For 11 years, Jerry Rosburg’s special teams unit was an under-sung reason for the Ravens’ success under coach John Harbaugh.
So it was in character Friday when the special teams coordinator and assistant head coach buried the surprising news of his retirement at the beginning of the team’s introductory news conference for running back Mark Ingram and safety Earl Thomas. Rosburg will spend the next three months helping his former assistant, Chris Horton, transition to the role of coordinator before stepping aside in June.
“I’d like to state that the reasons for my retirement are numerous, all of which are personal and none of which are professional,” Rosburg said, noting he’s tired of missing time with his three children, all of whom are or were college athletes.
He added that he and Harbaugh had discussed his retirement after the Ravens’ season ended in the first round of the playoffs but he’d asked for the move to be postponed until after the NFL scouting combine.
Harbaugh described the 63-year-old Rosburg — known around the team’s facility for his strict adherence to schedules and his practice-field tirades against sloppy play — as his best friend for the past 25 or 30 years.
"He's been the best associate head coach and the best friend that a head coach can have,” he said. “Without Jerry Rosburg here, there's no way we would have had the success that we've had."
When asked whether he was surprised by Rosburg’s desire to step aside or had seen it coming, Harbaugh said: “Both. Because I know Jerry so well and we’re so close, the challenge and tug of his family … I think Jerry’s missed that. The other side of the coin was he felt a responsibility to us. He wanted to be here and go as long as he could, get us as far as he could, and I think this year really mattered to him, for all of us. So I couldn’t be grateful enough for that. I knew it was coming, but I guess maybe I was hopeful he would change his mind. In the end, I knew he wouldn’t because the family priority was so important to him.”
The 34-year-old Horton joined the Ravens in 2014, initially working with the team’s outside linebackers before becoming a staff assistant to Rosburg in 2015. He began his coaching career at UCLA, where he played before spending three seasons as a safety with the Washington Redskins.
“I was once asked why special teams of all three phases? Why not defense?” Horton said. “My answer was that special teams is made up of special players. It takes unselfish players to go out there and play one play and give all you got for that one play.”
He called Rosburg “the encyclopedia,” saying his former boss taught him to see football from “a bigger lens and understand the whole game.”
Harbaugh and Rosburg, in turn, said Horton is more than ready to thrive as an NFL coordinator.
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“I want you all to know that the Ravens’ special teams are going to be in very good hands,” Rosburg said. “The past four years … Chris Horton has been a skilled, diligent, faithful assistant and has been very important in our success. He’s shown a great deal of initiative that led to improvements in our system and improvements in our players. He has an excellent rapport with our players, and now it’s his time.”
He said Horton was in “high demand” from other teams at the end of last season.
Harbaugh also announced that longtime kicking consultant Randy Brown will become a full-time coach on Horton’s staff. Brown had regularly commuted from his home in Evesham, N.J., but he decided last year not to run for re-election as mayor of the town.
Rosburg began his 40-year coaching career at Fargo Shanley High School in North Dakota. He coached with Harbaugh at the University of Cincinnati from 1992 to 1995 and joined the Ravens staff as soon as his friend became head coach in 2008.
On Friday, he thanked the special teams stalwarts who’ve made his life easier over the past 11 years, from Albert McClellan, Jacoby Jones and Anthony Levine Sr. to the kicking group of Justin Tucker, Sam Koch and Morgan Cox.
“It’s not a coincidence that the Ravens’ special teams took off when these men came together,” he said.
After speaking for six minutes and concluding with a thank you, Rosburg walked out of the room as Harbaugh grinned at the finality of his gesture.