Jim Harbaugh, who will lead the San Francisco 49ers to their first Super Bowl since 1995, could have started his FBS coaching career at Tulane.
In 2005, Harbaugh was the first coach to interview for the Green Wave’s open head coaching position. Harbaugh had spent the previous three seasons coaching at the University of San Diego and was poised for an upgrade. But just as Tulane was about to offer Harbaugh the job, Stanford fired Walt Harris and Harbaugh told Tulane athletic director Rick Dickson that he had to see which direction the Cardinal wanted to go.
"I truly believe he was interested," Dickson told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "We were poised to offer him the job and probably would have done it while he was here if not for him telling me about Stanford in that last conversation. He was telling me there was no way it will happen, then right at the 11th hour it did."
In Harbaugh's four seasons with Stanford, he went from 4-8 his first year to a 12-1 finish with a win in the Orange Bowl before he was plucked by the 49ers. Since his time at Stanford, the program has been on a meteoric rise to prominence and has become one of the nation’s most consistent teams.
Tulane’s fortunes have been the opposite. It hired Bob Toledo and he failed to win more than four games in any season before he was fired last year.
At least Tulane can say it wanted to hire Harbaugh. San Diego State passed on Harbaugh for Chuck Long in 2004 and Rice picked Todd Graham. Before Harbaugh's interview with Tulane, Iowa State picked Gene Chizik over him.
The consequence? Graham spurned Rice for Tulsa a year after he took the job while Long and Chizik did very little for their programs and were fired.
While hindsight is always 20/20, it’s interesting to think about where those teams would be now had they taken a chance on the unknown coach.