Chargers Hire Jim Harbaugh As HC

Jim Harbaugh rearranged his interview schedule this week, and it turns out no more meetings will be in the cards. The Chargers will complete this long-rumored hire. The Bolts are set to name Harbaugh as their next head coach,’s Adam Schefter reports.

The 60-year-old coach will return to the NFL after nine seasons at his alma mater. Harbaugh’s stock veered to a strange place, thanks to Michigan’s sign-stealing scandal last season, but his NFL value never appeared to take a substantial hit. On the heels of the Wolverines’ national championship, the former 49ers HC will pick the Chargers as his NFL return vehicle.

This comes nearly 24 years after the former quarterback took his final NFL snaps, which came as a member of the Chargers. Harbaugh agreed to a five-year contract Wednesday, Schefter reports. This nearly overlaps with the extension Justin Herbert signed last year; Herbert is signed through 2029.

After interviewing for the Vikings and Broncos’ jobs over the past two offseasons, respectively, Harbaugh reached an agreement to return to the NFL — a previously stated goal. His arrival will give the AFC West three coaches who have led teams to Super Bowls. Harbaugh will arrive as an Andy Reid challenger a year after Sean Payton did. While Payton was interested in this job as the 2022 season progressed, the Bolts held onto Brandon Staley for a third season. With the team moving on from Staley, it set out to land a higher-profile leader. Harbaugh checks that box, having been a winning coach everywhere he has been.

Upon firing Staley in mid-December, the Bolts sent out Harbaugh feelers. This process accelerated from there. Harbaugh also interviewed with the Falcons, but the sides’ second meeting — scheduled for today — did not come to pass. Atlanta will look elsewhere, while Harbaugh assembles a staff in Los Angeles. Long accused of skimping on their head coaches, the Chargers are believed to have upper-crust salary parameters in place with Harbaugh. Negotiations this week are believed to have produced a figure north of the $12.5MM-per-year offer Michigan made.

Harbaugh returns to the NFL as a historically successful coach, in terms of win percentage. While a Super Bowl title eluded Jim Harbaugh against his brother 11 years ago, the younger sibling’s .695 win percentage — compiled from 2011-14 in San Francisco — ranks fifth in NFL history. That number, however, leads all coaches who began their career after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

The Chargers regularly assembled well-regarded rosters in recent years, but they have routinely fallen short of expectations. During Tom Telesco‘s GM run, the team went 3-for-11 in playoff appearances — these seasons all coming with Herbert or Philip Rivers at quarterback. Harbaugh guided the 49ers to three straight NFC championship games with Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick at the controls. Coaching Herbert naturally appealed to this year’s lot of coaching candidates, and Harbaugh’s work with Smith and Kaepernick effectively illustrates his coaching acumen. Ditto Michigan’s recent run, which includes three straight CFP appearances and a convincing win over Washington in this year’s title game.

Herbert’s presence and a return to California — where Harbaugh has coached in four cities in the college and pro ranks — provided a natural appeal. The Chargers making a much bigger financial commitment will as well. Harbaugh will follow first-timers Mike McCoy, Anthony Lynn and Staley, residing in a different stratosphere in terms of prestige. The Chargers joined the Raiders in expressing significant Harbaugh interest at the end of the regular season, but the Silver and Black did not opt to interview any of this year’s top candidates, instead elevating Antonio Pierce to the full-time post. This left the Chargers as the Harbaugh favorites, and the sides used this week’s second interview to discuss staffing.

Ex-49ers and Ravens OC Greg Roman has been mentioned as a candidate to rejoin Harbaugh, but no coordinators are in place yet. Neither is a GM. One finalist, Giants assistant GM Brandon Brown, has emerged. It was long assumed Harbaugh would want to handpick his GM, but that does not appear the case any longer. Although Harbaugh and ex-49ers GM Trent Baalke‘s feud is largely responsible for his 2015 San Francisco exit, the fiery HC is not believed to be strongarming the Chargers on this front. That said, the Bolts will assuredly hire a front office boss that Harbaugh approves.

Prior to Harbaugh’s 2011 San Francisco arrival, the 49ers had missed eight straight playoff brackets. Their stampede to three consecutive NFC title games included a comeback win over the Falcons in the 2012 conference decider, leading to a Super Bowl XLVII appearance that ended with the Harbaugh-Kaepernick operation on the doorstep of completing a historic rally. Herbert is more talented than either of the QBs Harbaugh worked with to reach that stage, setting the stage for one of the most interesting stretches in franchise history.

Harbaugh, whose two-year run as a Bolts quarterback transpired just before the team drafted Drew Brees, will have some other roster issues to address. Injuries have been a notorious issue for this franchise, with each of the team’s skill-position regulars sustaining notable setbacks over the past two seasons. Austin Ekeler is a free agent, while Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are each attached to $20MM-per-year deals. Allen will be 32 this year, while Williams (29) is coming off an ACL tear. The Bolts possess some pieces up front, headlined by Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater, and have both edge rushers (Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack) under contract for 2024. Bosa, however, is attached to a $27MM-AAV accord and has continually encountered injuries.

After restructuring Allen, Williams, Bosa and Mack’s contracts last year, the Chargers are projected to be more than $45MM over the 2024 cap. Only three teams are in worse situations presently. While the Bolts are hiring Harbaugh for the long haul, he is 60 and lasted only four years during his previous NFL run. The roster issues coming up will be pivotal, given Herbert’s presence and the $52.5MM-per-year contract to which he is tied.

Upon firing Staley, owner Dean Spanos said the team would make an effort to reimagine its operation. Team president John Spanos confirmed he has a regular role in football ops, having come up through the scouting ranks with the family-owned franchise. Harbaugh’s presence will likely come with more control than the Chargers have given to their previous coaches.

Considering Michigan’s effort to retain Harbaugh and the Falcons entering the pursuit, the veteran coach carried substantial leverage. As Big Ten fans will surely note, this NFL jump will also be a way for Harbaugh to evade an NCAA suspension for the above-referenced scandal. He served two three-game bans in 2023, for different infractions, but potentially faced more punishment. That topic came up during his recent Wolverines re-up talks.

Excluding Sid Gillman‘s AFL tenure, the Chargers have underachieved for most of their history. Air Coryell could not book them a Super Bowl berth. Neither could the Brees draft choice or the Rivers acquisition. Only a 1994 one-off did the trick. The franchise will entrust Herbert’s prime to Harbaugh, making for one of the most fascinating partnerships in recent NFL history.

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