In 2005, he used every connection he had to try to get an interview at Syracuse. But the school was hell-bent on hiring another NFL assistant, Greg Robinson, who won only 10 games in 4 years before getting canned.
BC wouldn't even talk with him in '07, instead hiring Jeff Jagodzinski, who lasted only two seasons.
"I came in second for the UCLA job to Rick Neuheisel [in '08], and got close in a couple of other [college] jobs. But other jobs, I couldn't even get an interview," Harbaugh said.
Not getting the UCLA job turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to Harbaugh. A week after Neuheisel was hired, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome called him about interviewing for their head-coaching vacancy.
"It's funny," Harbaugh said. "When I was a finalist for the UCLA job, my wife and I talked about it, and it really wasn't a good fit for us. But if it had been offered, obviously, it would've been a great thing. Then a week later, Ozzie calls about the Ravens.
"It just goes to show that in life, you can't look at it like you've got to push things professionally, or whatever. God's got a plan for you beyond your own ability to even dream and imagine what can happen."
It's not all that hard to tell the difference between a leader and a follower. I knew 2 minutes into my first interview with Harbaugh 13 years ago that the guy was a leader.
But somewhere along the line, some genius decided that special-teams guys don't make good head coaches, and everybody else nodded in agreement.
Everybody but Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.
"For Steve to hire me, who else would've done that?" Harbaugh asked. "But to me, Steve is a different kind of thinker. He doesn't look at things the way everybody else looks at them. You sit down and talk to him for 5 minutes and you can see that."
Harbaugh spent nine of his 10 seasons in Philadelphia as the Eagles' special-teams coordinator. Andy Reid moved him to defensive backs coach in '07, largely to help him improve his chances of getting a pro or college head-coaching job.
"You get to that age and financial spot where you've got to make a move or you're going to outprice yourself as a special-teams coordinator," Reid, now the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, said Monday.
"John was climbing [salarywise] into the upper echelon of special-teams coaches. And you just didn't see DB coaches being DB coaches at that time for the amount of money John was making. He had to make the move or he was going to outprice himself or have to take a pay cut [to become a position coach]."
Harbaugh is one of six former Reid assistants to become NFL head coaches, and the first to win a Super Bowl.
"I was fired up for him, man," Reid said. "So excited for him. Well deserved.
"I always knew John would be a terrific head coach. He's from good stock, No. 1. And No. 2, he's smart, tough, organized and good with people. He's got it. Whatever it is, you just knew he had it."
Harbaugh said he received a text from Reid last week before the game.
"It said, 'I'm proud of you,' " Harbaugh said. "That's a pretty good text to get."
The only downside to the Ravens' Super Bowl win Sunday for Harbaugh was that it came at the expense of his brother, Jim, who is the 49ers' head coach.
"We stood there on the field before the game," John said. "We kind of came to the conclusion that the only thing that would've been worse was if one of us wasn't there. And the only thing that would've been worse than that would've been if neither one of us was there.
"But it still was really tough. It was really tough. The toughest thing of all was that walk across the field [after the game]. I mean, you're feeling both an incredible amount of elation and an incredible amount of devastation. Those two feelings went hand in hand at that moment. And I'm still feeling it. That's just reality."
At the news conference Monday, somebody asked John whether he thought he'll ever sit down and watch the replay of the game with his brother and the rest of the Harbaugh family. He didn't have to think long before answering.
"No, I don't think we'll ever watch that game together. Absolutely not."
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