The newest Raven, Tony Jefferson, was in town for a press conference and got a little more than he bargained for with the semi snow storm… We’re going to go ahead and blame that storm for stealing some of the quality of the conversation but you still get to know the safety better before he dons the purple and black. The main attraction this week: Coleman finally completed his Orioles related homework.
Ed Healy is a friend of Bmore Opinionated who used to intern for the Ravens, and is now working as head basketball coach at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore. We wanted to showcase what Ed and other youth coaches in the area do for the community. You can expect Ed on the podcast in the not-too-distant future. But in the meantime, here are his words talking about some of his experiences as a varsity boys’ basketball coach in this area.
When I applied for the head varsity boys’ basketball coaching position at Cristo Rey Jesuit in Baltimore, I really didn’t know a lot about the school. I knew that my college roommate had previously applied to coach the freshman team there when we were seniors. I knew that my teacher and mentor Fr. Tim Brown at Loyola University Maryland had been a part of the team that established the school – but that was it. I, like many in Baltimore, didn’t know much about what happens on the South Chester Street campus in Fells Point.
Cristo Rey Jesuit opened in Baltimore in 2007. It is a part of the Cristo Rey network, which has 32 Catholic schools nationwide and the first Cristo Rey school was opened in Chicago in 1996. The central piece of the Cristo Rey model is the Corporate Internship Program, which involves students working entry-level jobs at businesses and nonprofits 5 days a month, which contributes to the cost of their education. To attend Cristo Rey in Baltimore, you must live within Baltimore City and the student’s family must demonstrate low to modest income.
From the very first fall practice in 2015, it was clear I would be learning what the phrases “ family of low to modest income” and “Baltimore City resident” meant when blended together. In my time at Cristo Rey, I’ve had players run late or miss practice for reasons I’d never imagined. I once drove the bus off to a summer league game without one of my best players, furious he missed the bus without communicating. The next day, I learned his ride to school had been non-fatally shot in a random drive by. I’ve had a multiple players tell me about being held up at gunpoint. Others have spoken with me at length about the lack of their father in their life. These are just a few of the many situations my players have described to me about their lives that have given me a much clearer sense of the reality of poverty in Baltimore.
Despite this, our boys still find a way to show up, attend class, work, and play basketball. Coming into this season, I was pretty excited to get started as we only lost two seniors and our entire rotation returned. However, the product we put out on the court today is not quite what I envisioned last April. The 2016-17 version of the Cristo Rey Hornets only returned 5 of the 9 expected from last season. Zero players from last season’s JV made the varsity. Our roster includes two freshman (one of whom is a starter), 2 sophomores new to our program, a junior who did not play last season, and a senior playing organized basketball for the first time.
Crushing blows to our plans for the season hit our team often throughout the fall. On August 30th, our starting center suffered a knee injury in a freak accident and was lost for his sophomore campaign. In November, one senior was removed from the team for violating a team rule. Weeks later, another student took a leave of absence from the program. To reach the goals our team had talked about on our retreat, we knew we would need to have new guys step up and find a way to contribute.
Now having a better understanding of what my guys go through on a daily basis, I knew I wanted to make this year as special as possible for them. One of the first things I started lining up in the fall were some special speakers. The first of whom I reached out to was best selling author Jon Gordon, who authored “The Hard Hat” which was our team’s summer reading assignment. Two hours after I filled out a general online inquiry, one of his staff members called me and said Jon would like to talk to my team and would be in town for the weekend of the Army – Navy game. I was floored. When Jon spoke to the team, he mentioned that the two previous basketball locker rooms he’d been in were of….the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder! The fact that someone in that kind of demand wanted to spend time with us meant a lot to our kids.
I also wanted to bring in a speaker from my former employer, the Baltimore Ravens. I reached out to former coworkers in public relations, just hoping to get some player who grew up similarly to Cristo Rey Jesuit students. A few months after I reached out, I got an email saying that Steve Smith Sr. wanted to talk to the team. I had to re-read that email a few times before it hit me that a future Hall of Famer wanted to come to our practice. Needless to say, the reaction on some of the kids’ faces when he walked in was priceless.
These special moments were just the beginning of what was to come for this team. After going 2-9 through a brutal non-conference schedule, we’ve jumped out to a 6-1 record and a share of 1st place in our conference. On court moments that bring a smile to my face have started to become a regular occurrence. The first big moment belonged to our new senior to the team. The student body president and fan favorite scored his first career points on a deep three pointer in a front of a Friday-night home crowd that went wild as the ball banked in. A week later, our all- conference center threw down a monstrous dunk, something I’ve never seen him do in practice or a game – prior or since. A buzz is starting to build at a school that has never a varsity championship and a basketball program that has never won a playoff game.
Our motto we’ve adopted for this season is “Find a Way”. To me, it carries deeper meaning than finding a way to win a game. “Find a Way” is about problem solving, mental toughness, and overcoming challenges we were born into. The mentality that motto has built is a major part of how our guys were able to find ways to win close games so far in league play. As far as what’s next for this group, only time will tell. What I do know is that this is a team of which Baltimore can be proud. Our team and this school wouldn’t exist without the generosity of so many from the Baltimore community and we hope the community can rally around these young men down the home stretch. Regardless of the season’s outcome, the 2016-17 Cristo Rey Jesuit boys basketball team has already found a way to push themselves beyond previous levels of success – a skill I hope they carry with them long after they graduate.
Super Bowl week is finally upon us. Every year, we get random gems in the form out-of-context interviews (or non-interviews) and plenty of hot takes ahead of the big game. From the Baltimore perspective, there aren’t many ways to look at an outcome of the game as a pleasing one.
For the entirety of both men’s careers, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan have been compared against each other. The only two quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2008 draft, both entered the league under the dubious circumstances of franchises in free-fall and recently-appointed rookie head coaches.
Thankfully for Ravens fans, Flacco’s birds had instant playoff success. As fans are well aware, Flacco won at least one playoff game in each of his first five seasons in the league — including a trip to the AFC title game in his first season and a legendary Super Bowl run in year five.
Matt Ryan, on the other hand, didn’t build off of modest regular season success in the same way. The Boston College alum didn’t get his first playoff win until his fourth try, sporting a 1-4 record in the postseason in his first five seasons — and failing to make the playoffs at all since the 2012-13 season.
However in the last year, the narratives of the two quarterbacks have flipped. The Falcons brought in a new head coach, and Matt Ryan shut up just about all of his critics in 2016 with the top-rated QB performance of the season.
If Ryan goes on to win the NFL regular season MVP, and leads his team to a Super Bowl Victory, any lingering doubts over whether Joe Flacco has been overtaken as the top quarterback from the 2008 draft go out the window.
On the other side of the matchup, things don’t get any easier as a Ravens fan. As must be the case with most fans of AFC franchises, I can say with relative confidence that no one outside of “Pats Nation” likes Tom Brady or Bill Belichick. I feel like that’s a given.
I may be committing a cardinal sin according to fellow embattled Ravens fans, but I believe the best story is Tom Brady and the Patriots winning it all. For all the perfectly good reasons to hate Tom Brady as the “Golden Boy” of the National Football League, there should be the same reasons for Roger Goodell and the league office to love the man.
For some reason, though, those looking to “protect the shield” have gone on what has amounted to a full-out conspiracy with the aim of smearing Tom Brady and the Patriots organization. I’ll be the first to hate on the Pats organization for being shady. But beyond being a crybaby on the field when it comes to officiating, Tom Brady has done nothing but be a shining example of everything you’d want out of a starting quarterback.
With that in mind, I am rooting for one outcome and one outcome only: a situation where Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft are on the same stage as Roger Goodell. Unfortunately, the only way this happens is a Patriots victory. As a Ravens fan, I cannot bring myself to go as far to say that I’m rooting for the New England Patriots. However, as a professional wrestling fan, I’m always rooting for the most petty drama.
According to some touts, Tom Brady is currently slated as even money favorite to win the Super Bowl MVP. If that’s the case, we’re going to get the most compelling trophy ceremony in the history of sports. And what’s to hate about that?
I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of us in Baltimore and beyond couldn’t be happier to bid good riddance to 2016. While the year seemed to go out with more of a whimper than a bang, there was never a shortage for storylines surrounding the beloved birds of Baltimore.
Of the narratives that emerged, the marquee has to be that the city’s two once-infallible head coaches exited the year second-guessed and doubted. Between Buck Showalter’s Ubaldo-related decisions and John Harbaugh’s apparent unwavering support of the status quo for the Ravens, fans enter 2017 with plenty of doubts pointed at both clubs.
At John Harbaugh’s end-of-the-season press conference, he shocked many fans and media members alike with the decision to retain all coordinators — namely Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Uninspired play-calling has marred the Ravens since Gary Kubiak’s departure in 2014, and the in-season ouster of Marc Trestman made little difference.
One could argue that the shoddy decision-making on offense in particular undercut some pleasant surprises such as Mike Wallace and Dennis Pitta, who both were on a redemption tour in 2016. However, no unit was stymied more than the running backs, where rookie Kenneth Dixon and local legend Terrence West performed capably all year in frustratingly small bursts.
By the end of the season, Harbaugh’s platitude of “Marty believes in running the football” became a.. running joke. There was puzzling play calling down the entire stretch run, including one dubious fourth quarter pass attempt and interception (on first down, in the red zone) against the Eagles that Harbaugh himself dubbed “the worst play call ever.” The consensus opinion became that a change had to be made at offensive coordinator.
Though the coordinator market looked rich with legendary names like Norv Turner and recent head coaches like Mike McCoy, the selection is thinner than fans may have realized. Developing from within and continuity have been issues for the Harbaugh regime at OC since Cam Cameron’s departure in 2012, and Marty’s experience running the West Coast offense seems good enough for the Ravens brass to stick with him.
On the surface, that rationale may be good enough. But in the context of the end-of-the-season presser, it still seemed like an unconvincing argument. Throughout the Q&A, media members peppered Harbaugh with inquiries of how the conclusion to keep Marty was reached. He responded using the same cliches that were used all season. He said a lot of the Ravens shortcomings this season came down to “execution,” and made no real outward criticisms to any schemes or gameplans beyond the desire to run the ball more in the future.
He also went as far to come out and say that Joe Flacco, at least on the financial side, impedes the team’s ability to add the pieces necessary to make Baltimore an 11- or 12-game winner once again.
“We have a quarterback, and he is in that level of compensation, so we need to get him playing at that level,” Harbaugh said.
To me, that’s quite a bit to ask of a quarterback that has proven time and time again over the last decade that he is what he is. You have to question if this means Harbaugh and GM Ozzie Newsome are looking for contract restructuring, or even potential cuts elsewhere at the top of the payroll. Harbaugh wouldn’t deny that possibility, adding “everything is on the table.”
Without a doubt, there will be plenty of narratives worth paying attention to going into the Ravens’ offseason. The biggest culture change Harbaugh could have imposed, an adjustment in offensive scheme, was ultimately decided against. The head coach appears happy to write off much of the season’s struggles as matters of execution, and solutions are going to have to come from the front office side.
Some early mock drafts are implying the Ravens could pick with their receiving corps in mind. But the team will have plenty of areas in need of reinforcements, particularly with pending departures like stud DT Brandon Williams.
Either way, this feels like a pivotal moment in the coaching career of John Harbaugh. Steve Bisciotti has given enough rope for Harbs to hang himself with, and the soon-to-be longest tenured coach in Ravens history faces a tough reality if the issues of 2016 reemerge next season. At least it will be with his old friend Marty by his side.