Just a few weeks after he led Michigan to its first undisputed college football national title in 75 years, Jim Harbaugh is headed back to the NFL.
Harbaugh has agreed to a deal that brings him back to professional football and to the West Coast as the next head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers the team announced Wednesday. Harbaugh signed a five-year deal a person close to the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the Chargers did not announce the terms.
“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.”
Harbaugh 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.
“Jim Harbaugh is football personified, and I can think of no one better to lead the Chargers forward,” Chargers owner Dean Spanos said in a statement. “The son of a coach, brother of a coach and father of a coach who himself was coached by names like Schembechler and Ditka, for the past two decades Jim has led hundreds of men to success everywhere he’s been — as their coach. And today, Jim Harbaugh returns to the Chargers, this time as our coach. Who has it better than us?”
Harbaugh is the first coach in 26 seasons to win a national title and not return to the school the following season. Nebraska’s Tom Osborne retired following the 1997 season after the Cornhuskers split the national title with Michigan.
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 had booked a second interview before he decided to accept the Chargers job.
More on Jim Harbaugh:
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.
Harbaugh called Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel to inform him he was leaving to lead the Chargers, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Manuel later released a statement saying that he was “working quickly to hire” Michigan’s next head coach.
“We have been discussing a new contract that would make Jim the highest paid coach in college football,” the statement also read. “In the end, he wanted to explore and ultimately decided to pursue a return to coaching in the NFL.”
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 — the chance to win a Super Bowl.
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 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 being in the top 11.
The defense was ranked 28th, marking the first time since 1986 it has been ranked 20th or worse three straight years.
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.
Why Jim Harbaugh is moving to the NFL
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.
The Harbaugh brothers will face each other for the first time since that Super Bowl during the 2024 season when the Chargers host the Ravens. The date and time will be announced in early May when the NFL regular season schedule is released.
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.
And after even more success, he’s back in the league to chase a championship.
Potential problems with the NCAA may have also been a factor. He was suspended for the first three games by the NCAA for a Level I violation because the association concluded he misled investigators.
Harbaugh was also suspended for the final three regular-season games by the Big Ten for violating the conference’s sportsmanship policy over alleged sign-stealing in a case that dominated the second half of last season.
Harbaugh was one of eight candidates who had previous head coaching experience in college or the NFL. The others were former Stanford coach David Shaw, former Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator and Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier, former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel, Dallas defensive coordinator and former Atlanta coach Dan Quinn, Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris (who coached Tampa Bay and Atlanta), San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks (who coached Arizona and Carolina) and Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
The Chargers also interviewed two in-house candidates — interim coach Giff Smith and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore — along with Las Vegas Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, who was hired by Tennessee on Jan. 23.
Nine GM candidates have interviewed, including interim GM JoJo Wooden. The others are New York Giants assistant GM Brandon Brown, Baltimore director of player personnel Joe Hortiz, Chicago assistant GM Ian Cunningham, Buffalo director of player personnel Terrance Gray, New Orleans Saints assistant GM Jeff Ireland, Indianapolis Colts assistant GM Ed Dodds, Chicago co-director of player personnel Jeff King and NFL chief football administrative officer Dawn Aponte.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
[Want great stories delivered right to your inbox? Create or log in to your FOX Sports account, follow leagues, teams and players to receive a personalized newsletter daily.]