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Assessing Jim Harbaugh’s fit as the Chargers new head coach

Harbaugh has won wherever he’s gone, and his next challenge will be bringing the Chargers back to relevance.

2024 CFP National Championship - Michigan v Washington
Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh celebrates winning the 2024 CFP National Championship game at NRG Stadium on January 8, 2024 in Houston, Texas.
Photo by CFP/Getty Images

It’s official; Jim Harbaugh is back in the NFL.

After spending nine seasons at Michigan and leading the Wolverines to a national title in 2023-24, Harbaugh is making a jump back to the professional ranks as the newest head coach for the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s a big get for the franchise, which has been to the postseason just once since the arrival of star quarterback Justin Herbert.

Herbert is coming off an injury-riddled season, and Harbaugh’s first order of business will be to make sure the quarterback is put in a position to succeed again. The Chargers have to make decisions on a lot of key players, including Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen. The defensive side of the ball is likely to have cap casualties too, with Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack potentially being sent out. This isn’t going to be one of the best rosters in the NFL by a long stretch but that’s the gap Harbaugh is expected to overcome.

The head coach has won at every stop, which is why he’s always in the running for big jobs. He went 29-6 at San Diego to land the Stanford job, finishing his four-year stint there with a 12-1 season and a win in the Orange Bowl. He made his first jump to the NFL at that point and immediately took a 49ers squad filled with league castoffs to the NFC Championship Game. It would be the first of three consecutive appearances in that game, one of which led to a Super Bowl appearance where he lost to his brother John Harbaugh’s Ravens despite a furious comeback. Harbaugh’s flameout with the 49ers was largely due to his reportedly abrasive leadership style and a desire for more influence with the organization rather than on-field performance. The 49ers were 8-8 in his final season there, and 44-19-1 in four regular seasons.

Perhaps Harbaugh’s most impressive job is his most recent one at Michigan. The Wolverines weren’t exactly wandering the college football wilderness, but they had just one season with double-digit wins since Lloyd Carr’s 2006 campaign. Harbaugh immediately won 10 games in his first season, and had three seasons with double-digit wins in his first four years. After struggling to beat Michigan State and Ohio State early in his tenure, Harbaugh won four of the final six meetings against the Spartans and knocked off the Buckeyes three years in a row to reach the College Football Playoff. After falling in the CFP semifinals two years in a row, Harbaugh’s Wolverines won the national title in their third appearance. It was their first national title since 1997.

Give Harbaugh enough time and he will win, just like he’s done at every stop. The Chargers might not be considered true contenders next season, but they do have higher Super Bowl 2025 odds (+3000) than three teams that made the 2024 playoffs. There’s enough here for Harbaugh to work with, and he’s done nothing but win everywhere he’s gone. Why should this time be any different?