If you’ve ever wondered what a Harbaugh family barbecue is like, Tuesday might be as close as most of us get.

It was in an auditorium instead of a backyard, and the attendees had microphones and an audience. But even though a panel with Ravens coach John Harbaugh, his father Jack Harbaugh, his brother-in-law and longtime college basketball coach Tom Crean, and family friend (and six-time Super Bowl champ) Bill Belichick was, ostensibly, a place for sharing hard-won pearls of sporting wisdom, in the end, it felt just like a family get-together.

It felt so familiar to the panelists, in fact, Harbaugh said the actual discussion started an hour beforehand in his office. Talking about coaching is just what this family does.

“That’s exactly how it is,” he said. “You get together and guys just start telling stories.”

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The Harbaugh family’s aim seems to be bringing these discussions to the masses. The family (along with Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh, who called in virtually) announced Tuesday that they’re launching the Harbaugh Coaching Academy, which is primarily a website with video interviews with football coaches and other leaders offering tips. The Academy is also hosting coaches at the Ravens’ training facility in Owings Mills for clinics this week as the team goes through offseason workouts.

The Academy is registered as a nonprofit, born out of the Harbaugh family’s desire to find a way to share 84-year-old Jack’s coaching lessons. The family has banked interviews with more than 80 luminaries, such as coaching rivals Andy Reid and Sean McVay, and especially ones with Ravens ties, like Ozzie Newsome and Ed Reed. John called the ambitions of the Academy “a work in progress,” but added that in some sense, it already accomplishes what the family set out to do.

“We got a chance to be around this stuff our whole life,” he said. “And it’s like, ‘Man, it’d be kind of neat to share it with somebody else.’ If people are interested, great. And I think they will be.”

If you’re in a room with a handful of high-level coaches, you’d expect some good stories. In the panel discussion, this group didn’t disappoint.

Lawrence Taylor’s privileges

If Belichick hadn’t already showcased his dry wit at Tom Brady’s roast, it would have felt more surprising Tuesday. But the Annapolis-born 72-year-old was willing to tell a few coaching tales now that he’s out of the game.

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Belichick is famously difficult to impress or wring out special treatment from, but one exception was Lawrence Taylor, the Hall of Fame linebacker who he coached on the New York Giants. One Saturday team meeting scheduled for 9 p.m. in 1986 (the Giants would go on to win the Super Bowl), Taylor showed up 15 minutes late.

“Meeting’s over, and I go over to Coach [Bill] Parcells after the meeting and say, ‘Coach, just want to let you know, LT was late for the meeting,’ Belichick said. “And he looks at me, ‘Well, why’d you start the meeting before he got there?’”

Belichick quickly realized he wouldn’t be punishing Taylor for lateness anytime soon.

“Some players, when they earn it, you cut them a little more slack,” he quipped. “I don’t think kicking Taylor off the team would have been the right thing to do.”

Enforcing the dress code with Terrell Suggs

John Harbaugh was extremely rigid in his early days as Baltimore’s coach, including a travel dress code that required a dress coat and black dress shoes. Terrell Suggs tested Harbaugh’s resolve on a road trip to Miami when he wore white sneakers to the team bus that would take him to the plane. Harbaugh told him he couldn’t board the team bus in those shoes.

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“He looks at me like I have three heads, then kinda turns around and walks back to our locker room,’” Harbaugh said. “I get on the bus real quick, and the security guy asks, ‘What are we gonna do?’ And I said, ‘Get him to his house with a pair of dress shoes as fast as you can, and see if you can get him to the plane.’”

In Harbaugh’s colorful retelling, this involved a police escort on the Jones Falls Expressway that got Suggs to the team plane, and some fudging by the charter pilot to stall long enough for him to arrive to raucous celebrations from his teammates. Suggs would go on to intercept a pass for a touchdown in the game, a Ravens win.

The current day dress code? Sweats and sneakers.

Benching Chris McAlister

Privileges dry up when players don’t perform. One of John Harbaugh’s earliest tests after taking over the Ravens was with Chris McAlister, a three-time Pro Bowler who was one of the most respected veterans on the defense.

After a 31-3 blowout loss to Indianapolis when McAlister was beaten for three touchdowns, Harbaugh wanted to bench him, but went to Ray Lewis on the team plane first.

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“He gives me two numbers: One was running back Willis McGahee, who ended up having a great season, and one was Chris McAlister’s number,” Harbaugh recalled. “21 and 23, and he said, ‘They gotta sit.’ That’s what I took from that. And I just walked back to my seat like, ‘Oh, it’s on now. We’re good.’”

(It is worth noting that Lewis may have suggested McGahee sit because the Ravens had a promising rookie — Ray Rice — in the backfield that year.)

With a blessing from Lewis, Harbaugh went on to call McAlister into his office to tell him he was being replaced as starter by Frank Walker. McAlister was furious, asking Harbaugh if he really thought Walker was better than him.

“I said, ‘Let me tell you something, Chris — all due respect — I’ve been here since February, and you haven’t covered anybody,’” Harbaugh said. “‘I played at Miami of Ohio not very much and not very well, and I can cover better than you right now at 45 years old.’”

After one game off the bench, McAlister would go on injured reserve for the rest of the year, and he only played two more NFL games for the rest of his career. Later, Harbaugh said, McAlister thanked him for being brutally honest.

“He basically hugged me and basically said, ‘Thanks, you were honest with me,’” Harbaugh said. “The best player had to play.”

Kyle joined The Baltimore Banner in 2023 as a sports columnist. He previously covered the L.A. Lakers for The Orange County Register and myriad sports at The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s a Mt. Hebron High and University of Maryland alum.

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