From the well-chronicled network of coaches that worked under Bill Walsh to the legendary Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry working as assistants under New York Giants head coach Jim Lee Howell, many of the league’s great head coaches can attribute their success to another great coach—a mentor that helped them sharpen their craft.
For the Baltimore Ravens, two individuals that never coached in the NFL provide the inspiration for a plethora of successful coaches: the late Bo Schembechler and Jack Harbaugh.
Schembechler, the legendary coach of the University of Michigan from 1969 through 1989, inspired current Ravens coach John Harbaugh to offer these words when he was introduced as Ravens head coach in January 2008:
“When you grow up in that environment, part of your life values, the thing you learn is that there are three important things [to] putting together a football team. No. 1, the team; No. 2 is the team; and the third most important thing is the team. We’ll stick with that through and through, beginning to end. That’s what it’s all about.”
Harbaugh’s second, and most influential mentor, continues to be his father Jack who served as an assistant under Schembechler at Michigan for many years and served as the head coach at Western Michigan (1982-1986) and later Western Kentucky (1989-2002).
The younger Harbaugh received his coaching start with his father at Western Michigan, overseeing the running backs and outside linebackers from 1984 through 1986.
After leaving Western Michigan, Harbaugh had college coaching stints at Pittsburgh, Morehead State, Cincinnati, and Indiana before finally breaking into the NFL in 1998 to become the special teams coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Hired by Ray Rhodes, Harbaugh’s job appeared to be lost when Andy Reid replaced Rhodes as head coach only a year later, but Harbaugh was one of only four assistants retained in 1999.
Harbaugh would lead the Eagles’ special teams unit until after the 2006 season when he became defensive backs coach, a request granted in order to one day fulfill his dream of becoming a head coach in the NFL.
This dream would come to fruition only a year later when the Ravens fired longtime coach Brian Billick following the 2007 season and began their search for a new leader.
After Cowboys assistant Jason Garrett left Baltimore without accepting the Ravens’ job offer, the team turned to Harbaugh, an underdog for the job, but a man whose passion and coaching pedigree could not be overlooked.
In his first season in Baltimore, Harbaugh guided the Ravens to an 11-5 record, including a trip to the AFC Championship. As he prepares for his second season as coach of the Ravens, heightened expectations to improve on last year’s success surround the 46-year-old coach
Several members of Harbaugh’s staff share ties to the head coach, or his two coaching inspirations, creating a unique coaching tree that has come full circle.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, the head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2007, will begin his second season in charge of the Baltimore offense. Cameron started his career as an assistant coach under Schembechler at Michigan.
During his time in Ann Arbor, he helped develop several future NFL quarterbacks including Jim Harbaugh (John’s brother), Elvis Grbac, and Todd Collins.
Cameron served as head coach at Indiana University (1997-2001) where Harbaugh served as an assistant in 1997 before moving on to Philadelphia.
Long considered a quarterback guru in the NFL, the 48-year-old Cameron is credited with helping both Philip Rivers and Drew Brees reach Pro Bowl status as well as developing Gus Frerotte in Washington.
Cameron had NFL coaching stints in Washington (quarterbacks coach), San Diego (offensive coordinator), and Miami (head coach) before coming to Baltimore last season.
Harbaugh hopes Cameron can continue to work the same magic with quarterback Joe Flacco after a successful rookie campaign running the offense. He figures to continue operating a run-first offense but expand the options available to Flacco in the passing game.
On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison steps into the big shoes left behind by Rex Ryan after the former coordinator accepted the head coaching job with the New York Jets. Mattison takes the coordinator duties after coaching the Baltimore linebackers in his first season in the NFL last year.
Mattison spent 37 years coaching at the collegiate and high school level before finally receiving the call from Harbaugh last season. The two coached together at Western Michigan under Jack Harbaugh, with Mattison serving as the defensive coordinator from 1981 through 1986.
The 59-year-old coordinator coached most recently at the University of Florida (2005-2007) under Urban Meyer. He served as the co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach of a punishing Gators defense that destroyed Ohio State, 41-14, in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.
Mattison also had stints at Notre Dame, Michigan, Texas A&M, Navy, Northwestern, Cornell, and Illinois.
Faced with continuing the tradition of excellent Baltimore defense, Mattison has stressed the importance of not shaking the boat that is the Ravens’ dominating defense. Bringing pressure was a staple of his college defenses, so he figures to follow the same principles left behind by Ryan.
Completing the trio of top assistants with strong ties to the head coach is special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Jerry Rosburg. Known throughout the league for his excellent special teams units, Rosburg came on board last season after Harbaugh’s hiring.
Rosburg and Harbaugh shared special teams duties at the University of Cincinnati for four years (1992-1995), building a relationship that would lead to their reunion in Baltimore.
The 53-year-old special teams guru has operated successful special teams units in the NFL with Atlanta (2007) and Cleveland (2001-06). His units have consistently rated in the top 10 in various categories.
His other college experience includes stops at Notre Dame, Boston College, Minnesota, Western Michigan (a year after Harbaugh left), and Northern Michigan.
The key members of the Ravens coaching staff also include two assistants with no direct ties to Harbaugh prior to last season.
Quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson was an instrumental figure in Flaccco’s development a season ago.
Jackson has previous experience as an offensive coordinator in Atlanta (2007) and Washington (2003) and figures to become a hot head coaching prospect if he can continue to help the talented Flacco realize his vast potential.
His coaching versatility is also an asset, having coached the Cincinnati receivers (including Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh) from 2004 through 2006. He also coached the running backs in Washington in 2001 and 2002.
In addition to Jackson, offensive line coach John Matsko immediately made an impact in his first season in Baltimore, building a successful offensive line that battled injuries throughout the season. The 36-year coaching veteran has built successful lines in Kansas City, St. Louis, New York (Giants), New Orleans, and Phoenix.
He has coached numerous Pro Bowl linemen—including Will Shields, Brian Waters, Adam Timmerman, and Willie Roaf among others—and will be entrusted to develop the Ravens’ impressive duo of offensive tackles, third-year left tackle Jared Gaither and 2009 first-round pick Michael Oher.
The Ravens received criticism for hiring Harbaugh, a coach who had never been a head coach at any level, but the wealth of experience surrounding him has helped make a smooth transition into the head coaching position.
With the past relationships among many of his assistants, it’s easy to see why Harbaugh preaches the team—and only the team—first. It’s a reflection of the teachings of Schembechler and his father Jack and continues with his current players and coaching staff.
The Ravens coach believes building relationships will ultimately lead to winning championships. If the makeup of his coaching staff is any indication, the future appears bright in Baltimore.
Information from baltimoreravens.com was used in this article.