Ravens coach John Harbaugh setting the tone on a new season

The walls of Ravens coach John Harbaugh's office are decorated by framed slogans he cites frequently in speeches to his team. His phone and computer contain dozens of other motivational quotes that he passed along to his players during their weeks apart this offseason.

But on the eve of training camp, the best description of the mindset of Harbaugh and the roster that he leads sits near his left shoulder. Inscribed on his Ravens' pullover are the words "Humble and Hungry."


"I sense a highly motivated team," Harbaugh said last month. "It's time to put your money where your mouth is, in a sense. Let's go to work, let's do something about it. That's my mindset and that's how we're going to approach it."

Over the past six months, Harbaugh has stoically moved on from the least successful year of his head-coaching career. He overhauled his coaching staff, executed a review of the organization's ways and while privately fuming, he served as a public supporter to several of his troubled players.


Five Ravens have been arrested this offseason, including most recently cornerback Jimmy Smith for failure to obey a lawful order of a police officer during an incident in Towson on July 12. Harbaugh did not address the incident with Smith, but has spoken publicly about the embarrassing period for a franchise one year removed from winning a Super Bowl.

"When your family member has a problem, you do not unilaterally abandon them," said Harbaugh, who has been especially vocal in backing Ray Rice following the running back's indictment for aggravated assault on his then-fiancee. "That's not what you should do. That to me is pretty obvious."

The Ravens will have their first full-team training camp practice on Thursday, a tumultuous offseason giving way to stories about rookies, roster competitions and personal and organizational redemption. Since the Ravens walked out of Paul Brown Stadium seven months ago, their streak of five consecutive playoff appearances ending with a Week 17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the organization and its resolute head coach have once again embraced change.

Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was hired as part of the biggest coaching staff turnover in Harbaugh's tenure. Accomplished veterans, like wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels, were brought in to aid an offense that was mistake-prone and punchless last season. Looking to become an elite unit again, the defense added several new faces, including linebacker C.J. Mosley, the team's first-round draft pick.


"Even when we won the Super Bowl a year ago, [John's] evaluations centered on getting better," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Not making the playoffs hurt us all. John didn't complain about it. His attitude right away was 'How do we get better and make sure this doesn't happen again?'"

That was the same message that Harbaugh delivered to his father, Jack, in their first phone call following the Ravens' season-ending loss to the Bengals.

"He goes on that philosophy of you don't whine, you don't point fingers, you dig in and get back to work," Jack Harbaugh said. "I can't say his attitude this offseason was any different than any of the other years he's been in Baltimore."

Since Harbaugh was hired in 2008, the Ravens have more wins (71) than every team except the New England Patriots. They are tied for a league-best five playoff berths during that span, and their nine postseason victories are four more than anybody else's. However, long before the frustrating 2013 campaign ended, the franchise's top decision-makers concluded that drastic improvements were needed.

An organization whose identity was built on physical football couldn't run the ball or protect the quarterback. A defense that had long been one of the envies of the league was allowing too many big plays. Nobody was more miffed than Harbaugh, a hard-nosed coach whose very idea of winning football is based on limiting mistakes and physically dominating the man in front of you.

"We didn't veer from that style by design," Harbaugh said. "We veered from that by necessity. We just weren't that team last year and you can't be something that you are not. We've just got to make sure we're capable of doing it this year. That's what we've always wanted to be and we're not going to change — a tough, rough, disciplined football team."

Older and wiser

As he readies for the start of his seventh training camp with the Ravens, Harbaugh admits that his head-coaching tenure has gone by "like a blur."

He doesn't look much different than he did in his introductory news conference in January 2008, when he was the surprising choice to succeed the fired Brian Billick. Now 51 years old, Harbaugh is a little leaner than he was back then and he has a few more grays in his closely-cropped hair. But those around him see a difference in how he carries himself and communicates with his players.

"Shoot, I've been here the whole time he's been here, from the time where he came in and tried to force his way, probably in some ways being more of a hard [nose] and stuff like that, " quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's still like that, but you can see the comfort level, the way he takes input from players, the way he's done some studies on all the ways to get us healthy and the best ways to do this and that. He's been able to put his thumbprint on it because he's comfortable and confident in what he's doing."

Harbaugh doesn't do much reflecting — at least not publicly — but it's not hard to see that things have come a long way since the 2008 season in which he engaged in a daily struggle for control of the locker room.

"You can definitely see the growth from him, coming in and being a strict, rigid guy who was straight to the point and [becoming] so relaxed, so calm, so cool, so wise," said New York Giants middle linebacker Jameel McClain, who was let go by the Ravens in February. "I have the ultimate respect for him."

Many around the team will tell you that Harbaugh's finest hour came during that highly scrutinized team meeting heading into the bye week of the Ravens' Super Bowl-winning 2013 season.

Harbaugh was challenged in front of the team by several players who griped about practice habits, the head coach's communication skills and what they perceived as too much negativity from him.

Harbaugh listened yet didn't back down and his most ardent supporters credit his response as one of the galvanizing factors during the team's Super Bowl run.

"He invites players all the time to say what they believe," Newsome said. "That has been harsh to hear at times, but it has made us a stronger team."

Evolving with the roster


Only four players — right guard Marshal Yanda, rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, nose tackle Haloti Ngata and punter Sam Koch — have been in the organization longer than Harbaugh. The Ravens have undergone so much roster turnover that only 26 members of their 53-man roster from Super Bowl XLVII are still with the organization.


Harbaugh, meanwhile, is under contract through 2017 after owner Steve Bisciotti added one more year onto his deal in February as a vote of confidence. Harbaugh appreciated Bisciotti's gesture and called it a "good statement publicly," but he said that he didn't need a reminder of how the organization feels about him.

He also scoffed at the notion that he's become the face of the team with longtime defensive standouts Ray Lewis and Ed Reed no longer part of it, Rice dealing with the fallout of his arrest and Flacco coming off the worst season of his career.

"I don't want or need to be the face of anything," Harbaugh said. "I just want to do a really good job of being the head coach."

Harbaugh called such questions about who is the face of the team "disingenuous," though he's perhaps not as bothered by them as he once was. Harbaugh can still be edgy during his dealings with the local and national media, but he said that he's learned over the years to pick his battles. That applies to every aspect of his job.

"You kind of figure what the priorities are," Harbaugh said. "You get comfortable in your own skin. I still believe the same things but you get a better understanding of where you need to put your concerns and where it's really not that important. And the team is in a different place than it was, which is good."

Returning to their roots

In April, Harbaugh was enshrined in the prestigious "Cradle of Coaches" at his alma mater, Miami University. On one of the nights in Oxford, Ohio, Harbaugh and his former teammates gathered at a local bar and stayed until the wee hours telling stories from their playing days 30 years earlier.

But by the following Monday, Harbaugh was back in his office, plotting his plans for the rest of the offseason and training camp.

The hiring of Kubiak, one of five new coaches on Harbaugh's staff, represents a new era for the offense. Harbaugh was sold on Kubiak, a former NFL quarterback and head coach, after the two had dinner and realized that they shared many of the same coaching principles. Kubiak's hiring ended an exhausting three-week offensive coordinator search that Newsome described as "relentless."

Not stopping there, Harbaugh spearheaded the refinement of the team's training and workout programs. The Ravens hired their first cross-training specialist this offseason and recently hosted an official from the U.S. Olympic training center who reviewed the Ravens' various workout and practice methods, and made suggestions on where improvements can be made.

"We think we're cutting-edge, but we can better, we can be sharper," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh has also altered the team's practice and travel schedules to give the players more rest and recovery time. It's all part of his plan to make practices more demanding and physical, feeling that the team's many inexperienced players need the repetitions.

"You understand that we're going to work harder than a lot of teams," Yanda said. "That's just been the Raven way and that's been John's way."

Harbaugh's goal is to get the Ravens back to the physical style of play that has worked so well for the team in the past, but was absent for most of last season. Everything he's done since the end of the 2013 season has been geared toward that.

Following the team's final minicamp practice last month, Harbaugh responded to a question about last year's season by challenging reporters to "keep beating the crap out of us" about it. The message was sent. Harbaugh has moved on. He moved on months ago.

"You expect that out of him," Flacco said. "He's a good leader and good leaders set the tone in a positive way, not a negative way. I think he did that and that's why we're going to come out this season and be ready to go. We're going to be just as confident as ever and hopefully pick up where we left off two seasons ago."


Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.

Harbaugh's bio box

John Harbaugh

Age: 51

Hometown: Perrysburg, Ohio

Head coaching record: 71-38 in six seasons

Playoff appearances: Five

Contract status: Under contract with the Ravens through the 2017 season

Career highlights: The winning coach in Super Bowl XLVII. He's the only coach to win a playoff game in each of his first four and five seasons. Was inducted into the "Cradle of Coaches" at his alma mater, Miami University, in April. Received the NFL's "Salute to Service" award for his commitment to the U.S. military in February.

Personal: Harbaugh and his wife, Ingrid, have one daughter, Alison

A winning resume

A look at where the Ravens rank in the NFL since John Harbaugh took over as head coach before the start of the 2008 season.


Total wins; 71;2

Playoff berths; 5;1st (tied)

Playoff games; 13;1st

Playoff wins;9;1st

AFC title games; 3; 1st (tied)

Reg. season wins; 62;3rd

Reg. season win pct.;.646;3rd