Passionate Harbaugh wants big changes in NFL

The Ravens coach sees some issues with the current practice setup

Brian Spurlock—X02835
Feb 28

PHOENIX — In breakneck speed during two days of league meetings Monday and Tuesday, important business was conducted. That can’t be disputed.However, several items were tabled, while some seem off the radar, left to negotiating between the NFL and NFLPA. Safety is said to be a major topic, but many of those coaches truly responsible for the product on the field are increasingly frustrated at the constraints put on them from roster size to offseason programs to practice rules.Several coaches voiced their opinion to the media this week, but perhaps none more passionately than Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.Harbaugh even took issue when it was suggested he was on “a rant.” Said Harbaugh, “You see I hate the term rant because it’s not a rant. Somebody expresses I would say a thoughtful agree, disagree, but if you don’t agree it’s a rant. If you do agree it’s a passion.”We’ll go with passion. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how it’s described. The message is what’s important, one of the biggest being that most don’t believe anything substantive will happen until there is a new collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA expires after the 2020 season.It’s unfortunate that what can really improve the game is left to the politics of bargaining. That was one of Harbaugh’s main points.When asked for solutions, he said, “I have a lot of ideas and here’s the thing, we’ve talked about them a lot. The league’s been great, the Players Association’s been great, everybody’s talking about it and I think in the next CBA it’ll get adjusted. I hope, I really hope in a good way that we get past the bickering and basically the taking of sides. It’s not a poker game here. We’re not hoarding chips. You know all this negotiating, you know these guys, all these guys are in business 101. They’ve got these negotiating skills and they’re not going to give anything up unless they get something.”Let’s just sit down and say … what’s good for everyone involved here. I think it would take about an hour to figure the whole thing out if everybody would just put their agendas aside and do what Brandon Marshall quoted in our meeting that we had that was on the Chicago Bears wall. He said, ‘What we do for ourselves dies with us and what we do for others lives forever.’ Let’s get together and do something that benefits everybody involved including the fans.”Speaking specifically about the overall quality of the game, Harbaugh said it referred to the “quality of our ability to put a good football game on the field has to do with the ability to train our players. Let’s just have the players with us and we can train them. We have coaches, we have trainers, we have great facilities. And guys want to be there. If you don’t want to be there, you don’t have to be there. But guys want to be there, especially the young guys. Let’s train these guys to go out there and give them a chance to be their very best. To me, that’s a no-brainer.”Secondly is the transition from where so many guys are from. Football is the most equality-driven, merit-driven, meritocracy area probably of our whole society. Football players come from every rank of society, from every socioeconomic background, every religion, everything you want to talk about. We have to recognize that and we have to understand that some guys come from real tough situations. So why when they’re a rookie, or a second-year guy or a third-year guy are we bringing them into this environment where it’s a life-changing environment and we’re giving them all these lessons and teaching them about finances and everything else. And then when the season’s over, we go, ‘Can’t talk to you. Can’t give you a phone call. How are you doing?’ That’s not allowed. It makes absolutely no sense. Can’t come into the building. If you come into the building, we can’t say, ‘How’s your weight lifting? How’s your training going?’ What are we doing? I think everybody is in favor.”It hits me close to home because of (cornerback) Tray Walker (who died a year ago in an offseason dirt-bike accident) and other things that have happened around the league. God bless him and his family right now. These guys are tethered and they’re anchored to the football facility. It kind of becomes their new home, so why are we kicking them out of the house for the whole offseason? The player comes in and he wants to lift weights, he wants to work on his footwork, he wants to catch a ball on the jugs machine. He doesn’t want to go to Florida or California or Phoenix or somewhere to pay thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of dollars to train somewhere when he wants to be in the building with the people he trusts. I understand all the politics and again it’s nuanced; there’s more to it than meets the eye. But it’s not American, it’s not common sense, it’s not right and it makes no sense.”Aside from the offseason training, Harbaugh is a strong believer in being able to better develop players by keeping more around. Consider that teams will have 90 players in OTAs and training camp, but 37 will be off the roster when the season begins, although 10 can be signed to the practice squad.Harbaugh said, “We’ve got the greatest coaches, the greatest trainers, the greatest strength and conditioning trainers, the greatest supporting system in the whole world and the history of sport. Expand rosters. Expand practice-squad rosters. Let us develop these guys. Let us bring them in under our wing and let us build them up. Football is a great sport. There’s no greater sport for just challenging and holding people accountable and the skill set that you develop to become a great football player is very similar in a lot of ways to what becoming a good father, everything. Almost every good lesson I’ve learned in my life has been through football. Build the rosters up, expand the practice-squad rosters, give us a chance to have these guys.””Young players need to practice their craft and train their craft and learn the game. Quarterbacks, you want good quarterback play. They need to study being a quarterback. To me, that’s just common sense.”Of course, the pragmatic coach knows some guidelines have to be in place. He also managed to compare the need for a common-sense approach to politics in society. (He used the words common sense five times in his comments.)Harbaugh acknowledged there is a need to decide “how you organize that, and you do it in a way (to guard against) coaches that want to do overdo it. You certainly should have rules. There’s rules in every sport — college, pro. There’s common-sense type of things that I think everybody will be able to agree on. Just get past the bickering and come to an agreement on what’s best for the sport, what’s best for the players, especially the young players. It should be easy, but like anything in our society, coming to a common-sense decision that is good for the people, as we see obviously every single day when we watch the news, is not so easy because everybody’s got their own selfish agenda. It’s just about time we start thinking about others in our political (world). Let’s start with Congress and the executive and judicial branch, of thinking about the people who are here, the citizens of this country, and making the world a better place as opposed to what party gets elected in the next term.”Nobody around this table cares whether the Democrats or Republicans win seats in the House. Nobody cares. We just want to have good, common-sense legislation that’s good for everybody. Let’s get some jobs going. Let’s take care of people. Let’s give people a chance. Make it more like football where it’s a meritocracy, where you have a shot; where if you’re the best, you play the most. If you work the hardest, you make the most or whatever. Let’s make it fair. To me, it’s not that hard. I think selfish agendas get in the way. That’s my segue back into the CBA. We can do the same thing with the CBA and that will be our job.”Too bad it has to wait for the CBA expiration. After all, terms of the agreement can be changed at any time as former commissioner Paul Tagliabue and then-NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw managed to do way too long ago.That was common sense, too.