Owner admits one of the best coaches in football was on the chopping block this season
No, the Ravens are not playing in Sunday’s Super Bowl — they didn’t even make the playoffs after choking away the season finale against Cincinnati.
But the aftershocks of Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti’s state of the team news conference will be felt for a while.
Bisciotti admitted Friday that he gave serious consideration to firing his head coach, John Harbaugh, after the season.
Harbaugh led Baltimore to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, including a Super Bowl win in 2012. Since then, however, the team has gone 40-40 over five years, with just one postseason appearance.
For Harbaugh, who is only the third coach in team history, that loss to the Bengals came very close to being his last game in Baltimore.
“Certainly, it was a thought,” Bisciotti replied when asked if he had thought about firing his coach. “I was very proud of the way John kept fighting, held the team together when we were losing in the middle of the year. Joe [Flacco] was obviously producing at substandard [levels] with his back injury, and after the first couple of weeks, obviously, we were very encouraged by our defense and thought that could hold us together. We didn’t perform very well in the middle of the year. I was proud of the way we fought back as a team.”
Baltimore seemed to hit its stride with a 6-2 mark down the stretch of the season.
Despite his comments, Bisciotti refused to issue Harbaugh an ultimatum for 2018.
“He’s under as much pressure than probably he’s ever been in his life, and I expect him to keep his chin up and take his positivity and his talents and make the most of the season,” Bisciotti said. “I may as well replace him now if I tell him to make the playoffs or you’re out of town next year. That’s not the way we run business here.”
Harbaugh is considered one of the best coaches in the league. He has a regular season record of 94-66, with only one losing season in 10 years, and has gone 10-5 in the playoffs.
That wasn’t the only news to come out of the owner’s press conference.
Bisciotti also announced that the man who helped build the franchise’s two Super Bowl championship teams, Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome, is stepping down as general manager following next season.
Newsome has been with the Cleveland/Baltimore franchise since he was a Browns first-round pick in 1978.
He worked as the vice president of player personnel when the team moved to Baltimore in 1996, then became the league’s first black general manager in 2002.
Newsome is considered one of the best talent evaluators in the NFL, with such tremendous draft picks as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Jonathan Ogden and an unheralded quarterback out of Delaware named Joe Flacco.
When Newsome steps aside, Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta will assume the job.
“[Ozzie] will work with me and work with Eric to ensure a smooth transition,” said Bisciotti, “and he will be the highest-paid scout in America when Eric takes over.”
As Ravens fans have gotten restless over the last five years, the owner was asked if this has been the most challenging period for his franchise.
“No. No, actually, not at all,” Bisciotti said. “I would say ’02, ’03, ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07 was definitely worse. No. 1, I didn’t have a franchise quarterback. We tried with Kyle [Boller]; we tried with Steve McNair. We had a playoff year with both of them in those five years, I guess, right?
“But no, this is not as challenging. I don’t think so. I’ve still got people that I’m confident in.”
Given the success both Newsome and Harbaugh have had, DeCosta and a new coach — whenever that happens — will have huge shoes to fill.
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