The Ravens are 9-2, but it hasn’t been an easy season. Apart from key injuries and periodic ineffectiveness and a defense that ain’t what it used to be, coach John Harbaugh had to deal with an unexpected uprising last month.
The moment came, according to Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports, on Halloween morning. Back from a bye-week break after a backbreaking loss to the Texans, Harbaugh told the team that they’d be practicing in full pads. Several veteran players openly challenged their head coach.
“It was practically a mutiny,” a Ravens player told Silver. “It came very close to getting out of control. But the way Coach Harbaugh handled it was amazing. He let people have their say, and he listened, and he explained himself, and pretty soon it was like a big group-therapy session. In the end, a lot of positive things were said. We didn’t practice in pads, but we came out of there stronger as a group.”
Coincidentally (or not), the Ravens haven’t lost since then.
“I’ve never seen a head coach handle anything like that as well as he did,” a Ravens assistant who attended the meeting told Silver. “There were some things said where we were like, Damn.
“A lot of coaches would have acted like dictators and been very sensitive about the way their authority was being questioned. John said, ‘Hey, let’s talk about this.’ He showed great leadership. Instead of worrying that it would make him seem weak, he turned it into a strength.”
Harbaugh realizes the value of encouraging players to speak their mind.
“I wasn’t threatened by it,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the main thing. And, you know, they had some good points, and I had some good points. Other guys stood up and said some great things. To me, it embodied everything that you should have on a team.
“The point was that, we have what I call ‘Open Mic,’ and we can all say anything that we need to say and have to say. You know then that you’re responsible — when you say it, everybody’s gonna hear it, so you’d better make it your best stuff.
“That brings out the best. Otherwise, it’s ‘Why are they sneaking around talking behind corners?’ You know what I mean? If you’ve got something, you put it right out here in front of me. I’m man enough to handle it. If you’re right, then you’re right! It’s OK to be right. But more important it’s OK to be wrong. And it’s OK for me to be wrong, too.”
By being willing to admit that he’s wrong and make changes, Harbaugh could be poised to take his team right to the Super Bowl.
In fact, the only thing Harbaugh may have done wrong in this episode is to let it be known what happened. Now, other coaches facing similar challenges may opt not to be hardheaded, which could help their own teams play better, possibly when playing the Ravens.