Before the Detroit Lions decided to hire Jim Schwartz as their new head coach back in 2009, they took a look at then Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh. I had completely forgotten about this until ESPN's Adam Schefter mentioned it on Friday. As Schefter recounted, the Lions gauged Harbaugh's interest in the job before hiring Schwartz.
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.
At that time, Harbaugh was far from a hot commodity, especially in NFL circles. He had just completed his second season at Stanford, and the Cardinal went 5-7. This came after a 4-8 record in 2007. While Harbaugh had proven at the University of San Diego that he could win some games, he hadn't put together a winning record on the FBS level. He was viewed as inexperienced and without a track record of success at the highest level of college football.
In hindsight, given what he's accomplished in just two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, hiring Harbaugh could have worked out quite well for the Lions. However, at least initially, the hire would not have gone over well in Detroit. Just look at what I wrote back in January 2009 about the possibility of the Lions hiring Harbaugh:
I would be 100% against Harbaugh becoming the Lions head coach based on the fact that he is only a college coach (and for his comments that bashed Michigan a couple years ago). There are way too many candidates that are more qualified than Harbaugh to even give him a look.
After Stanford went 8-5 in 2009 and 12-1 in 2010, I had a much different view of Harbaugh. I desperately wanted Michigan to hire him after it fired Rich Rodriguez following the 2010 season, but Harbaugh elected to go to the NFL instead. I'm more than happy with the job Brady Hoke has done as Michigan's head coach, but it's tough not to think about how history might have been different if Harbaugh had been hired by the Wolverines or even the Lions.