2001 (although Billick won a Super Bowl in his second season). If the Ravens make the postseason this year, Harbaugh would tie Billick for most playoff seasons (four) by a Ravens head coach.
The signing of Harbaugh continues a productive offseason for the Ravens despite the uncertainty of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and a possible lockout looming. The team reached long-term deals with kicker Billy Cundiff and punter Sam Koch last month.
Now, Harbaugh is signed long-term with a significant raise. He still ranks behind the NFL's highest-paid coaches (New England's Bill Belichick, the Washington Redskins' Mike Shanahan and the Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll all make more than $6.5 million annually). but he is now ahead of the likes of the Indianapolis Colts' Jim Caldwell ($3.5 million) and the Cincinnati Bengals' Marvin Lewis ($3.25 million).
"He has really turned us into a mean, tough and bullying team," McClain said. "Having a guy like that at the throne has been great for this team."
Sun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article