Jim Harbaugh at Kansas.

Try to wrap your mind around that concept for a moment -- a top coach at a bottom program. It almost happened.

This week of Michigan-Ohio State, imagine this alternate universe: One of the game's gold-plated, rock-star coaches instead walking the sideline in a half-empty Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas.

"There was some discussion [with Kansas]," Harbaugh admitted back in 2014.

"It was done," a source close to the situation told CBS Sports.

It was also 2009. Then-Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins was looking for a coach to replace Mark Mangino. Harbaugh was at the end of his third season at Stanford. The Cardinal were on their way to an 8-5 season.

"It was close, very close," Perkins said.

This was before Harbaugh had fully resurrected Stanford. This was before an Orange Bowl that would come the next season. This was before the San Francisco 49ers and a Super Bowl berth.

This was way before the swift turnaround at Michigan. That was prior to the mere whisper of his name -- Harbaugh! -- conjuring up a legend in the making.

Before Harbaugh had fully become the quirky Coach Khaki, before he had been to a Super Bowl or chased a Big Ten title, he was interested in a mid-level Big 12 job at a basketball school.

The Kansas job intrigued Harbaugh because it suited him at the time. His wife Sarah is from nearby suburban Kansas City. There is a gaggle of in-laws scattered 30 miles from the KU campus.

Harbaugh is so tight with that side of the family that he has thought out loud about naming his next child after his father-in-law. No word on what Sarah -- due in February -- would think, but 80-year-old Merle Feuerborn would be proud.

"I thought it would have been nice to have him here for selfish reasons," said Merle's son, John. "But I personally thought Stanford had a better job."

We all still think that, even with Kansas pulling one of the biggest upsets of the season Saturday night by beating Texas for the first time since 1938. But Harbaugh has never been predictable.

In Jim Harbaugh's first season with Niners, Sarah called John, her brother. Jim needed someone just to be with him before games.

"There isn't a ton of down time on a Saturday," John Feuerborn said. "They get done at 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. There are production meetings. You're really in your room. Just to have somebody to hang out with more than anything, watching movies and football games."

The tradition carries on today. Feuerborn flew from Kansas City to Michigan to watch Saturday's Indiana game in a snowstorm. This week, he'll be at Ohio State for one of the biggest games of the season.

Harbaugh was so interested in Kansas at that time that he left his Stanford phone behind so it wouldn't be tracked by the school. Meanwhile, he and Merle drove over to Lawrence to check out the facilities.

"He was on my radar because he was at Stanford," said Perkins, 71, now doing work for USA Boxing. "Everybody knew, though, that he wanted to go to the pros.

"He's a handful, but he can coach."

A handful? Harbaugh has lasted no more than four seasons in any of his head coaching jobs. Any mention that he might not spend the rest of his career at Michigan brings a howl of protest by its fans.

Quick note to Wolverines everywhere: The NFL still is more prestigious. There is no guarantee anytime, anywhere that Harbaugh is a lifer in Ann Arbor.

For proof, please refer to that alternate universe. Just be glad Harbaugh never went to Kansas. Maybe star athletes and celebrities would have gone there for National Signing Day. Maybe the satellite camp controversy starts in Lawrence.

It's OK to fantasize. This would have been his seventh season in Lawrence. Safe to say the Jayhawks would be better off than they are now, which is 14-69 since 2010 and without a winning season since 2008.

Perkins had picked up on Harbaugh because he had become close with Tom Crean. The Indiana basketball coach is yet another Harbaugh brother-in-law.

"You might not like the stuff he does but he thinks out of the box," Perkins said. "He's scary brilliant. That's why kids like to play for him."

Perkins won't say why he and Harbaugh never reached an agreement. The coach has never expanded much on the subject.

The Cardinal moved on to the Sun Bowl after the 2009 season. Kansas was headed to obscurity. Mangino had just resigned under pressure after allegations of mistreating players.

"[Jim] and I got along great. We got to know each other very well," Perkins said. "... ... It's like every other coach. 'Give me everything I want and I'll win.'"

That philosophy has worked everywhere Harbaugh has been. Just not at Kansas. But it was close -- very close.