Others whiffed on Harbaughs
Adam Schefter [ARCHIVE]
February 1, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- Long before the country focused in on the Harbaugh brothers, other teams did.

The first team to interview Jim Harbaugh for an NFL head-coaching job was the New York Jets. Four years ago, in an airport in Arizona, Jets owner Woody Johnson and three of his lieutenants spent hours meeting and discussing New York's head-coaching job with Harbaugh, according to sources.

They were the first ones to identify and interview Harbaugh for an NFL job. The Jets thought Harbaugh was dynamic, energetic -- but not quite ready. So they went with Rex Ryan instead.

The Detroit Lions also contacted Harbaugh to gauge his interest in returning to Michigan, where he attended college, sources said. But the conversations with the Lions never advanced far before Detroit offered its job to Jim Schwartz and Harbaugh signed a contract extension with Stanford.

And then, the day after Harbaugh signed his extension, the Kansas City Chiefs weighed in, seeing whether the Stanford coach would be interested in leaving, sources said. The irony was that Harbaugh's wife, Sarah, is from Kansas City. Had the Chiefs called 48 hours earlier, before Harbaugh gave his word and signature to Stanford on an extension, he might have been enticed. But the Chiefs were a little late, a delay-of-game penalty that would haunt them. Harbaugh stayed at Stanford, and Kansas City hired Todd Haley.

Any of those three teams -- the Jets, Lions or Chiefs -- could have hired Harbaugh ahead of his time, before he was ripe. They correctly identified him, just didn't act in timely enough fashion. The 49ers did, luring Harbaugh to San Francisco before the Dolphins could bring him to Miami.

And if those moves leave those fan bases shaking their heads, think of what's happening at Boston College and UCLA. Back in January 2007, Boston College narrowed down its head-coaching candidates and, in the end, opted to hire Jeff Jagodzinski over Eagles special-teams coach John Harbaugh.

But John Harbaugh had another opportunity as well. He was a finalist for the UCLA job in December 2007. But as much as UCLA liked Harbaugh, it liked Rick Neuheisel even more and hired him instead.

Before they became the celebrated coaches they are today, just shy of Super Bowl XLVII, the Harbaugh brothers first were repeatedly rejected. How much would NFL teams and colleges like a mulligan on those decisions today?

Not to single out the Jets, but which NFL franchise has been more crossed than theirs? They once wanted but missed out on drafting Southern Mississippi quarterback Brett Favre, once watched Peyton Manning return to Tennessee for his senior season when they had the No. 1 pick, and once witnessed Bill Belichick resign as head coach of their organization as he was attending the news conference that was supposed to announce his hire. Now, Harbaugh can be added to the list of Jets whiffs.

And there's a lesson in there for all these teams and colleges that embark on coaching interviews at the end of each of their seasons. Sometimes the men who are hired are not as capable as the ones who are bypassed. Sometimes teams believe they are making the right choice, but the only way it can be verified is through time. And sometimes teams make as many mistakes as the head coaches who lost their jobs.

Like drafting players, hiring coaches is a crapshoot. Sometimes teams nail it, and other times they flub it. The Jets, Lions and Chiefs made questionable decisions, as did Boston College and UCLA. The 49ers and Ravens, who square off Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII, did not.

Who made better moves than they did? Nobody.

On to this week's 10 Spot:

1. Undrafted impact: Sometimes the men who mark this game are not exactly the usual suspects. Super Bowl history is strewn with players whom teams once didn't want and then, ultimately, could not win without. As ESPN colleague Trey Wingo noticed this week, undrafted free agents have had some of the biggest impacts on the Super Bowl. Kurt Warner, the quarterback with the three highest passing yard totals in a Super Bowl, was an undrafted free agent. Jake Delhomme, the quarterback with the record for the longest Super Bowl pass, was an undrafted free agent. Willie Parker, the running back with the record for the longest run in Super Bowl history, was an undrafted free agent. James Harrison, the linebacker with the record for the longest return in Super Bowl history, was an undrafted free agent. It gives hope to the 26 undrafted free agents in Super Bowl XLVII -- including Baltimore's Vonta Leach, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Jameel McClain and Justin Tucker, as well as San Francisco's Chad Hall, Michael Wilhoite and David Akers -- that any one of them could make a play that brings his team a world championship and himself immortality. It also goes to show the college players eligible for this and other years' drafts that not getting selected does not prevent a player from making teams and achieving dreams. Others have done it, and more will have the chance to do it Sunday.

2. Bo knew Harbaughs: Few people would enjoy the upcoming Harbaugh matchup any more than the late, great former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, whose influence will be all over Super Bowl XLVII. Father Jack Harbaugh served as an assistant on Schembechler's staff for seven years, during which time John and Jim both starred in Ann Arbor youth league and high school football. Jack Harbaugh learned about coaching from Schembechler, as did each of his sons, especially Jim, who went on to play at Michigan and develop his own unique relationship with Schembechler that Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom documented in 1986. Last season, Jim Harbaugh even turned Schembechler's well-known "The Team" speech into a mantra for the 49ers, citing it in news conferences leading up to the 2011 NFC Championship Game. Of all the people who made a mark on Jack Harbaugh and sons John and Jack, few made a mark as lasting as the one left by Schembechler, who would have reveled in this super matchup.

3. Peyton ripple effect: At this time last year, San Francisco was mulling whether to pursue free-agent-quarterback-to-be Manning, going so far as to watch him work out in North Carolina and then put him through a physical. Jim Harbaugh later downplayed his team's interest in Manning, telling reporters: "It's silly and it's untrue. It's phony ... the perception that we were pursuing [Manning]. We were evaluating. I've said it all along that Alex Smith has been our quarterback. There's no scenario, other than Alex choosing to sign with another team, that we would consider him not as our quarterback."

Everyone sees how that turned out. But everyone also sees that San Francisco went further without Manning than Manning went without San Francisco. It would have been interesting to see how much football, and this season, would...
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