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Michigan’s Harbaugh Returns to NFL as Chargers Coach: Sources

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Jim Harbaugh is the new head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, leaving Michigan after winning this season's national championship. (AP File)
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COSTA MESA — Jim Harbaugh will be the head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, leaving Michigan after capping his ninth season as coach of college football’s winningest program with the school’s first national championship since 1997, two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press.

The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team hasn’t made the announcement.

Harbaugh made the highly anticipated decision Wednesday to go back to the NFL after a second interview and resume his chase for a Super Bowl that eluded him as a quarterback and coach.

Former Chargers QB

He will be the first former Chargers player to return to the team as head coach. He played for the Bolts in 1999-2000 before retiring following the 2001 season.

Los Angeles was looking for a new coach and general manager after Brandon Staley and Tom Telesco were fired on Dec. 15, a day after a 63-21 loss in Las Vegas to the Raiders.

Harbaugh first met with the Chargers on Jan. 15. He was the eighth of 15 coaching candidates to interview with the Spanos family. He was the only one to get a second interview.

The Atlanta Falcons also talked to Harbaugh on Jan. 16 and booked a second interview before he decided to accept the Chargers job.

The Chargers are 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.

Source: Harbaugh Tells Michigan He’s Leaving

Harbaugh called Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel to inform him that he was leaving to lead the Chargers, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

Manuel may promote Sherrone Moore to replace Harbaugh after the offensive coordinator filled in for him during the final three games of the regular season.

Harbaugh was 86-25 at Michigan and restored college football’s winningest program to relevance after it slipped over several seasons under Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez following the retirement of national-championship-winning coach Lloyd Carr.

The rival Ohio State Buckeyes had an eight-game winning streak against the Wolverines until Harbaugh helped them snap the streak in 2021, leading to their first of three straight Big Ten titles and College Football Playoff appearances.

Following two straight losses in the semifinals, extending Harbaugh’s winless streak in bowl games to six, Michigan outlasted Alabama at the Rose Bowl and pulled away from Washington to win the national championship with a school-record 15-0 mark.

Michigan tried to keep Harbaugh, offering him a new six-year contract for $11.5 million per season, according to a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share details of the deal.

Harbaugh’s alma mater could not offer the one thing he desperately wants — a Super Bowl title.

Harbaugh Will Be Herbert’s Fourth Head Coach in Five Seasons

The Chargers have one of the league’s top quarterbacks in Justin Herbert, but finished 5-12 this season and lost eight of their last nine, including the last five. Herbert will be playing for his fourth head coach and possibly fourth offensive coordinator in five seasons.

This is the first time since 2007, when Norv Turner succeeded Marty Schottenheimer, that the Chargers have opted to go with someone with previous head coaching experience. Turner directed the team to three straight postseason appearances, including the AFC championship game during the 2007 season.

The Chargers have not won a division title since 2009, which was also under Turner.

Harbaugh will inherit a team that most of all needs a culture change. They were 0-7 in games decided by three points or fewer this season, tying the 1984 Houston Oilers for the worst mark since the merger.

The offense this past season regressed because of injuries at wide receiver and on the offensive line. Herbert broke the index finger on his right hand and missed the last four games, but even when he was at the helm, Los Angeles was ranked 18th in total offense after six straight years of being in the top 11.

The defense was ranked 28th, marking the first time since 1986 it has been ranked 20th or worse for three straight years.

Chargers Have Fifth Overall Pick

Harbaugh and the new general manager will have the fifth overall pick in April’s draft, the fourth time since 2016 the Chargers have had a pick in the top seven. Only the Giants (six), Jets (five), and Jaguars (five) have had more.

Harbaugh prepared for a return to the NFL by hiring Don Yee as his new agent. Yee is known for his representation of another famous Michigan quarterback — seven-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady — and the Pasadena-based agent also represents Denver coach Sean Payton, who was the most sought-after coaching free agent last year.

Harbaugh did not hide his interest in returning to the NFL, interviewing with the Minnesota Vikings on college signing day two years ago and having discussions with the Broncos and Carolina Panthers last year.

The 60-year-old Harbaugh seemed to have more options in the league during this hiring cycle.

Harbaugh returned to Michigan, where he was a star quarterback in the mid-1980s, in 2015 after going 44-19 over four years in San Francisco. He left the 49ers amid tension with the front office. He went to three straight NFC championship games and lost the Super Bowl to Baltimore, and his coach/brother, John, nearly 11 years ago.

He also came close to the Super Bowl as a player, nearly lifting the Indianapolis Colts to a win at Pittsburgh on a game-ending desperation pass in the AFC championship game on Jan. 14, 1996.

Harbaugh became a first-time head coach at the University of San Diego in 2004 and left after three seasons to start a four-year run at Stanford. His success on the sideline in college set him up for an opportunity with the 49ers, where he coached from 2010 through the 2014 season.

 

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