NEW ORLEANS -- Everybody has a different set of emotions when they watch the Super Bowl. For some NFL teams, there will be a definite sense of regret and "what might have been." As ESPN's Adam Schefter pointed out on Friday, several teams other than the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens expressed interest in the services of Jim and John Harbaugh before the 49ers got Jim in 2011 and the Ravens nabbed John before the 2008 season.
Now, those coaches preside over two of the NFL's more stable franchises. It may not have been so for either one. As Schefter recalls, Jim was first contacted about his potential as an NFL coach four years ago by the New York Jets. He met with team owner Woody Johnson and several of Johnson's people for hours at an Arizona airport. The Jets went with Rex Ryan instead., and Jim -- who had been identified as a dynamic coach with real NFL potential by that point -- went back to Stanford. Apparently, the Jets thought Jim was not quite ready for prime time, which, when you look at the different paths taken by the Jets and 49ers in the last two years, must be a bit painful for the Jets faithful.
Then again, if you want "painful," imagine how Jim Harbaugh would have reacted to having Tim Tebow forced upon him by ownership. And instead of Mark Sanchez and Tebow, Jim got Andrew Luck, the best possible version of Alex Smith, and Colin Kaepernick as his quarterbacks over the last four years. So, that worked out pretty well for Mr. Harbaugh.
Next on the list to find Jim appealing was the Detroit Lions, who talked with him about returning to Michigan, where he attended college. But those talks didn't go beyond the exploratory stage, and the Lions hired Jim Schwartz instead. While I like Schwartz as a coach, one has to wonder how Harbaugh as the man in charge would have changed the Lions' fortunes -- right now, they're a very talented team with discipline issues all over the pace, and a really good quarterback in Matthew Stafford who seems to be a mess from a mechanical perspective right now. Harbaugh is as good with quarterbacks as anyone in the NFL, and he certainly doesn't tolerate boneheadedness in his players.
The Kansas City Chiefs may have nabbed Jim as their man, but he signed a contract extension with Stanford after the Lions talks, and that kept him in Palo Alto until the 49erse came calling. The Chiefs hired Todd Haley instead. Now, how Harbaugh and Scott Pioli would have interacted, given the stories of Pioli treating everyone in Kansas City rather poorly, makes you wonder. But that's why alternate histories are complicated.
Then, of course, there's the Miami Dolphins, who thought they had Jim on the hook before he took the San Francisco job. Sometimes, you think you have to wait too long for a thing to happen, and when it happens, it was worth the wait. That's certainly the case for Jim Harbaugh.
As for John, the former Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach wasn't quite as hot on the NFL radar as his younger brother, but the UCLA Bruins expressed interest .... before hiring Rick Neuheisel instead. That's gotta sting for Bruins fans. John Harbaugh got his own back there, taking the Ravens job in 2008 while Neuheisel, who was on the Ravens' staff from 2005 through 2007, went on to a job that would eventually see him fired in November of 2011. While John Harbaugh will coach in the Super Bowl in two days, Neuheisel is an analyst for the Pac-12 Network. As we said, sometimes things just take a bit longer to work themselves out.
What's the moral of the story here? None, really, except that the process of hiring coaches is just as much of a crapshoot as the drafting of players, and the Ravens and 49ers hit the jackpot. The teams that passed on them are still waiting for their tables to get hot.
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