RedHawks honor Harbaugh, hope for better days ahead

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh is interviewed next to a statue of him that was unveiled, Saturday, April 19, 2014, at Miami (Ohio) University in Oxford, Ohio, where Harbaugh was inducted into the school's Cradle of Coaches. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Al Behrman/AP

OXFORD, Ohio — John Harbaugh looked up at the bronze likeness of himself and smiled.

"I like the pose. That looks like a winning pose right there," said the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens and 1984 Miami University graduate. "I’d like to see that pose a few more times this year."

Harbaugh has done a lot of winning in his coaching career, including leading the Ravens to the organization’s second Super Bowl championship two seasons ago. It was that victory that earned Harbaugh a spot in his alma mater’s famed Cradle of Coaches statue plaza at the south entrance of Yager Stadium.

Saturday’s ceremony under a cloud-free blue sky was about much more than Miami honoring Harbaugh and his deeds as a proud alumnus. It was as much about the future of a program that has fallen hard in the past decade and is looking for a way to get up.

It used to always be that Oxford was a great place to be on a fall Saturday; the red-brick campus, the colors of the season manifested in full display and winning football. The campus hasn’t lost it charm. The scenery surrounding Yager Stadium can’t be beat regardless of the day of the week. What’s been going on inside Yager, however, is unconscionable to anyone associated with a program through which the likes of Ara Parseghian, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Randy Walker and Terry Hoeppner coached and thrived.

Since winning three straight Mid-American Conference East titles from 2003-05, Miami has had exactly one winning season and four times counted its losses in the double digits. That includes last season when the RedHawks went 0-12. The last time a Miami team failed to win at least one game was 1940 when Frank Wilton’s squad lost every game with the exception of one tie against Ball State to open the season.

Last year’s RedHawks not only didn’t win any games but rarely were they competitive. They were outscored 428-117. The only quarter they didn’t allow at least 100 points was the first, when they gave up 80.

Chuck Martin didn’t leave Notre Dame to take over as Miami’s head coach with the idea of losing. He was part of Brian Kelly’s staff in South Bend, coordinating the Fighting Irish offense the last two seasons as well as coaching the quarterbacks. He coached defensive backs and was the recruiting coordinator the two seasons before. He’s been a head coach at Grand Valley State, leading that program to back-to-back Division II national titles in 2005-06 and a national title game appearance in 2009.

"Google my name," said Martin Saturday after his team finished up a spring practice. "I haven’t had a lot of losing seasons and Miami hasn’t had a lot of losing seasons."

Martin is a realist. He knows what he has and doesn’t have right not. He also believes that Miami isn’t as far off from returning to its winning tradition as some might think.

"You could take over a team that’s had a bad record and had a bad record for 50 years. The task isn’t that hard here," said Martin. "It’s a great school, easy to recruit to. It’s a great place to play football. We’ve got great coaches. We’re going to win MAC championships, we’re going to win bowl games and you’re going to get one of the best educations in the country. That’s a pretty good sell."

It’s an even better sell when you’ve got alums like Harbaugh with the power of a Lombardi Trophy behind him.

Harbaugh has been a confidant of athletic director David Sayler since Sayler took the position in December 2012. The two have met during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis each of the last two years. Harbaugh has invited Sayler and Miami benefactors to Baltimore to visit the Ravens training facilities. Harbaugh spoke with the team, as did his brother Jim, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and father Jack, whose coaching and life philosophies poured straight shot into his sons.

The statue of John Harbaugh gives this Miami generation a link to its past. He is the ninth Miami graduate to be honored with a statue but how many of today’s players know about what Earl "Red" Blaik, Weeb Ewbank, Paul Brown, Parseghian, Paul Dietzel, Schembechler, John Pont and Carmen Cozza meant not just to Miami but the sport of football as a whole?

"From a statue perspective it just means tying back to our history and the illustrious place that this is and should be," said Sayler. "To link the old times with the new times I think is critical for us and our recruits and people going forward."

This year’s Miami team was gathered behind Harbaugh as he spoke prior to the unveiling of the statue and when the red draping was removed to reveal it. Former Miami players watched as well and then joined in the celebration.

"This Cradle is the greatest honor in coaching," said Harbaugh. "Back in 1981 or ’82 we actually had a press guide cover. It’s actually on the backside of the stadium, and it’s got these great men on it. I remember looking at the press guide and, after I looked through it to make sure I was still on the roster — I was, thank God — I remember thinking these were the men that played and went to school at Miami University and we’re playing and walking the same path they walked. It’s an incredible thing."

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