OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- This is John Harbaugh's current football life: three straight losses, one healthy quarterback and increasing reports about his departure from the Baltimore Ravens.
The hot seat has never sizzled more during Harbaugh's 11-year run in Baltimore. Harbaugh, though, has never been more calm, cool and comedic.
Days before what might be the most pivotal regular-season game of his coaching career, Harbaugh made a room full of reporters laugh by answering a question with a reference to a John Belushi movie.
Asked if he told his players that they entered last year's bye at 4-5 and ended up controlling their playoff destiny, Harbaugh said, "I might have mentioned it -- I might not have. I can’t remember. I was on a roll with the guys! I was on a roll. What’s the scene from ‘Animal House?’ Remember? When the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? ‘Leave him alone, he’s on a roll.’"
Harbaugh then paused and added, "I know the Germans did not bomb Pearl Harbor -- just for the record. For everybody out there, it’s a movie scene!"
All joking aside, the pressure has never been greater on Harbaugh. The Ravens have failed to make the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. Baltimore hasn't won a game in over a month to fall to 4-5. And Robert Griffin III is the team's only healthy quarterback (Joe Flacco has a hip injury, and Lamar Jackson is dealing with an illness) heading into Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, which could virtually end the Ravens' postseason chances.
Through it all, Harbaugh has taken the adversity in stride. He has been more reflective, talking about the pride he has in the way the Ravens have been coached for over a decade. Harbaugh has also poked fun at a reporter's bad haircut and spent a good portion of one media session talking about why the grass on the practice field has turned yellow.
With his players, Harbaugh has made sure to keep the excitement level going at practice and leaves no ambiguity during team meetings. He recently brought up a report on CBS Sports that said Harbaugh and the Ravens were headed to a "mutual parting of the ways."
"I don’t know about this agreement. I’ve never agreed to anything," Harbaugh told his players. "I do know I love you guys and I’m going to coach you guys."
The players have appreciated this approach.
"He’s been straightforward with us," safety Eric Weddle said. "He’s been very open and honest with the way he thinks of us and setting the record straight."
Harbaugh can lead the Ravens confidently during these uncertain times because of the legacy he has established and his prospects going forward.
He has talked about not having any regrets, putting together the most successful run in franchise history. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have won one Super Bowl and produced one losing season. Harbaugh's 10 playoff wins are tied for third-most in a coach's first 10 seasons (only Joe Gibbs and Chuck Noll have had more).
Harbaugh said three years ago that the ultimate accomplishment would be to become this generation's Noll or Don Shula, coaches who had success over two-plus decades. If his time in Baltimore falls short of that, Harbaugh would presumably have plenty of options to continue his coaching career.
Harbaugh is a popular topic on sports talk radio in Denver, where the Broncos could be firing Vance Joseph. Another possibility is the opening in Cleveland, which would allow Harbaugh to go back to his Ohio roots, as well as revisit his parents' honeymoon (his father and mother went to a Browns game a day after they got married in November 1961).
Harbaugh's family is a big reason why he has been able to been so even-keeled at a time when there are so many questions about his job security.
"John is a rock. He is," said Jerry Rosburg, the Ravens' special-teams coordinator and associate head coach who has been on Harbaugh's staff since his first season in 2008. "That’s the kind of human being he is, that’s the kind of man he is, that’s the family he grew up in. He and the rest of his family are all ... these are strong people. They’re grounded in the right way, and his preparedness and his message to our team has not changed one bit."
Cornerback Jimmy Smith said Harbaugh has shown no signs of panic, which could easily trickle to a team spiraling downward. Kicker Justin Tucker described Harbaugh's talks as being filled with "consistent optimism."
For Harbaugh, he might be sitting on the hot seat, but no one in the organization has seen him sweat.
"It’s just noise. It doesn’t matter. It means nothing," Harbaugh said of reports about his pending end in Baltimore. "It’s not something that I’m going to think about or concern myself with. Neither are the players, neither is Steve [Bisciotti, team owner], neither is Kevin [Byrne, executive vice president of public & community relations] or Ozzie [Newsome, general manager,] or anybody else. You know what we want to do as an organization? We want to win -- that’s what we want to do. We want to win. We’re fighting as hard as we can -- coaches, players –- as an organization to win. That’s it. All the other stuff -- who cares?"