Why the Chargers Hired Jim Harbaugh: Ex-Michigan Head Coach Takes Over in Los Angeles

After winning the national title at Michigan, Jim Harbaugh is coming back to the NFL. The Chargers named Harbaugh as their new head coach.

Jim Harbaugh is coming back to the NFL. After winning the 2023-24 College Football Playoff National Championship at the University of Michigan, Harbaugh is returning to the pros as the Los Angeles Chargers‘ head coach.

Harbaugh, 60, replaces former Chargers HC Brandon Staley (and Giff Smith, who served as the club’s interim head coach to close the season).

Chargers Hire Jim Harbaugh as Head Coach

Harbaugh had been strongly linked to the Chargers and the Las Vegas Raiders following the Wolverines’ title game victory over the Washington Huskies. But he only interviewed with Los Angeles and Atlanta, meeting with the Chargers’ ownership group on Jan. 15 and on Jan. 23, a day before his hiring became official on Jan. 24.

Harbaugh reportedly had a 10-year, $125 million extension offer from the Wolverines on the table as of late December. His price likely increased following Michigan’s championship win, while the contract proposal also contained a clause preventing Harbaugh from interviewing for or accepting an NFL head coaching position in 2024.

The Chargers’ job, which affords him the chance to coach quarterback Justin Herbert, was alluring enough for Harbaugh to return to the NFL after a decade-long absence. He interviewed for head coaching opportunities with the Denver Broncos and the Minnesota Vikings over the past two offseasons but did not leave Michigan for either role.

Harbaugh went 44-19-1 as the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach from 2011-14. He led the club to at least the NFC Championship Game in each of his first three seasons on the sideline, guiding the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance after the 2012 campaign. Harbaugh departed San Francisco following interpersonal conflicts with then-general manager Trent Baalke.

The Chargers had not hired a head coach with previous HC experience since Norv Turner in 2007. The team’s last three hires — Mike McCoy, Anthony Lynn, and Staley — were first-time head coaches.

Harbaugh spent the last two years of his NFL playing career with the then-San Diego Chargers, starting 17 games from 1999 to 2000.

He appeared in 177 career games after entering the league as the 26h overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft, playing for the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, and Baltimore Ravens in addition to the Chargers.

Harbaugh broke into the NFL coaching ranks as the Raiders’ QBs coach from 2002-03. Hired as the University of San Diego’s head coach in 2004, Harbaugh went 29-6 over three seasons before accepting the HC position at Stanford.

Harbaugh rebuilt the Cardinal, improving from 4-8 in 2007 to 12-1 in 2010, his final season in Santa Clara, Calif.

Team owner and chairman of the board Dean Spanos released a statement on the hiring, praising his team’s new head coach: “Jim Harbaugh is football personified, and I can think of no one better to lead the Chargers forward.”

MORE: 2024 NFL Head Coach Interview Tracker

“The son of a coach, brother of a coach, and father of a coach who himself was coached by names like [Bo] Schembechler and [Mike] Ditka, for the past two decades Jim has led hundreds of men to success everywhere he’s been – as their coach,” the statement reads.

“And today, Jim Harbaugh returns to the Chargers, this time as our coach. Who has it
better than us?”

What Comes Next for Los Angeles?

The Chargers were conducting parallel head coach and general manager searches before hiring Harbaugh. While reports have suggested Harbaugh is not intent on selecting his own GM, Los Angeles will need to hire a personnel executive comfortable working with its mercurial new coach.

Harbaugh has not directly worked with any of the GM candidates the Chargers have interviewed. However, New York Giants assistant GM Brandon Brown and Baltimore Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz have spent time with Harbaugh’s brother, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, in Baltimore.

Harbaugh and LA’s next general manager already have Herbert under contract through the 2029 campaign, but they’ll need to supplement the club’s existing talent base with an infusion of high-quality players. Herbert needs additional pass catchers and offensive line help, while the Chargers’ entire defense will require work.

Salary cap maneuvering is in Los Angeles’ future. The Bolts are projected to be nearly $45 million over the cap in 2024, while WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and pass rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack will have cap charges north of $32 million.

Who Else Did the Chargers Interview?

Harbaugh was not the only candidate for the Chargers’ head coaching job. Los Angeles’ HC search included interviews with 14 other candidates:

  • Brian Callahan, OC, Bengals
  • Leslie Frazier, former DC, Bills
  • Aaron Glenn, DC, Lions
  • Patrick Graham, DC, Raiders
  • Ben Johnson, OC, Lions
  • Mike Macdonald, DC, Ravens
  • Todd Monken, OC, Ravens
  • Kellen Moore, OC, Chargers
  • Raheem Morris, DC, Rams
  • Dan Quinn, DC, Cowboys
  • David Shaw, HC, Stanford
  • Giff Smith, interim HC, Chargers
  • Mike Vrabel, HC, Titans
  • Steve Wilks, DC, 49ers

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