NEW ORLEANS -- In the past few years, a handful of special teams coaches have had the opportunity to interview for head coaching jobs, bypassing the traditional offensive or defensive coordinator apprenticeships.
Kansas City's Dave Toub, formerly the special teams coach in Chicago, has had a couple of chances, and so has Joe DeCamillis, who is now with the Bears. In part, they can thank Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, who spent nine seasons as the Eagles special teams coach before landing the Ravens head coaching job.
Harbaugh has never been an offensive coordinator, and he's never been a defensive coordinator (though he has coached on both sides of the ball). He's just been a special teams coach. Which, in his eyes, has been a path to success.
“Special teams coach was a great place to start as a coach,” said Harbaugh, who has followed the special-teams-to-head-coach path first carved out by Dick Vermeil and Marv Levy. “That means you get to work with every single player on the team. Quarterbacks are different than defensive linemen. Defensive backs are different than offensive linemen. If you have an opportunity to work with all those different diverse groups every single day, it's a great training ground.”
But when he was hired to replace Brian Billick in 2008, Harbaugh had to convince his team that a former special teams coach was the right move for the future of the organization.
“I thought it was weird, definitely, to have a special teams coach as your head coach,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “But he came in right away and did a lot of great things. I think it's great he lets his coordinators coordinate. He doesn't try to get in their way. He understands that they've done it for a longer time."
Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo can think of another benefit to having Harbaugh as his head coach. Namely, respect for those who often aren't respected in the first place.
“I think he appreciates us more,” Ayanbadejo said. “Typically, you're either an offensive or defensive coach and you appreciate offense or defense. With him being a special teams coach, he appreciates the grunts, he appreciates the blue-collar guys. It gives us a lot more confidence about our day. He takes the entire day into consideration and how it affects the special teams guys. That hasn't always been the case with other teams I've been on.”
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