In his first extended public comments since being passed over for the Vikings job, Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh called the Vikings a "first-class operation" with "first-class people" on Thursday evening while speaking with Mitch Albom for the Detroit Free Press.
But Harbaugh said the feelings about Wednesday's interview weren't precisely mutual. Moments after Harbaugh's daylong interview at TCO Performance Center, the Vikings' internal search team, led by co-owners Zygi and Mark Wilf and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, decided to hire Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell as the next head coach. The Vikings did not offer Harbaugh the job, a source said after the meeting.
"I'm an honest person," Harbaugh said. "There was a large pull there (for the NFL). But I didn't feel it was that way for both parties. And that's it. That's my mind-set now."
O'Connell, 36, is set to become a head coach for the first time after the former NFL backup quarterback began his coaching career in 2015 as Browns quarterbacks coach. He'll first coach his final game for the Rams at the Super Bowl against the Bengals.
"There's a lot of things going on," O'Connell said Friday to Los Angeles reporters, "a lot of things that I'm absolutely looking forward to, but none more so right now than our preparation for this game and all the things we've been able to accomplish this year."
Harbaugh's latest dance with an NFL team led to an awkward return to Michigan after interviewing for the Vikings on National Signing Day. The former 49ers head coach brought the best credentials of any Vikings candidate, having led San Francisco to three straight NFC Championship Game appearances in four years. Coming up short, including a Super Bowl loss to his brother John Harbaugh's Ravens, drove his trip to Minnesota, where he wanted to become the next Vikings head coach.
"There was a tugging at me that I was once that close to a Super Bowl and I didn't get it. Some NFL jobs came open. I was contacted by the Vikings," Harbaugh said.
"For better or for worse, it was something I wanted to explore," he added. "I went in thinking, 'I'm gonna have 100 percent conviction on this, and if they have 100 percent conviction on this, then it's something I'm gonna do."
But the Vikings didn't have the same conviction about Harbaugh, whose abrupt ending in San Francisco likely prompted questions about his hard-nosed approach and past relationships.
Harbaugh told Albom that he called Michigan athletics director Warde Manuel after the interview, asking him if he'd like him back as Wolverines head coach. When Manuel said yes, Harbaugh said the Vikings interview was a "one-time thing."
"And I told him, 'Warde, this will not be a reoccurring theme every year,'" Harbaugh said.
O'Connell said Rams head coach Sean McVay has been a "phenomenal" resource for him personally as he prepares to coach in his first Super Bowl while juggling head coaching interviews and now his expected future as Vikings head coach.
"You learn you have to try to compartmentalize, use every moment you possibly can when you're not sleeping to be doing something productive," O'Connell said. "First and foremost, remember I have a critical job here to help give our team the best possible chance to go beat the Bengals."
O'Connell was asked Friday if he has the right gear for the change in scenery from Los Angeles to Minnesota.
"I might have to dust off a few," O'Connell said, "but I can tell you I do own a very warm coat."