Philadelphia — In early 2008, new Ravens coach John Harbaugh approached Randy Brown about joining the team’s staff. Brown was out of coaching and eager to return, especially for a reunion with his former Philadelphia Eagles colleague.
One problem, though: He already had a newish job. In Evesham Township, New Jersey, a Philadelphia suburb. As mayor.
“So after I promised 50,000 people I'd represent them for four years, I figured, 'Gosh, can I really leave right now, only a year in?' ” he recalled after the Ravens’ first joint practice at the Philadelphia Eagles’ Novacare Complex on Monday, just 12 miles from his home.
Brown resolved to do both. “Really, it's the players that have said, ‘OK, we'll take Randy on these days and in games. Because at least he's here for that time.’ And without those guys, I wouldn't have been able to do it. And it was hard.”
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Last September, after 12 years as mayor, Brown announced that he would not seek re-election. But he wasn’t giving up his Ravens job and its 125-mile commute. Starting in March, in fact, he was full time. And in an NFL that has been slow to see the value of assistant special teams coaches with kicking expertise, there might not be a franchise more appreciative than the Ravens.
Last week, after the Ravens traded Kaare Vedvik to the Minnesota Vikings, Harbaugh partly credited Brown for his development. It was good business: The Ravens got a fourth-round pick from the Denver Broncos in exchange for Joe Flacco, a former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, and a conditional seventh-round pick from the New York Jets for guard Alex Lewis, a former starter. For Vedvik, a former undrafted free agent who has never kicked a field goal or punted a ball in an NFL regular-season game, they got a fifth-round pick.
Considering the Ravens also employ Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, as well as punter Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox, two of the team’s most consistent veterans and former Pro Bowl selections, the team has found enduring value in Brown’s contributions. And he’s happy to have a job that pays more than $300 a month — what he said was his mayoral salary — and doesn’t flood his inbox with quotidian complaints.
“Do you know how nice constituents are when you're the elected official?” he said sarcastically. “And how understanding you are when you don't get back to them when a deer is dead in a front lawn? When their trash can was ruined? And when their street wasn't plowed on a very snowy day? They're very patient when it comes to response.
“So even though they’re watching you on TV coach a game, you should see the email and texts, or the phone calls, my wife would get. ‘The mayor hasn’t responded to me.’ ‘Well, do you understand he’s coaching a game right now?’ "
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He hasn’t lacked for talent: Brown has coached four Pro Bowl selections: Koch, Cox and Tucker — the members of the team’s “Wolfpack” — and kicker Billy Cundiff. But others who’ve crossed paths with Brown and former special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg in Baltimore have left with their careers changed, seemingly for the better.
Especially kickers. In September 2008, kicker Steven Hauschka was signed to the Ravens’ practice squad and appeared in 17 games over two seasons, his first as a pro. Hauschka’s now entering his 12th season in the NFL and third with the Buffalo Bills.
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In 2009, Graham Gano signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent. After the Ravens named Hauschka their starting kicker, Gano played for a few months in the United Football League before signing with the Washington Redskins. He’s kicked for the Carolina Panthers since 2012.
Three years ago, kicker Wil Lutz went just 2-for-3 as an undrafted free agent for the Ravens in the preseason, but a strong Ravens recommendation helped him land in New Orleans. In March, he signed a five-year contract extension with the Saints worth up to $20.25 million.
“Obviously, he’s done a great job for us in Baltimore,” Harbaugh said Monday, “and he continues to do it.”
“We were able to create what we believe is the right way to kick a football, punt a football, snap a football and hold a football,” Brown said of the brain trust he developed with Rosburg and Harbaugh, a former special teams coordinator himself. “And it all starts with John creating that environment that allows us to do this.”
There aren’t a lot of special teams units with the Ravens’ level of sustained excellence. There also aren’t a lot of teams with a Randy Brown on staff. He said there are just “five guys who just coach kickers now” in the NFL, though he noted that many special teams coaches have expertise in that field.
Specialization “makes a difference,” he explained. For proof, he need only look at the attendance for his news conference Tuesday afternoon. His brother, wife and children were there. The media, too. But off to the left, near the back, were the Ravens’ specialists. “Can’t say anything bad if we’re over here,” Cox joked before Brown began.
“He is great to have around,” special teams coordinator Chris Horton said Sunday. “You guys only see him as the specialists coach, really versatile with kicking and things like that, but he definitely brings great ideas to the table when we’re talking about, ‘What do we want to run, game-plan-wise? And player-wise, do you think we should play this player here or there?’ He’s been around a long time. He’s been in this league for a long time, so he understands the game, he sees it from different sides, and he’s been great to have around.”