Coach of the year: John Harbaugh

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As the 2019 season unfolded, various candidates for coach of the year emerged, faded, re-emerged, and/or re-faded. The only certainty was that, once the season ended, the picture would become far more clear.

And it now is. The 2019 coach of the year is, without question, Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

He earned it with a 14-2 record generated by a 12-game winning streak that began after a two-game losing streak. After the win at Cleveland that clinched the top seed in the AFC playoff field, Harbaugh told PFT that the turning point was the overtime win at Pittsburgh, and that he sensed during a practice in advance of the win at Seattle that the Ravens were about to get on a run.

They did, with road wins (like at Seattle) and close wins (like vs. the 49ers) and blowouts of teams in games that could have been traps. It happened with an offense built around quarterback Lamar Jackson and a defense that reloaded after several free-agent departures. Especially on the offensive side of the ball, Harbaugh confirmed that the best coaches don’t have a system to which they are bound but a determination to craft a playbook that suits his players.

Maybe that’s the best argument for giving special-teams coordinators greater consideration for head-coaching jobs. Although Harbaugh had a palate-cleansing season as defensive backs coach before joining the Ravens in 2008, he made his way not as an offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator but as a special-teams coach. And his offense was so good this year that he didn’t need to use very much at all.

Harbaugh also has helped transform attitudes regarding rolling the dice on fourth down, making what was once unconventional far more commonplace, with a Madden-style attitude creeping into NFL football as coaches ignore potential fan and media criticism flowing from a failed fourth-down attempt. As a result, fans and media have become less likely to criticize a failed fourth-down attempt.

And to think that last year there was a sense that the Ravens and Harbaugh were careening toward a mutual parting. As teams prepared to line up for a chance to hire Harbaugh, the Ravens realized what they had, and they did what they had to do to keep him around.

Others who received serious consideration, and who thus merit a mention in this item, include 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and Packers coach Matt LaFleur. Shanahan led the 49ers to a 13-3 record, with three losses that each could have become wins. A master of offensive play design, Shanahan held the 49ers together down the stretch, as they limped toward the regular-season finish line but still won close games against the Rams and Seahawks to nail down the No. 1 seed, earning a desperately needed week off.

LaFleur walked into a potential buzzsaw in Green Bay, but he wisely showed deference to quarterback Aaron Rodgers and presided over a team that did what it had to do, week by week, to win games. He not only took the Packers to the playoffs after two years on the outside but lifted them to the No. 2 seed. While other teams are more talented, the Packers won as consistently as the most talented teams; when that happens, the coach should get plenty of credit for it.

62 responses to “Coach of the year: John Harbaugh

  1. As we all know in Buffalo- we have have 2 gems in Sean and Brandon
    Haven’t had this type of cohesion/intellegence since Marv and Polian
    Harbaugh is a players guy-it shows

  2. Well deserved. I read where Jeff Lurie regretted letting Harbaugh leave Philadelphia and suspect that he may have replaced Reid earlier if Harbaugh stayed a year or so longer.

  3. I wouldn’t say he deferred to Aaron. Lafleur simply worked with him like an adult and without the arrogance McCarthy did.

    1st year HC who had only been a coordinator one year. A hire that was routinely downplayed by the media and he has a danged good record with a team that has less offensive talent than McCarty had over the last 2 years. His practice schedule and style also has the team the healthiest it’s been in a decade at this point of the year.

    Be hard for me not to give it to Lafleur. Harbaugh’s has done a lot but he’s also a Superbowl winning coach with tenure. He’s SUPPOSED to be good. LaFleur was complete unknown and wins.

  4. sityourselfdown says:
    January 1, 2020 at 4:14 pm
    Honorable mention the guy behind Harbaugh with an unauthorized device.


    Yep, Mr. Bluetooth is without a doubt the winner of this MVP award.

  5. I thought these awards were announced the weekend of the Super Bowl? I have no argument with Mr. Harbaugh as COTY, but why is it announced so early?

    Oh, this is the PFT COTY. OK

  6. Hard to argue with success so John Harbaugh gets it. I think Mike Tomlin gets an honorable mention- being able to take a roster decimated by injuries (having to use a 2nd and 3rd string QB) and keep it in contention for a playoff spot until week 17 was an achievement

  7. “wisely showed deference to quarterback Aaron Rodgers”
    PFT is like a dog with a bone. This was NEVER a story but the narrative keeps getting pushed.

  8. Are you kidding? Sean Payton… hands down, no contest. Went 5 and 0 with no Drew and Teddy (can’t hit the side of a barn as replacement).

  9. Harbaugh told everyone before the season that the Ravens would revolutionize the way offense is played. By the end of the season the Ravens set a new NFL record for most team rushing yards in a season and became the first team in history to average 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing per game. I’d say he deserves the award.

  10. Why decide now? Sorry but the coach who took his team from 4-12 to 13-3 should get the award at this point. I’d say wait until the season is completely over to decide as well. There is still much to be revealed and determined.

  11. venomraider says:
    January 1, 2020 at 4:26 pm

    Yep, Mr. Bluetooth is without a doubt the winner of this MVP award.


    The head of security protecting the Harbaugh from fans entering the field? I guess no one attacked Harbaugh or any of the other coaches. So he gets some credit.

  12. Should have been Tomlin if Pitt makes the playoffs. But why is everyone surprised at the Ravens? Didn’t they go 6-1 (and the loss at KC no less) with him last year?

  13. I know this is just PFT’s awards—but I don’t see how Doug Pederson didn’t even get a look in. He took a team that was decimated by injuries, (top 5 receivers out for the year or long stretches; no All Pro RT for the last 3 games; lost his All Pro RG in the last game; 6 games without his top RB; his defense decimated by injuries—and all they did was win their final 4 games to win the NFC East. And before anyone says anything about the schedule or the quality of teams—you can only play the teams next on your schedule—which comes out in April and they’re not responsible for how poorly other teams play.

  14. If this is actually about coaching then the winner should be Tom Flores and it isn’t particularly close. After changing everything in the offseason, having vets not really show up early in the season, the subsequent firesale they had, instability at the qb position and yet the guy still won 5 of their last nine with a roster that some were calling the worst team ever fielded in history.

  15. Harbaugh is definitely a worthy candidate. Just to play Devil’s advocate though…
    In 2018, Ravens won their division and made it to the playoffs.
    In 2019, they improved by 4 games and also won their division.

    Laflauer takes over the Green Bay Packers, a 6 win team, and improves them by 7 games and wins the division. Also, he had to contend with assembling a coaching staff, getting along with Aaron Rodgers and all the media hoopla that goes with that. He has been nothing short of exemplary. He’s been truly impressive in how he’s handled it. He’s 40, but he has the wisdom and humility of a 70 year old man.

    Sean Payton, Mike Vrabel, and even Sean McDermott are worth mentioning.

  16. It should be LaFleur hands down. Pack was 6-9-1 last year with what everyone said is an uncoachable qb and no defense and goes 13-3 and two seed. Harbaugh has a ton of experience and in year two with his qb.

  17. I will stand corrected if someone can give me better info, but while Harbaugh and his staff did a great job-I thought the Ravens were pretty healthy this year-so I would lean in the direction of the coaches who made the best with what they had in spite of significant injury. Sean Payton comes to mind as well as Tomlin.

  18. Shanahan from 4-12 to 13-3. And the three losses were either by less than 3 points or on the last play of the game. Coach of the year and it’s not even close. PFT east coast bias rears it’s head again

  19. J K says:
    January 1, 2020 at 5:17 pm

    “If this is actually about coaching then the winner should be Tom Flores and it isn’t particularly close”.
    Sorry J K, Tom Flores retired after the 1994 season, his third with the Seahawks.

  20. Payton and McDermott were also deserving, but no one expected the Ravens to be this good. No one.

  21. Harbaugh honestly should have been a major nominee it his rookie season turning a 5-11 team into an 11-5 one with a rookie QB and a trip to the AFC Championship. He also should have been last year, taking a 4-5 team at a bye week crossroads and installing another rookie QB, a new offense, and getting the whole team to buy into it, only losing an overtime game at Arrowhead the rest of the regular season. Well deserved for John, who should honestly make ignorant people mistake Jim for him and not the other way around.

  22. Tomlin did a lot with many injuries and without Big Ben also Lafleur comes in first year and wins the division and 13 games how many times has that happened with a first year coach I wonder? The Ravens didn’t have to overcome adversity .

  23. Based on the injuries to Ben and JuJu and Conner, and the world finally realizing how hard it must have been for him to keep AB in even somewhat of a checked state… I think Tomlin should be in the conversation.

    Harbaugh, McDermott, Payton, Vrabel (with Tannehill!!!) and Tomlin all deserve recognition for what they did this year.

  24. Doug Pederson ended his season without his top 3 WR’s, top 4 RBs, all pro TE, all pro RG and RT, starting LB, top 2 CBs………. yet he made the playoffs, winning the division.

  25. murphyslaw40 says:
    January 1, 2020 at 7:35 pm
    Based on the injuries to Ben and JuJu and Conner, and the world finally realizing how hard it must have been for him to keep AB in even somewhat of a checked state… I think Tomlin should be in the conversation.

    Harbaugh, McDermott, Payton, Vrabel (with Tannehill!!!) and Tomlin all deserve recognition for what they did this year.

    0 0 Rate This

    With all due respect to Tomlin, I believe these past few years he has had a healthy Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Juju Smith Schuster and Leveon Bell simultaneously. What happened then? League-wide dominance, with all that healthy talent on the roster? Not so much. And the reason that core group split up is because the egos bloomed out of control. I dunno about Tomlin as a huge difference maker.

  26. I know they were only 9-7 in a weak division, but surely Doug Peterson should get some recognition? He took a team of un-drafted practice squad players to the playoffs! And he did so by beating a Cowboys team that many felt had the most talent in the league. If that’s not coaching, I don’t know what is!

  27. Sean Payton lost his starting QB for 5 games and battled officiating literally every week that was clearly biased against his team and still went 13-3.

    No other head coach in the league can claim that level of adversity along with that level of success.

  28. If it’s actually “Coach” of the year, how about the guy who managed a virtual practice squad of unproven backups through an endless minefield of injuries and aging malcontents. I really don’t see how it should’ve gone to anyone else. I bet if you take a straw poll of just coaches within the league, Peterson wins it w/o a close 2nd.

  29. Don’t have a problem with Harbaugh, but Sean Payton deserves at least a mention. Five games withouth his future HOF quarterback, went 5-0 and a blown 4th and 2 away from a 14-2 record and #1 seed. That’s not bad.

  30. LeFleur suffered from having McCarthy precede him. A 6-9-1 team with McCarthy is already known to be a 10-6 or 11-5 team with a decent coach.

  31. These awards mean absolutely NOTHING any more. If it’s really based on results then Belichick should win pretty much every year based on how he morphs his team every week.

    If it’s based on turnaround, then just call it that. And that wouldn’t be about best coaching as a turnaround also depends on new cast of characters in the team.

    It’s simply baffling to me how Doug Peterson doesn’t get this award for 2017 or 2019. Philly unfortunately gets overlooked being a blue collar smash mouth town. This is just ridiculous. Just cancel the freaking award if you can’t be just.

    I love Harbaugh. But this year has been about Lamar Jackson. Without him Ravens will probably be 9-7 or 10-6 team at best. Doug has literally turned things around inspite of literally not having enough players to even suit up on Sundays at times. He deserves this award more than any one else by far.

    Ravens won’t be Superbowl champions this year. Just watch.

  32. Can’t stand the Steelers… but Mike Tomlin should have been coach of the year by a country mile…

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