Time to move on from John Harbaugh in Baltimore?


It’s easy to overreact to wins and losses on any given weekend in the NFL. The blame game is in full swing come Monday morning and it involves John Harbaugh.

But sometimes it becomes rather obvious when a team needs a fresh start. Whether that be on the field or in the coaching staff. The Ravens fit this bill as of today.

John Harbaugh, now in his tenth season at the helm, has brought an extended period of success to Baltimore. His tenure has seen the franchise win its second Super Bowl and reach 3 further AFC Championship games.

Harbaugh has undoubtedly been successful, as his 97-66 record as head coach proves. However, there have been signs of stagnation, and even regression, with this team for a few years now.

The 55-year-old is respected league-wide and his firing wouldn’t signal the end of his career by any stretch. It would be hard to part ways, but should the Ravens be looking to move on and start afresh sooner rather than later?

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Recent struggles

After five straight winning seasons in his first five years, Harbaugh’s Ravens have sunk to three sub .500 years in their last four. They haven’t won a division title since 2012 and have missed the playoffs the last two seasons.

A strong start to 2017, in which the defense dominated, appeared to be signalling a turnaround. However, two heavy losses on the bounce to Jacksonville and at home to the Steelers have left them reeling once again.

Suddenly, the defense looks average and outmatched up front. The receiving corps are limited and Joe Flacco isn’t playing the type of football that his team needs him to.

Costly turnovers, lackluster tackling and poor discipline embodied their home loss on Sunday. And, the less said about the humiliating drubbing they took in London, the better.

The travel may have something to do with their less than stellar showings over weeks 3 and 4, but there is a sense of inevitability that change is required for the franchise to move forward.

Harbaugh can’t take all of the blame for the stagnation in play, nor should he. A class act on and away from the sideline, it simply seems that this is the right time for him to step aside and let a fresh face breathe some new life into this team.

He is an excellent leader and professional and won’t have a hard time finding a new job in the NFL or college game should he wish to continue coaching immediately. Harbaugh himself would probably admit his shortcoming’s over the past two years as his team went 13-19 over two seasons.

The Super Bowl win was clearly a job well done but they have only won one playoff game since that year.

The offense has become limited and the defense is lacking the spark it used to possess week in week out. Some of the issues are certainly personnel related and it is hard to say whether any coach would be able to do better, but sometimes it is clear when the time is right for a coach to move on.

His departure would be far from chaotic though and he would be leaving the franchise in a stable state for whoever might take over. So who might the candidates be?

Potential replacements?

Should Harbaugh be relieved of his duties, Steve Bisciotti would have big shoes to fill. Taking over from a Super Bowl winning coach who delivered extended success and never abject failure, is daunting. The values and character of the organisation will need to be mirrored in the successful candidate’s coaching philosophy and off the field attitude.

Current Bengals head coach, and former Raven DC Marvin Lewis, would be a front-runner without a doubt.

The 59-year-old developed one of the best defenses of all time that led the Ravens to a Super Bowl in 2001. He is exactly the kind of man and coach that would fit the needs of the organisation on and off the field.

Lewis’ teams play hard and tough. The blue-collar attitude they take on embodies his coaching philosophy and matches perfectly with that of Baltimore, both as a football team and a city. The Bengals have gone to the postseason 7 times in his 15 years in charge, including five straight years between 2011 and 2015.

This highlights the success Lewis has had. Even more importantly this success has come in the AFC North so he is well-drilled in the rigours of the division.

He also fits the bill as a strong defensive coach. This  is important within a franchise that has established its identity and achieved it’s proudest moments on the back of elite defense.

Lewis would represent a smart, popular hire. And, he too may to be out of a job sooner rather than later so he could be available for nothing come next season.

This would be a safe hire. Bisciotti could go left field and gun for a younger option or an offensive minded coach though. The front-runners in each of these cases can be found in one place.

Foxborough, Massachusetts. More specifically, the Patriots offensive and defensive coordinators; Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia.

McDaniels had a rough time of things in his first stint as an NFL head coach in Denver. He went 11-17 in his two seasons in charge and swiftly returned to a coordinator role in New England via the Rams.

Just 33 at the time, McDaniels struggled in the role but the experience has only enhanced his abilities. His play calling prowess is up there with Kyle Shanahan as the best in the league.

Working under Bill Belichick for more time will only have aided him in his development.

The Ravens offense is stagnant and needs a boost desperately. They sit 30th in total offense in 2017 and haven’t had a top ten offense in Harbaugh’s entire tenure.

The chance to reshape the organisation with an offensive mind might be intriguing to ownership. McDaniels is certainly ready for a second shot as the top man.

Conversely, the option of a young defensive mind might have a stronger appeal to the Ravens. Matt Patricia has been in charge of the Patriots defense since 2012.

He has constantly churned out top end units despite an ever-changing cast of players.

A three-time Super Bowl winner, the experience that the 43-year-old brings, and his winning mentality, would be invaluable to another franchise used to winning. He interviewed for the Browns job in 2016 and is clearly ready to take the step up.

New England has ranked in the top ten for fewest points conceded every year since Patricia took over as DC. In 2017 the conceded the fewest points in the NFL on the way to another championship.

Patricia has learned his craft under one of the great defensive minds in football in Belichick and has actually been calling plays since 2009. His hiring would be bold, but progressive for a Ravens franchise that desperately needs an upturn in results.

In the end, a change is necessary. Harbaugh has overseen a decade of success and deserves a lot of credit. But, the franchise is a winning one and they are trending in the wrong direction right now. They aren’t known for making rash decision so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him stay on.

But, the right thing to do is to start over and move on from John Harbaugh.