Calling it the hardest decision he's had to make as a coach, John Harbaugh fired Cam Cameron on Monday, ending the offensive coordinator's five-season tenure which was defined by some improvement but overall inconsistency.
Jim Caldwell, the Ravens' quarterbacks coach and the former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, will take over offensive coordinator and play-calling duties immediately.
The somewhat surprising move — given the Ravens' first-place standing in the AFC North at 9-4 and the organization's history of not making rash decisions — came a day after the Ravens' 31-28 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw three first-half touchdowns and the running game wracked up 186 yards, but two third-quarter turnovers and a failure to take advantage of good field position contributed to the team's second consecutive loss.
"We put 28 points up so you're not going to say that it's a reaction to a down offensive performance," said Harbaugh in a news conference that was both awkward and tense at times. "It would be real easy to go the route that says, 'It's the result of something and somebody is taking the blame for something.' It is not that. People are going to believe what they want to believe. It's what I believe is best going forward for our offense and for our football team. Cam was doing a heck of a job here. He did a heck of a job here for a long time. I believe that and I also believe that right now at this time, the timing says that this is the best thing and this is what we're going to do."
Harbaugh, in his fifth season as Ravens head coach, declined to say what owner Steve Bisciotti's level of involvement was in the move, calling it "a coaching decision, my decision." He also said that Flacco was not consulted. The fifth-year quarterback had a lukewarm relationship with Cameron and in an interview with The Baltimore Sun last week, Flacco admitted his frustration with the team moving away from the no-huddle offense that was successful earlier in the season. Several players also have been critical of how vanilla the Ravens' offense had become.
Harbaugh, who has long stood by the offensive coordinator amid tremendous criticism from the fan base, informed Cameron of the decision Monday morning. Cameron left the team facility after hearing the news and did not respond to a request for comment.
The head coach then met with Caldwell and Flacco before telling the rest of the team at an afternoon meeting at the Under Armour Performance Facility.
Under Cameron, who hired Harbaugh as an assistant in 1997 when he was the head coach at Indiana, the Ravens never ranked higher than ninth in points per game or 13th in yards per game. Through 13 games this season, the offense, which appeared poised for a breakout season with an explosive start, ranks ninth in points per game (25.5) and 18th in yards per game (344.4).
However, Cameron, who was given a contract extension this past season, was ultimately doomed by a lack of significant progression from Flacco and his failure to establish Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice in several games over the past couple of seasons. Rice's touches have decreased in each of the past three seasons and he's currently on pace to have his fewest carries since 2009.
According to sources, Cameron and Harbaugh also were involved in a heated exchange on the sidelines that carried over to the locker room after Sunday's loss. The exchange, said the sources, was over how the Ravens handled their final possession before halftime and how Flacco was being protected in the second half. Harbaugh denied that any such exchange took place though he did acknowledge that the decision was made following Sunday's game.
"It's just an opportunity to try to get this thing going and become the best offense and the best team we can be, and we feel like it's what is best for the team at this time ," Harbaugh said. "That's why we made the move. There's no more to it than that."
Harbaugh admitted that he considered whether the move would be a distraction at this juncture of the season but he ultimately felt that "it will be positive but it will be up to all of us to make it that way. The solutions are right here in the room to improving and our job is to improve."
Still, several people with ties to the organization, including former wide receiver Derrick Mason, expressed surprise with the timing of the move. Former Ravens coach Brian Billick fired his offensive coordinator, Jim Fassell, during the 2006 season but that decision was made in mid-October and with the Ravens ranked 28th in total offense.
"I think this has been kind of brewing. There's been no secret that each year, there's speculation of Cam being replaced," Mason said. "I'm more surprised that this happened with three games left and your defense isn't what it used to be because of injuries. The only stable thing that you had was your offense being healthy and playing together. [But] Mr. Bisciotti is a great owner, a smart guy. He understands what he's doing. He has enough leaders on that offensive side of the ball that changing won't make a huge difference."
While Caldwell meshed well with Peyton Manning, first as his quarterbacks coach and then as his head coach, he hasn't called plays in the pros. However, he's developed a good rapport with Flacco and like his quarterback, he's known as an advocate for the no-huddle offense.
It's unclear what changes that Caldwell will make but it's ironic that the first glimpse of his play-calling will come against Manning's Broncos on Sunday. Manning recommended Caldwell to the Ravens in the offseason.
"It's not a system change," said Caldwell who will remain the Ravens' quarterbacks coach. "Obviously, the Ravens' offense is the Ravens' offense. It is not a philosophical change. John sets the philosophy here of this team and we follow suit. We have a bunch of willing young men that are certainly going to do a tremendous job of trying to push us forward."
Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston and staff writer Aaron Wilson contributed to this article