The team announced in late December that Harbaugh would return as coach in 2019, the final year of his contract, and that the two sides were working on a new deal. But Harbaugh became the subject of trade speculation as the Ravens made their playoff push, and even after the team’s wild-card-round loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Harbaugh, 56, was reluctant to talk about his coaching status after his return was announced. But he said after the season-ending defeat that he expected to return to Baltimore for his 12th season.
“I have every expectation, every plan, to be here as long as they want me here, and I believe I’ll be here,” he said Jan. 6, the day he most recently addressed the media. “I think that’s been made clear by them, to me, over the last few weeks.
“I love everybody in the organization; they’re great people. I expect to go forward with that as long as that’s what they want to do. I do believe that’s what they want to do. Let’s roll.”
Harbaugh is the winningest coach in franchise history and the fourth-longest tenured in the NFL, behind only the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick, New Orleans Saints' Sean Payton and Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin. The Ravens have made the playoffs seven times in his 11 years, winning Super Bowl XLVII at the end of the 2012 season, and claimed three AFC North titles.
This past season’s was perhaps the most unlikely. After starting 4-5, the Ravens turned to rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson to start in place of the injured Joe Flacco, transforming their offense from a pass-heavy attack to a run-first unit. The team lost just once after its Week 10 bye — to the Chiefs, the AFC’s top seed, in Kansas City in overtime Dec. 9 — and secured its first postseason appearance since 2014 with a dramatic, last-minute home win over the Cleveland Browns.
Players praised his passion and his patience throughout a potentially career-altering season. Owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged in February 2017 that he had considered firing Harbaugh after the team failed to make the playoffs for the third straight season.
“I think especially later on in the season, he's really let the players come into their own and not really try to force anything to happen,” left tackle Ronnie Stanley said last month. “And just understand that things take time and you can't just force things to happen the next day or maybe after two days. Things take a process, and I think he's understood that a little bit more.”
As a coaching free agent, Harbaugh would’ve been one of the top head coaching candidates available after next season. With a 104-72 regular-season record, he has the sixth-most wins among active coaches.
But with an extension reportedly coming, the Ravens now can focus on rounding out Harbaugh’s coaching staff. About a week ago, assistant head coach and tight ends coach Greg Roman, widely credited with the Ravens’ ground game success, was promoted to offensive coordinator. Marty Mornhinweg, who held the post for the past two-plus seasons, left the Ravens after declining an offer for a lesser coaching position.
The staff also returns defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, who oversaw successful seasons with their respective units. With Bobby Engram’s move to tight ends coach and Thomas Hammock’s departure for Northern Illinois, where he was named head coach Friday, the Ravens have vacancies at wide receivers coach and running backs coach.
There should be significant change on their roster, too. In his first offseason since replacing longtime personnel chief Ozzie Newsome as general manager, Eric DeCosta must decide on how to offload Flacco, who carries a significant salary cap hit. All-Pro inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is an unrestricted free agent, as is outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, a fixture in Baltimore.
Most important, however, is the development of Jackson and the offense around him. Both Harbaugh and Flacco arrived in Baltimore in 2008, and their ups and downs have since been inextricable. Now the Ravens have entered a watershed offseason — the same coach, but a new quarterback.
“He was the coach that was here when I got drafted, and he’s going to be here when I keep excelling and keep improving,” Jackson said in December, after Harbaugh’s return was announced. “So yeah, I love it.”