In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLII over the San Francisco 49ers. For the past two weeks, the tilt was touted as a match-up between brothers, both of whom had earned themselves the distinction of elite coaches in their respective conferences.
One of those brothers is Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, Harbaugh, if you recall, was once strongly considered for the UCLA job back in 2008.
Even before John’s Super Bowl berth, UCLA fans understood that the Bruins’ passing-up of Harbaugh for Rick Neuheisel was a massive screw-up. Perhaps not at the time, but after Neuheisel’s third year — which saw Harbaugh reach the AFC championship game once already — the writing was on the wall: UCLA blew it.
Recently, he sat down to talk about that moment, via CBS Sports:
All that from someone nobody would hire as a head coach … until, that is, Baltimore took the leap.
“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.”
In that, Harbaugh mentions how the “UCLA thing” wasn’t a great fit. We’re sure that, these days, especially with a new Super Bowl ring on his finger, he’s OK with having been shafted.
We can talk about hindsight all we want. We can lament how UCLA blew it, that John Harbaugh would’ve led UCLA to a couple of Rose Bowl berths by now and that the Bruins would be among college football’s elite once again with a Harbaugh brother at the helm.
But in this case, it really doesn’t apply. While part of Neuheisel’s failed tenure as head coach was due to his stubbornness and actual coaching abilities, a large part of his failures were a result of a lack of commitment from UCLA athletics to football. While the Bruins are still practicing on 80-yard practice fields, and while much of the attention and money by the department was paid to basketball, Rick Neuheisel suffered severely, only doing well in recruiting, as UCLA always does.
So John Harbaugh might’ve been a failed coach at UCLA as well. Part of the reason that UCLA football has seen a resurgence has been a bigger monetary commitment to the football program (including an upgrading of the turf at Spaulding Field as well as bigger salaries to assistant coaches and head coach Jim Mora), and one that would have come well before John Harbaugh’s first year at the helm.
Still, it’s fun to think about things like this, even if the dice doesn’t roll the Bruins’ way.