They nearly had a match.
"After my first season in the big leagues, I got two Major League interviews," Leyland said. "One was the Texas Rangers. The other was the Oakland Athletics."
The A's flew Leyland out and talked with him about the job. They eventually passed on him in favor of another candidate with deep Tigers roots, Steve Boros.
"They had seven people interviewing me," Leyland said, "one of which was Walt Jocketty."
Jocketty, then a scouting director with the A's, went on to become a general manager with the Cardinals a decade later and hired La Russa.
Jocketty brought in a burned-out Leyland after his year (1999) managing the Rockies and hired him as a special assistant. The role, which kept Leyland in the game from 2000-05 while staying home in Pittsburgh, allowed Leyland to recharge his batteries until the Tigers' managerial job opened after the 2005 season.
Boros managed a year and a half with the A's before he was replaced by Jackie Moore. Two years after that, Oakland hired La Russa, who had just been fired by the White Sox. Had the A's hired Leyland, La Russa has been quoted as saying, the job probably wouldn't have opened up for him.
Boros ended his baseball career back with the Tigers as a Minor League field coordinator. His work with the farm system provided some of the foundation for the Tigers team Leyland led to the World Series in his first year in Detroit in 2006, including All-Star center fielder Curtis Granderson.