Despite Saturday's season-ending loss to Payton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti surely has to be satisfied with the job his mirror-image head coach John Harbaugh is doing.
In his first head coaching stint, Harbaugh, coming in as special teams coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, got the Ravens to the AFC title game last season and savored a big win over New England in the wildcard round this year before falling to the Colts in the divisional round.
Under Harbaugh, Bisciotti's Ravens are viewed as a much more disciplined and professional team today than under former coach Brian Billick, the 2001 Super Bowl winner who was fired at the end of the 2007 season. No more are the Ravens a team where players like former star cornerback Chris McAllister can get away with bucking the system like under Billick.
So everything is just fine in Ravenstown, right?
You would want to think so, except for a big "what if" lurking out there: What if the Jets win the Super Bowl under Rex Ryan?
If Baltimore-favorite Ryan finds a way to run the table, starting with the AFC championship game Sunday against the Colts, many a Baltimore fan might be asking that what if question. What if Bisciotti had capitulated to the wishes of players, others in the organization and the city and hired Ryan instead of Harbaugh.
Rex Ryan vs. John Harbaugh is no indictment of Harbaugh. Clearly, Harbaugh has had success with the Ravens - two playoff appearances in two years as head coach. But no Super Bowl appearance, Bisciotti's stated goal in his dumping of proven winner Billick after a rare Ravens losing season.
As of today, you give Ryan the heads up since he still can get to the Super Bowl. No matter his success, Harbaugh's shot fell short last season against the Steelers.
If Ryan stuns the favored Colts and gets to Miami Feb. 7, the sounds of what if will resonate louder in Baltimore because Bisciotti could have had Ryan for the taking.
Ryan served as a Ravens assistant, defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for 10 years. He paid his dues. He coveted the job. His players in Baltimore wanted it for him, including future Hall-of-Famer Ray Lewis. Ryan was chagrined when he didn't get it. That year, going into the 2008 season, Ryan supposedly wasn't good enough. Not good enough for the head jobs in Miami, Atlanta or Baltimore.
The wisest thing Bisciotti and Harbaugh did was to retain Ryan after Ryan failed on the head coaching interview circuit. That also was the smartest thing Ryan did because it propelled him to New York within a year. At the announcement he was returning to Baltimore, Ryan would say, "There might have been some disappointment" about not getting a head coaching job in 2008. "But I'm not discouraged at all. I think I've grown from the process."
You can see why Bisciotti, who built his fortune in the professional staffing business through his company Allegis Group, would be more comfortable with Harbaugh over Ryan. But you also see why players and fans would take Ryan.
Harbaugh is more a Bisciotti man, the epitome of business casual who gives off the aura of comfort at cocktail parties, board meetings and excursions on the Chesapeake Bay. Conversely, Ryan gives off the impression he would be more comfortable sitting down at a Baltimore watering hole with a beer and loaded cheesesteak sub.
The son of take-no-prisoners former coach Buddy Ryan, Rex Ryan is gruff, loud talking and seemingly uncouth, a far cry from the button-down Harbaugh image.
Indeed, there were questions about Bisciotti's tapping of Harbaugh in January 2008 to coach his franchise - a young coach who never had been the boss on the field at any level, much less offensive or defensive coordinator in the NFL. While Harbaugh has the pedigree -- his father, Jack, is former head coach at Western Kentucky and his brother, Jim, leads Stanford and is a former quarterback with the Ravens - if not the experience.
Bisciotti offered the decision to hire Harbaugh as one of being able to "recognize leadership when you see it. ... And, you have to be willing to separate yourself from the masses - take some chances - to achieve great success."
While the owner seems to have gotten that with Harbaugh, in the NFL, great success is measured only by winning a Super Bowl, and the spurned Ryan, not Harbaugh, is the one still alive. What if he wins the thing?
Besides their obvious style differences, Ryan and Harbaugh are obvious motivators. Harbaugh, stoic and measured, does so with a tight hand on his players. Ryan, dubbed the "The Mad Scientist" for his aggressive and innovative defensive game plans, seems more willing to give a pat on the back. The cut McAllister and other Ravens found their way into Harbaugh's doghouse. Ryan, instead, goes in the doghouse with his players.
Ryan is a good coach because he has the "ability to come down to the level of his players and become one of them," said Jets linebacker Bart Scott, who left Baltimore and followed Ryan to New York.
On the day he fired Billick, Bisciotti said, "I believed that we have the nucleus of a team that can get back to the Super Bowl, and we felt that in the next five years we had a better chance with a new coach than leaving Brian in that position."
A month later he chose Harbaugh after being told no by Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Ryan was still out there, hoping the owner would call his number, but no way.
So Baltimore, what if Rex wins the Super Bowl this year?
DMA 7-22 Sports is a blog about sports in the Washington-Baltimore market, covering amateurs, colleges and pros. The title DMA 7-22? Means "Designated Market Area," per use of media rating services, signifying Washington is the 7th largest media market in the United States, and Baltimore is the 22nd. You can reach M.V. Greene at DMA722Sports@gmail.com
Photos: Rex Ryan, Steve Bisciotti and John Harbaugh (right), Source: AP