For those who follow college football (like we know all of you do), it’s no secret that this past season UCLA had quite a bit of success under a first-year, former NFL head coach in Jim Mora. Ironically however, had the sands of time shaken out a little differently, Mora might’ve never gotten the UCLA job at all last winter, and instead the Bruins might be led by a current NFL head coach as we speak.
That head coach is John Harbaugh, who had a nice little evening for himself on Sunday, leading the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl to a Super Bowl victory. But according to a very candid interview with CBS Sports’ Clark Judge following the game, before Harbaugh was ever offered the Ravens job he very nearly ended up as the UCLA head football coach instead. According to Harbaugh he finished second to Rick Neuheisel in the search process in 2007, a tough break for a career assistant who wondered if he’d end up with any head coaching job, at any level.
It’s also safe to say that when UCLA AD Dan Guerrero said “Thanks but no thanks” to Harbaugh, history was re-written, both in the NFL and college football.
Here’s what Harbaugh told Judge on Sunday night:
"I came in No. 2 for the UCLA job," Harbaugh said, "but they gave it to Rick Neuheisel. I got close on a couple of other job [openings], but with other jobs you couldn't even get an interview. It was funny because the UCLA thing didn't work out, but it wasn't a great fit for us. It would've been a great thing, but then a week later [Ravens GM] Ozzie [Newsome] calls about the Ravens.
"To me, it goes to show you that in life you just can't look at it like you've got to push things professionally or whatever. God's got plans and things — that's why I keep saying it; at least that's my experience — beyond your own ability to even dream or imagine what could happen. I can't even believe we're having this conversation, in all honesty."
Since this is a college football website we’ll save the NFL conjecture for another day, and wonder aloud how differently the sport of college football as we know it may have been altered by that one decision. What would life be like had Harbaugh ended up as UCLA’s head coach?
For starters, Harbaugh claims that the UCLA job wasn’t “a great fit,” yet, as best I can tell it seems like he would’ve been a helluva college head coach. Harbaugh is young (he was 45 when he would’ve been hired at UCLA) and with a background at five different colleges from 1984-1998, it’s hard to imagine that he wouldn’t have been able to handle all the intricacies of college coaching, even if he had been in the NFL for over a decade at that point. And although Harbaugh’s intensity would’ve been a culture shock at UCLA, it might’ve given a much-needed jolt to a program which had grown soft under Karl Dorrell. It certainly worked for Mora when he took over this past year, and also worked for the guy who was coaching Stanford at the time too. Some guy named Jim Harbaugh. Heard of him?
That’s right, beyond the semantics of trying to figure out how Harbaugh would’ve handled life in the then Pac-10, there is the fun-fact that he would’ve been entering a league where his brother Jim had just completed his first year at Stanford. Jim Harbaugh went 4-8 in 2007 (although they did beat No. 1 USC in what was considered at the time to be one of the biggest upsets in college football history) and were a game better in 2008, in what would’ve been John’s first year on the job. In that season, UCLA beat Stanford 23-20 in what would’ve gone down as history’s first “Har-Bowl.”
Of course it was never to happen, and it’s also safe to say everything seems to have worked out for the best for each party. UCLA eventually got their man in Mora, and Harbaugh got his first Super Bowl ring Sunday night.
Still, this has to go down as one of the greatest “What if’s” in recent college football history.
How it would’ve turned out, we’ll never know.
One thing is clear though: At the very least it doesn’t seem feasible that Harbaugh could’ve been any worse Neuheisel was.
For all his insight, analysis and opinion on college football, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.
Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun.