OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- All the time he spent in the background as an assistant paid off for John Harbaugh, who welcomed the "opportunity of a career" Saturday upon being introduced as the new head coach of the Baltimore Ravens.
Harbaugh brings 24 years of coaching experience with him, even though he has never been in charge of an offense or a defense. That only intensified the excitement he derived from becoming the third head coach in the 12-year history of the franchise.
"I'm a football coach. I've been a football coach for a long time," Harbaugh said. "I'm proud to be the football coach of the Baltimore Ravens."
Harbaugh had an unspectacular playing career as a defensive back at Miami (Ohio) before starting his coaching career as a running backs/outside linebackers coach at Western Michigan in 1984. He was an assistant at the college level with Pittsburgh, Morehead State, Cincinnati before joining the Philadelphia Eagles as special teams coach in 1998.
Harbaugh was promoted to secondary coach last season, and this month emerged among six candidates to replace Brian Billick as the leader of the Ravens.
"There are ways to prepare to be a head coach. I'm proud of the path I took," Harbaugh said. "You pay attention to detail, you do the best job you can, and good things happen."
With his wife and parents sitting in the front row of an auditorium at the team training complex, the 45-year-old Harbaugh said, "This is the opportunity of a career, and it's a dream of ours we've had for a long time. We can't wait to get started."
He didn't care that the Ravens first offered the job to Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who turned down the bid after receiving a raise from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and a promotion to assistant head coach.
"As far as being perceived as the second choice ... that's irrelevant to me," Harbaugh said. "I never thought about it in those terms, never would. It doesn't matter. It's an opportunity to go forward. I know they looked at six great coaches here, any one of whom could have done a great job. I feel fortunate to be the one that's going to get the shot."
When he fired Billick on Dec. 31, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said the decision was the result of a "gut feeling." Choosing Harbaugh was no different.
Before becoming owner of the Ravens, Bisciotti took pride in hiring young, untested people for Aerotek, a highly successful staffing company in the aerospace and technology sectors. He used that method in choosing Harbaugh over an experienced head coach like Marty Schottenheimer.
"Do I like a guy that has to earn his resume? Yeah. I kind of made a living on hiring people with thin resumes and it's worked out pretty well for me in the last 25 years," Bisciotti said. "I think that works to John's advantage. I said three weeks ago you have to take chances to be successful. You have to be willing to do things that the masses wouldn't do, or I don't think you will be able to separate yourself from the masses.
"Is it a little bit more of a perceived chance? Yeah, but the time we spent with John Harbaugh gave me a comfort level that we hired the right guy," the owner said. "You go with your instincts, and I have pretty good instincts."
Harbaugh inherits a team that followed a 13-3 season with a 5-11 disappointment in 2007. His first task will be to assemble a staff; Bisciotti said Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who was dismissed with Billick, will be asked back if he doesn't get hired as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
Ryan was one of six candidates interviewed for the job in Baltimore. Only Garrett and Harbaugh received a second interview. New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Marty's son, was among those interviewed in early January.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said Saturday that Marty Schottenheimer did not wish to be a candidate for the job until Baltimore dismissed his son as an option.
Harbaugh is the product of a football family. His father, Jack, is former head coach at Western Kentucky and his brother, Jim, is head coach at Stanford and a former quarterback with the Ravens. John Harbaugh learned plenty from those two, but also gave thanks to former Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes for hiring him as special teams coach in 1998, and to current Philadelphia coach Andy Reid.
"I wouldn't be sitting here with this chance if it wasn't for Andy Reid," Harbaugh said. "He's been my mentor for nine years now."
Now, it's time to see what the student can do. Harbaugh acknowledged that some might question his credentials, but stressed that as a special teams coach he had to deal with every player on the 53-man roster, which of course is part of the job description for his new post.
"A lot of people don't realize you are handling the entire team every single day," he said. "You're dealing with offensive linemen, defensive backs, wide receivers. They're all a little bit different. You also get to deal with the young guys."
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis isn't a special teams player, and he isn't young. But establishing a rapport with the unquestioned team leader is a must for Harbaugh, and Bisciotti envisions player and coach having a strong relationship.
"I don't know where Ray is right now. He may be in Jamaica, but I guarantee you that the minute he hears this, he's going to start thinking, 'How can I help this coach be a great coach?"' Bisciotti said. "And that's a great place to start off on this team."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press