Jim Harbaugh, who led Michigan to its first national title in 27 years, has decided to return to the NFL as the head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers. Harbaugh signed a five-year deal with the Chargers on Wednesday, ending his nine-year tenure with the Wolverines.
A dream come true for Harbaugh and the Chargers
Harbaugh, who played for the Chargers in 1999-2000 before retiring in 2001, said he was thrilled to be back with the team that gave him his last chance as a quarterback. He also expressed his gratitude to Michigan, where he played and coached for the most successful program in college football history.
“My love for Michigan, playing there and coming back to coach there leaves a lasting impact. I’ll always be a loyal Wolverine,” Harbaugh said in a statement. “I’m remarkably fortunate to have been afforded the privilege of coaching at places where life’s journey has created strong personal connections for me. When I played for the Chargers, the Spanos family could not have been more gracious or more welcoming. Being back here feels like home, and it’s great to see that those things haven’t changed.”
The Chargers, who fired coach Brandon Staley and general manager Tom Telesco after a disappointing 7-10 season, were eager to hire Harbaugh, who was their top target. Harbaugh was the first and only candidate to get a second interview with the Spanos family, who own the team. He also turned down a second interview with the Atlanta Falcons, who were interested in him.
“Jim Harbaugh is football personified, and I can think of no one better to lead the Chargers forward,” owner Dean Spanos said in a statement while also borrowing from one of Harbaugh’s catch phrases. “Who has it better than us?”
A remarkable run at Michigan
Harbaugh, who was 86-25 at Michigan, restored the Wolverines to national prominence after they had struggled under previous coaches Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez. Harbaugh won three Big Ten titles, made three College Football Playoff appearances, and snapped an eight-game losing streak to rival Ohio State.
Harbaugh’s crowning achievement came this season, when he led Michigan to a perfect 15-0 record and the national championship, the first for the school since 1997. Michigan defeated Alabama in the Rose Bowl and Washington in the title game, capping off a historic season that earned Harbaugh several coach of the year awards.
Michigan tried to keep Harbaugh, offering him a new six-year contract for $11.5 million per year, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. However, Harbaugh chose to pursue his long-held ambition of winning a Super Bowl, something he came close to as a player and a coach.
A new challenge in the NFL
Harbaugh, who was 44-19-1 as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2014, will face a new challenge in the NFL, where he will try to turn around a Chargers team that has not made the playoffs since 2018. Harbaugh will inherit a talented roster that includes quarterback Justin Herbert, who was the offensive rookie of the year in 2020, and defensive end Joey Bosa, who is a four-time Pro Bowler.
Harbaugh will also have to compete in a tough AFC West division that features the Kansas City Chiefs, who have won the division six times in a row, and the Las Vegas Raiders, who made the playoffs this season. Harbaugh will also have to deal with the expectations of the Chargers fans, who have been longing for a Super Bowl appearance since the team’s only trip in 1994.
Harbaugh is the fourth of eight teams to fill their head coach job, following New England, Las Vegas and Tennessee. Atlanta, Carolina, Seattle and Washington remain with an opening. Harbaugh is also the first coach in 26 years to win a national title and not return to the school the following season. The last one was Nebraska’s Tom Osborne, who retired after the 1997 season, when the Cornhuskers shared the national title with Michigan.