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The Greyhound

The Greyhound

The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

Interviewing the head coach of the Ravens, John Harbaugh


MaryKat Weigman, writer at The Greyhound, had the opportunity to chat with John Harbaugh, head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, about the team. This insightful interview shows that being an NFL player means to be a part of something bigger than oneself and to play each game like it’s the best of the season. It means being able to make amazing plays in the hardest moments. In addition to other factors, Harbaugh explained that his Catholic faith plays a lot into how he coaches and how he helps his players keep their faith, no matter the situation. The following is a breakdown of their conversation:

What makes the Ravens a different team from anyone else in the NFL?

John Harbaugh believes that being different from other teams means leading with the principles and values of the Ravens. 

“Well, I mean, I think every team is unique just like every person is unique. Nobody’s exactly the same. So, like any person, an organization has a choice. It thinks about it and is conscious about it— a choice to kind of decide what kind of personality it wants to take on or values, principles, those kinds of things it wants to adhere to, that it wants to make important. I think that it starts with the owner, Steve Bisciotti, and the leadership that he plays and his values. And then [values] kind of work through the type of people that you bring in.” 

In addition, being a unique team also means that everyone on the team expresses who they are and who they want to be.

“We have always wanted our players to express themselves, their uniqueness, and they really are trying to be their best selves and be the best versions of themselves. In doing that we say, ‘Be you, and that will be us.’ That’s kind of what you do, you become a compilation of all the personalities, and people, and the character of the people in the building. So, to me it’s that: it’s when the select people are themselves and try to chase certain values, in terms of character, and in terms of how we play, too.” 

Choosing to follow through with those ideals is what Harbaugh trusts makes them different, and it is something fans notice.

“We say, ‘Play like a Raven.’ Rough, tough discipline, hard nose, hard mind— that’s the team,  and that’s what you want people to see. You always want to become known for something, and I am quite certain around the league people know us for that personality of how we play.” 

How do you foster a family-like environment in the locker room? 

When it comes to what draws players into wanting to play for the Ravens, Harbaugh says that it is much more than being on an NFL team— it’s also about being a part of a family.

“People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and they want to be a part of something genuine and real. They want to matter. They want to be valued and respected. But they also want to be a part of something that is valuable. In other words, they want to be a part of something that has high standards and that the expectations are high. Something, maybe, that not everybody could really be a part of.” 

And, many times a family-like environment is created because the players put in effort to do so.

“You just got to sacrifice a little bit and give a little bit to one another. We are basically built on respect, mutual respect, for one another… it’s not just lip service. It’s the work ethic and how we treat one another. Like, if guys don’t do that, they do stand out kind of in a negative way. The players themselves will notice it, and they’ll either want to try to get the person on board and belonging, or they’ll want to have them not be here. And that kind of showed up this year with one of our players who we ended up having to get rid of. A really good player. A superstar player. But it just wasn’t working out. When the players recognize it, and they see it, they value that which we talked about then I think we have something special. 

Do you think a Super Bowl win is in the cards this season? 

When asked about his thoughts on possibly making it to the Super Bowl again, Harbaugh stated that although he cannot tell the future, he is very hopeful that his players will keep making critical plays and pushing towards that goal. 

“I don’t really believe in cards. I don’t think cards tell you much. I am not a ‘fortune telling’ kind of a guy. So, I think it’s just a matter of whether we earn it and whether we are able to navigate all the different things that can happen. I do believe there is kind of an element of destiny and an element of purpose that goes into what you are trying to do. So, hopefully we can stay healthy and make plays in critical moments. And, just do what we got to do.” 

He, however, recognizes how hard that is in such a big organization.

“It’s hard to win a Super Bowl. There’s a lot that goes into it. Only one team out of 32 and it’s always the team that’s playing the best in the end. So, you got to get there, to the playoffs, and then you gotta be the best of the best, playing the best at the end.  So, it’s why it is such a good accomplishment ‘cause it’s so hard to do.”

But, when it comes down to it, he thinks his players can pull through.

“We are definitely capable of doing it. We just got to go to work on it and not really worry about the outcome of each day or each week. Try to worry about the process and be as good as we can at the process. And, let the chips fall where they will.” 

Do you think that came into play when you won the Super Bowl in 2012? 

“Definitely, definitely. ‘Cause we weren’t the best team in the regular season. And there were a lot of team dynamic things that were going on… tough things…  but we kind of worked through together and didn’t shy away from [them]. It’s one of our mottos. We say, ‘We confront everything, not anybody.’ So, we want to confront every issue honestly [and] keep it real. And it’s not about confronting the person— it’s the issue, it’s the thing that’s holding us back and we need to get better at it. So, we were able to do that that year. We really came together at the end, and because of that, clicked. And then we made some plays in critical moments. You think about the Denver game, the New England game, the Super Bowl. Guys came through. That’s how any team does it.” 

What has been your favorite game in any of the past seasons? And, which regular season game are you most excited about for this season? 

As a coach, Harbaugh explained that picking a favorite game can be very difficult because it seems to pull focus away from winning the others.

“I’ll be honest with you. As the coach, you really got to be excited for every game. It really ends up being the next game. We have our goals, and the first goal is to win the next game. That’s the first thing we got to accomplish. So that’s what we think about. And we kind of go from there, one step at a time. Always try to keep the short view and the long view at all times. 

However, when asked about past games, Harbaugh raved about their most recent game in Seattle and a Browns game from years ago.

“My favorite game of the last few years… Seattle was pretty neat when Lamar went for it on fourth down and all that. But, that Cleveland Browns game a couple years ago that we got into the playoffs at the end, where we had the stop at the end, was the most gut-wrenching, hard, stressful game that we pulled it out in the end. But that might be the most memorable one for me, lately.” 

Coming off a record-setting season with Coach of the Year and MVP honors, how have you prepared the team to handle this year’s increased expectations?  

Harbaugh, having won Coach of the Year, reflected on how the team did last year and in previous times. To keep moving forward, the Ravens had to learn from both their failures and successes.

“You know, we try to embrace it. You win or you learn. We learned a lot from what we didn’t do last year. We did a lot of great things, we accomplished many things, and there were things we didn’t accomplish. We learned from those things.”

But, improving a team is much more than that. It is also about having high standards and expectations for themselves.

“You should always have high expectations and standards for yourself, anyway, and it’s really standards more than expectations. I think if you have high standards, then the expectations take care of themselves. Expect from yourself to do things the right way, work hard, be honorable, treat people the right way, take the high road, so to speak. If you do all those things, then you can have high expectations for yourself. So, we have high expectations anyways. So it doesn’t really matter what anybody else thinks on the outside and our guys are really good about that. We just call that noise, static electricity. It doesn’t mean anything to us. The expectation we have for ourselves will always be harder than any expectations that anybody has for us. That’s how we kind of look at it.” 

Do you think the absence of fans and crowd noise will have a negative impact on home field advantage?  

At this time in the season, Harbaugh believes it will be really hard to tell if it affects the team and how it may affect the whole season since it is all so new to everyone.

“You know, I really don’t know. I would think so because the crowd is a big part of the game. I’m looking forward to seeing that myself. It’s one of those unknowns. We will know more once it happens. I do think games are won by how you play, though. Fans are helpful, but they can’t win or lose a game. It’s the players and how we play. So, we have to play well no matter what to win any game.”  

Do you think they will allow fans in the stadium at any point this season? 

Harbaugh is very hopeful that they will let fans back in the stadium, but it all comes down to how safe the crowd will feel coming to a stadium with others.

“I do. Yeah, I’m optimistic. Some teams already are, so I’m optimistic that things are going to keep getting better with COVID, [and that] people start feeling safer. I’m really optimistic we will get to it.”

Do you think that the players are also hoping that fans will come back so they can have their family there? 

Family is a major component to the players as they prepare for a game. According to Harbaugh, they would love to have their families there every game, but with COVID, it can be tricky.

“Yes, very much so. I think players really want to get their families there. They’re not really allowed to be there right now, and I do think that that is bothersome to the players, and disappointing. That is probably the first thing that would happen, and I think the Ravens’ organization wants to try and do that as soon as possible. But, the state has restrictions on those things right now. But, yeah, I agree with that. I think that’s something really emotional for the players and that they really want that to happen.” 

What has been the most valuable coaching lesson that you learned from your dad?  

Harbaugh had many lessons to share from his dad, a former football player and coach. Though he could only share a few, he was very adamant on the idea that he has learned much from his dad. 

“Well, he always said, ‘get the lead, keep the lead.’ I would say, ‘what does that mean?’ I think it kind of speaks to going to work and trying to get out front of your job and get ahead then keep working hard. Keep the pace up. Keep sticking with the process. Try to stay ahead of things and be on top of things before they happen as much as you can.”

But, for Harbaugh, some lessons he learned from watching his dad happened off the field.

“I always watch my dad with players. He always really had a high standard for them, was very demanding, but he always had great relationships with his players. [He] always was on a first name basis with them all the time. They really all respect him. So, I would say that was something I learned from just watching him.”  

How does your Catholic faith play a role in your coaching? 

Harbaugh attributes his “Type A personality” to his Catholic faith because it helps him face things head on and immediately after they happen.

“Catholic faith, Christian faith, it gives me peace of mind. This is something I’ve learned over a long time ‘cause I’m kind of a Type A personality. Anytime something comes up, I want to address it right away, fix it immediately, correct it, get to work on it, get moving. That is kind of just my default like a lot of us. Sometimes that’s good and other times it’s not good. Other times it’s not what’s called for.”

Harbaugh uses his own faith to lead him when it comes to coaching and even mentioned a Bible verse that steers his decision making.

“There’s a Bible verse that I read in the last three years that got brought to my attention. It’s, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ And, what I took that to mean was, God’s telling you he’s in control of things in the end, and that it’s okay sometimes to be patient and to trust him and let things unfold in His time. So sometimes I may think I need to do something or I don’t really know what to do or it’s kind of out of control. I can take a deep breath, maybe say a little prayer and just say, ‘Hey, you know what, I think I’m going to let Him work his time, so I’m going to be patient on it.’ I would say that’s the biggest way it’s helped me, especially in the last few years.” 

Does your Catholic faith ever transfer over to some of your pre-game or post- game rituals? 

When asked about rituals before and after games, Harbaugh’s Catholic faith seemed to shine through. 

“It’s kind of an NFL thing. So, when I was in Philadelphia, we did this— we always said the Our Father after the game as a team. I came to Baltimore and I think we were doing it anyway, and we just kind of kept it going.”

However, what makes the Ravens unique is their pre-game ritual, which is allowing each player to be highlighted in their own ways.

“Before the game, we circle up before we go out and everybody grabs hands, takes their hats off, and one of the players will say a prayer for the game. Whatever is on his heart, he’ll mention, and we come together and get a break and get to go out on the field.” 

If Iggy the Greyhound and Poe the Raven were to form a football matchup, who would win in a head-to-head game? Iggy’s team or Poe’s? 

Harbaugh used his coaching thought process to answer this question and gave an in depth explanation on how he thought this matchup could end.

“Ravens are pretty smart. Greyhounds are pretty fast. Greyhounds are definitely much bigger than ravens so I think they could block a raven pretty good. But, I think the greyhound would have a better ground game. I don’t think ravens could stop the greyhounds’ ground game. And, I don’t know if the greyhound could stop the ravens air game. I don’t know who would win, but I think it would be a very high scoring game for these reasons.” 

Do you have any advice for college students, especially during this pandemic?

“This is an opportunity to learn. Through all the things that are going on in 2020, 2020 is going to be a year that’s going to be remembered in history for a long time. As young people, this is your time. There’s going to be great change in our country because of 2020. First of all, because of the pandemic, and because of social justice conversations. It’s because of you guys [referencing his daughter and her friends], I have had a chance to be around young people in your age group and also our players, too, who are mostly in their early twenties. I have a lot of optimism for the future. I see a very smart generation that cares about one another and really understands where we come from as a nation and where we are going.”

He also explored the basic principles of our world and nation, saying that it is vital we keep pushing for justice and health even if it takes years to make a change.

“The basic principles of what we are founded on are ideals that change the world. They’re so world changing, these ideas, we really are taking hundreds of years to accomplish… It’s time for us to make some big steps, and I just think that that’s how it works in history. Change is made sometimes slowly, and sometimes in big chunks. We are making some major strides right now in 2020. I kind of see your generation at the forefront of that and I’m excited for it. I just encourage them to be involved, to be active, and to make a difference.”

His advice for naysayers was also important to this worldwide change we need to initiate, according to Harbaugh.

“People sometimes say, ‘I can’t change the world.’ We change the world one world at a time, one dorm at a time, one class at a time, one cul-de-sac at a time, one relationship at a time, one friendship at a time. That’s how we change the world. I’m very encouraged by where we are going as a country and I think you guys are leading the way. So, let’s roll.” 

Do the social justice issues at any time get into your players head and affect their game? 

Harbaugh explained that being a Raven does not just mean being able to play football well, but also understanding what is happening in the world around each player. So, in fact, every player has social justice on their mind whether they are playing or at home.

“I think they think about it all the time. They are really smart, thoughtful people like all of us. They think about these things and they figure it out and try to understand and try to form opinions. A lot of them are parents, so they’re talking to their kids and trying to put things into perspective for the kids of different ages. I think you are also able to compartmentalize that in a sense.”

He then goes on to explain how he and the players should take action. According to Harbaugh, it is all about being an influence for others so they may be persuaded to make a change in the world, as well.

“One of the things we talked about to our guys is really worth remembering, but it’s really hard to have influence without success. In order to have influence, you really have to gain the respect of the people. People will listen to somebody who they respect because they made an impact in their life, made a difference in their life in a positive way, or because they accomplish things. Good grades, successful at your job, someone who helps others be better at what they do. Those kinds of things are what impact people, so we talk to our guys about that. Sometimes you just have to be good at what you do, and focus on where you have been put by God, what you have been asked to do, and do it to the best of your God-given ability every single day. And then, you will see that you have had an impact on the people around you… in the end, that’s the life- changing opportunity that we have.” 

Harbaugh is the Ravens’ longest-serving head coach, joining the team in 2008. Harbaugh is also the most successful Ravens coach to date, and is the current holder of the Associated Press National Football League Coach of the Year Award.

Featured Image courtesy of kishcollageit via Flickr Creative Commons

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Interviewing the head coach of the Ravens, John Harbaugh