Oh, what a difference a year makes in the eyes of Ravens fans. Flash back to the end of the 2012 season: Cam Cameron was replaced by savior Jim Caldwell, John Harbaugh was among the coaching elites, and little known Juan Castillo was hired as a consultant two weeks before Super Bowl XLVII. After the Super Bowl victory, the party went on for a month, then the hangover set in. The head started pounding while free agent after free agent departed. The stomach started churning during the 2013 season while watching an uninspired offensive line, running back, and quarterback play. It all finally accumulated in post hangover blame. You know the drill: “I was fine until you gave me that last drink”, “You know I can’t mix alcohol”, “It was the empty stomach!”, which is the stage Ravens fans find themselves in today.
Recently, the focus of blame has been directed at Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and his (in)ability to hire quality coaches and coordinators. During the search for an offensive coordinator, fan rage was at an all-time high towards the coach who was hired by a five-win team, won 73 games over the following six years, coached three AFC championship games, and won a Super Bowl. Fans and local media insisted that GM Ozzie Newsome or even owner Steve Bisciotti should take over the hiring process of the offensive coordinator position, then alleged that this is precisely what happened during the recent hiring of Gary Kubiak. Is the criticism fair or knee-jerk? Harbaugh has absolutely set himself up by hiring an occasional friend, or by hiring those who hired him previously (although this practice is certainly not new, and examples can be found throughout the league). Three Harbaugh hires usually headline this debate: Cam Cameron, who previously hired John at Indiana; Greg Mattison, who’s relationship started with his father, Jack Harbaugh, then later with John; and currently, Juan Castillo, who worked beside John in Philadelphia and has been front and center of the most recent controversy. While one can certainly argue that John Harbaugh holds onto coaches too long when it appears they should be released, his ability to hire strong candidates should not be part of the conversation.
Notable hires are as follows:
- Cam Cameron was considered an excellent hire at the time, considering his success as the Chargers offensive coordinator. Although Cam held Brees’ stats well below his current numbers, he also had a guy named LaDainian Tomlinson chugging out 2000+ all-purpose yards per year.
- Greg Mattison was a proven defensive coordinator in college and was given a shot to work with the Ravens linebacker corps. When Rex Ryan left for the Jets, he was promoted and was the defensive coordinator for 2009 and 2010. Although the defensive unit was ranked 3rd in 09, his passive style did not sit well with players and fans as the defensive unit dropped to 10th in 2010 and he was replaced.
- Juan Castillo was considered to be a good hire at the time, after the Eagles inexplicably promoted their 12-year offensive line coach to defensive coordinator. He was fine numbers wise, as his teams were generally top 10 in rushing, although his sack numbers were below average. He was a well-respected positions coach with a good reputation.
- Jim Caldwell was a former head coach and former quarterbacks coach of Peyton Manning. He was considered a steal for the Ravens quarterbacks coach position. He is now the head coach of the Lions
- Chuck Pagano was a no-name before he burst onto the scene as the Ravens defensive coordinator, and parlayed that success into a head coaching position in Indianapolis.
- Teryl Austin ground his way through the college and NFL ranks, and was hired to coach the Ravens defensive backs. He vastly improved the group considered to be the weak link of the defense. Teryl’s efforts and ability landed him the defensive coordinator position in Detroit.
- Dean Pees – While at New England, Pees took a horrible defense and had the unit consistently in the top 5 to top 10. Harbaugh brought him in as the Ravens linebacker coach and then promoted him to the ever-revolving defensive coordinator position.
Hiring quality candidates has never been coach Harbaugh’s weakness, and I question the accuracy of rumors alleging he was not involved with the Gary Kubiak hiring (and if he wasn’t, I would question the owner’s ability to perform his duty as CEO). His weakness has been ability to fire a hired friend if the situation goes sour. It has been argued by many (including myself) that Cam Cameron was on the team at least two years too long, and that Juan Castillo, no matter how respected he is by his peers, caused so much turmoil internally with the offensive line and running backs, that for the sake of the team, he needs to be gone. Nobody hits on 100% of their hires for a number of reasons, and many issues surface well after the contract is signed. A coach cannot foresee all of the personality conflicts, philosophy differences, or team chemistry issues that could arise. What is controllable, and a fair criticism of John Harbaugh, is that a coach should make the necessary adjustments quickly and succinctly for the betterment of the team as conflicts arise.