Thursday, February 22, 2018
Sports

Coaches match stability, success

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick has this nice habit. He coaches in Super Bowls.

John Harbaugh has established an impressive trend, too: winning playoff games.

When they face off Sunday for the second straight year in the AFC Championship Game, Belichick's Patriots and Harbaugh's Ravens will offer further proof of the value of stability.

No coaching carousels in New England and Baltimore.

Belichick, 60, has been on the job since 2000 and has gone to five Super Bowls, winning the first three. One more trip and he ties Don Shula for most Super Bowl coaching assignments.

"He never changes," veteran guard Logan Mankins said. "It's always the same way from him. He coaches the same way. He demands the same things. So, when you have that leader in that role, I think it's easy for everyone else to fall in line."

Harbaugh, 50, has managed something Belichick, Shula and every other NFL coach has not: winning in the postseason in each of his first five years. He also has been to seven conference title games, four as an assistant in Philadelphia.

"There's nothing like the playoffs in the National Football League," Harbaugh said. "I've never been in any other sport, so it's hard to compare it to a seven-game series or something like that. But, it would be hard to imagine, for me, a more exciting thing than being in the NFL playoffs and getting to championship games and ultimately the Super Bowl. That's what it's all about. To me, it's the pinnacle of sport."

Belichick and Harbaugh remain true to their philosophies and personas.

For Belichick, that means a high level of secrecy, never providing any bulletin board material or real insight when asked about how the Patriots have been so triumphant under him. Belichick flopped in Cleveland in his first stint as a head coach, but his work in New England is the envy of his peers.

Of course, it helped a tiny bit to have Tom Brady on his side.

Brady emphasizes Belichick's steadiness as a key.

"Coach talks about doing your job," Brady said. "Whatever your role may be — third receiver, third running back — you have to perform your role. You know whenever your number is called … everyone is counting on you. The expectation is you will play at a championship level."

When Harbaugh came to Baltimore, it had a shutdown defense. Recently, the Ravens have become more dependent on their offense. Harbaugh is 6-3 in the playoffs, including a 33-14 victory at Gillette Stadium three years ago. He has lost both trips to the title game, including 23-20 to New England last January.

And he approaches the job in the same way: tirelessly.

"We get after it in practices and games. We try to bring a physicality and toughness to everything we do," veteran center Matt Birk said. "We have a willingness to work hard, and we do, and that comes from Coach Harbs."

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