7:45 PM PDT, September 15, 2012
— The age-old debate about heredity vs. environment doesn't apply to John Harbaugh.
The 49-year-old head coach of the Baltimore Ravens and the most successful member of Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid's coaching tree has an overload of both, which could explain why he's been able to accomplish so much in such a short time.
Harbaugh grew up in a football family. His father Jack coached Western Kentucky to the NCAA Division I-AA championship in 2002. His brother Jim was an NFL quarterback for 14 seasons and nearly led the San Francisco 49ers into the Super Bowl in his first year as head coach last season.
Heck, if the Lingerie Football League had been around when his mother Jackie was a little younger, there's a good bet she would have a playing resume too.
Harbaugh also spent 10 seasons as an Eagles assistant, nine of them under Reid, who actually did him a favor by demoting him in 2007 from special teams coordinator to secondary coach so he could be more well-rounded for a potential head-coaching job down the road. (Special teams coordinators rarely are serious head-coaching candidates.)
That opportunity came after just one season, when the Ravens hired him to take over.
All Harbaugh has done since that moment is become the first coach in NFL history to advance in the playoffs in each of his first four seasons, two of them ending in the AFC Championship game.
He brings a career regular-season record of 45-20 and playoff record of 5-4 into today's matchup against his old boss.
Harbaugh obviously had the essentials to be a major success in the NFL before he even arrived in Philadelphia in 1998. But his decade in green is really what's made him so sharp in purple.
"I've said this a lot of times, there's my dad and there's Andy, the two biggest influences in a coaching career," Harbaugh said. "I was with Andy for nine, 10 years and pretty much learned how to run a pro team, how to deal with the players, how to organize a schedule, how to set up training camp, how to run a practice.
"All of the things that you probably have to make a transition from being an assistant coach to a head coach came from Andy, and ... that's where you start and you kind of evolve the way you evolve. But we still have a lot of contact and I still get a lot of ideas through Andy and advice and things like that. He's just been a great mentor."
Reid never would have kept Harbaugh, who was hired by Reid's predecessor, Ray Rhodes, on the staff when he took over in 1999 if he didn't see what so many others see now.
"He's a football coach," Reid said. "He's a teacher. He's intelligent and a hard worker. He's tough and good with people. Those are qualities that you need to advance as you move up the coaching ladder. [Ravens general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] gave him an opportunity where a lot of people would ignore a special teams coach. I think the special teams coach has to deal with both sides of the football [and] as many people as a head coach does as far as it comes to dealing with the football team.
"Then he had the experience of dealing with the media. Their job is a little underrated in my eyes. And then he had the opportunity to move over to the defensive side for one quick shot there."
Newsome didn't just take Reid's recommendation to hire Harbaugh. He called around the league, even picked the brain of at least one Eagles player at the time.
Everything came back the same, with a heavy comparison to the tough-love style of Reid, who keeps most of his outbursts private.
"He'll [bleepity-bleep] you behind closed doors," that Eagle, now retired, told me of Harbaugh during training camp in 2008. "But in public and in meetings he'll be as nice as you can be, talk the player up, all that."
This is the trait about Reid his players and coaches love most. He never takes his criticisms public, and of all the environmental data Harbaugh has processed over the years, that might have been most important.
Harbaugh arrived in Baltimore at age 45, hired by an owner, Steve Bisciotti, just two years his senior.
The Ravens have done everything but make the Super Bowl since, and likely would have made it last season if not for the play clock malfunction (or non-malfunction) in New England that marred the end of January's AFC title game and should have merited another investigation into the tactics of Bill Belichick.
But the Ravens have the man, the system, the players and the quarterback in place to keep making runs, thanks in part to the coach who's been overseeing a remarkably similar operation here for well over a decade.
ANDY REID'S COACHING TRE
SHere's a look at the current and former head coaches in the NFL who've worked under Eagles head coach Andy Reid:
Brad Childress, Minnesota Vikings, 2006-2010. Career record 40-37, including 1-2 in playoffs.
Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings, 2010-present. Career record 7-16.
John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens, 2008-present. Career record 50-24, including 5-4 in playoffs.
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers, 2011-present. Career record 6-11.
Pat Shurmur, Cleveland Browns, 2011-present. Career record 4-13.
Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams, 2009-2011. Career record 10-38.
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