DECEMBER 23: The Chargers will cast a wide net in their coaching search, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports (video link). Candidates with a background as a coordinator, along with those who fit the CEO-type profile will be considered as a result. Spending big on a coach (either Harbaugh or another high-profile option) will not be an issue, per Rapoport.
That sentiment is echoed by a report from Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. The Chargers will consider any path during their bid to find not only a new coach, but also a general manager, per Florio. The order in which the HC and GM additions are made, along with the organizational structure as it pertains to reporting to Spanos is thus in the air at this point as the team remains one to watch with the offseason on the horizon.
DECEMBER 20: Although Jim Harbaugh wrapped his playing career after the 2001 season, his last NFL action came with the Chargers in 2000. Dean Spanos was in place as Chargers CEO at that point. More than 20 years later, the subject of a reunion continues to come up.
Harbaugh being connected to NFL teams is not exactly new, as the Michigan HC has regularly been tied to a return to the pros. He interviewed with the Broncos this year and the Vikings in 2022. The Chargers sent out a feeler to Harbaugh recently, and Bleacher Report’s Jordan Schultz follows up the team is indeed interested in bringing the successful HC back to the NFL.
It is not known if Harbaugh is interested in coming to Los Angeles, but even as he in talks with Michigan on another extension, aspirations of returning to the NFL continue to surface. As for the Chargers’ willingness to give Harbaugh or another high-profile HC autonomy they would likely seek, the organization appears to be at a proving ground during this HC hiring period.
The Bolts have a history of not authorizing big salaries for HCs, and John Spanos — Dean’s son — resides as the team’s president of football operations. Pointing to John Spanos not being eager to relinquish certain control that could be required to land a heavy hitter like Harbaugh or Bill Belichick, the Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora classifies such a hire as unlikely. An anonymous GM told La Canfora that Belichick would clash with John Spanos, while also casting doubt about Harbaugh’s fit.
Pointing to Chargers sensitivity about a perception they are unwilling to spend what it takes, SI.com’s Albert Breer notes a Harbaugh-to-L.A. scenario or a Belichick trade should not be dismissed. The Chargers have not landed a big-name coach in more than 20 years. After hiring Marty Schottenheimer in 2002, the Bolts have gone with Norv Turner, Mike McCoy, Anthony Lynn and Brandon Staley. Three of those were first-timers, while Turner went 1-for-9 in playoff berths while in Washington and Oakland. With Dean Spanos’ statement upon firing Staley and GM Tom Telesco indicating the organization wants to reimagine its process en route to building a hopeful championship team, the overhaul may need to include his son’s role.
After its batch of rookie HCs came up short, L.A.’s AFC team is believed to want a proven option. Harbaugh also may be viewed as a better fit internally compared to Belichick. The Bolts have been connected to Lions OC Ben Johnson, as other teams will be, but that would represent a similar hire to those on which the organization signed off under Telesco .
Although obviously buoyed by his name, John Spanos began his rise as a Chargers scout. After a stint from 2008-13 as director of college scouting, Spanos ascended to VP of football operations. He has been in the football ops president role since 2015.
“I would talk to Tom or Brandon almost every day. I think my background only helps me in sort of being able to kind of evaluate where we are and really helps me in working with the head coach and GM,” John Spanos said, via The Athletic’s Daniel Popper (subscription required). “But I’m not making the decisions on, ‘Hey, coach, you have to start this player.’ Right? I’ve never done that. My dad’s never done that. We’ve never gone down and said, ‘You’ve got to run this play.’ Or, ‘Hey, you have to draft this player.’
“I believe in working together with them. I’m very involved. Because of my background, and I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to work on the lowest level of the organization to where I am now, I think it helps me in working with people.”
It is unclear if the Chargers are prepared to give their next head coach a significant say in personnel matters. A Staley-driven effort to reload the defense in 2022 brought in the likes of Khalil Mack, J.C. Jackson and Sebastian Joseph-Day. The Chargers indeed have spent the seventh-most cash over the past two years, per Spotrac, though defensive improvement proved elusive. Justin Herbert‘s $52.5MM-per-year extension is on the team’s books through 2029.
The Chargers will look into whether they need to be more transactional, per Breer, with regards to in-season trades or dealing picks for talent. Whether player expenses will lead to the team giving its HC more influence remains to be seen.
“Taking a step back and looking at everything and being willing to consider all possibilities, meaning consider setup, structure, qualities in coaches, qualities in GMs, backgrounds of coaches, backgrounds of GMs — reimagining, really, the entire structure and setup,” Spanos said (via Popper). “And reimagining doesn’t mean making a dramatic change and saying, ‘OK, we’re going to go in this direction and do the opposite of what we’ve done.’ It’s just really reflecting and self-evaluating and make sure we give ourselves the best chances for success.”
Coaching agents have contacted the Spanoses regarding their respective clients’ interest in the job and getting the best out of Herbert, according to The Athletic’s Dianna Russini. Staley’s attitude was also perceived in some league circles as cocky, per Russini. The defensive specialist became the first Chargers HC fired in-season since Kevin Gilbride in 1998.
Harbaugh, 59, would not exactly be a step back in that department. The strong-willed coach ruffled feathers consistently in San Francisco, engaging in a power struggle with then-GM Trent Baalke, and has been suspended twice during this latest Michigan season. Given the opportunity to coach Herbert, however, probably would entice the nine-year Wolverines HC. While Harbaugh has returned to Ann Arbor after two efforts to come back to the NFL, the Chargers represent an interesting opportunity. Would this lower-key team be the right fit for a Harbaugh comeback?