The holiday season has been awfully giving to Penn football alumni and their NFL dreams — and the gifts haven’t been limited to students of the University.
Only days after Penn saw senior Justin Watson invited to the East-West Shrine Game, 2017 graduate Alek Torgersen signed by the Detroit Lions, 2016 graduate Ryan O’Malley signed by the New York Giants, and 2012 graduate Greg Van Roten’s Carolina Panthers clinch a playoff spot, yet another Penn football product is moving up in the professional football world.
On Friday afternoon, the Baltimore Ravens announced that they had hired James Urban, who served as Penn’s Director of Football Operations from 2000 to 2003, as their quarterbacks’ coach, effective immediately.
As such, Urban’s most pressing task will be to help 2013 Super Bowl MVP and 2008 NFL Rookie of the Year Joe Flacco improve in what will be the Delaware alumnus’ 11th NFL season. Excluding the 2015 season in which he only played 10 games, Flacco’s passing yardage (3,141), passing touchdowns (18), and passer rating (80.4) in 2017 were all his lowest outputs since his rookie season, as the Ravens agonizingly missed the playoffs by a mere tiebreaker after blowing a potential clinching contest against the Bengals in Week 17.
“I want to win football games, do what it takes to win football games and put people in place to win football games,” Urban said in the Ravens’ press release. “The Ravens are about tough, physical, disciplined football, and those are appealing things to me.”
As is discussed in the press release, Urban has a wealth of NFL coaching experience already. After playing as a wide receiver at Division III Washington and Lee University in the mid-1990s, Urban has been in the NFL in some capacity for the past 13 seasons. Urban served as the wide receivers’ coach for the Bengals — thus ironically contributing to the Ravens’ devastating Week 17 elimination this season — from 2011 to 2017.
Prior to that, Urban worked with the Eagles from 2004 to 2010, which perhaps gives the best sign of foreshadowing for his tenure in Baltimore. Urban was the Eagles’ quarterback coach in 2009 and 2010, helping Michael Vick to a career season in 2010 in which the former No. 1 overall pick set career highs in passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per passing attempt, passer rating, and rushing touchdowns despite only playing in 12 games.
During that 2010 season — in which Vick was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year and finished second in MVP voting to Tom Brady — Urban worked under then-Eagles Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinwheg, who now holds the same position with the Ravens.
“Obviously, Marty and I coached together for seven years, and he has guided me in many ways – in terms of what I believe about quarterback play and offensive play,” Urban said in the press release. “I am really excited to be back with Marty and to go to work.”
Urban also overlapped with current Ravens head coach John Harbaugh in Philadelphia, as Harbaugh served as the Eagles’ defensive backs’ coach from 1998 to 2007.
Prior to his tenure with the Eagles, Urban had a tremendously successful four-year stretch as Penn’s Director of Football Operations. The Quakers won Ivy League championships in 2000, 2002 and 2003, and the team hasn’t completed an undefeated season since going 10-0 in Urban’s final year at Penn.
After winning three titles in Urban’s four years, the Red and Blue didn’t win the conference again until 2009.
But now, Urban’s attention will turn to helping orchestrate a turnaround in Baltimore, which has missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons after qualifying for the postseason in six of Flacco’s first seven years. And if the Ravens’ new hire can shake up the AFC’s power structure, he may just make the greatest impact of any Penn football alumni in the pros.