After Leading Michigan to a National Title, Jim Harbaugh is Headed Back to the NFL as Head Coach of the Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles, CA – In a move that shocked much of the college football world, Jim Harbaugh is leaving the University of Michigan and returning to the NFL as the new head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers. The announcement comes just weeks after Harbaugh led the Wolverines to their first national championship in over two decades.

Harbaugh’s return to the NFL completes a full circle journey for the veteran coach. He first made his name as a player in the league in the late 1990s with the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts before finishing his career with the San Diego Chargers from 1999-2000. After retiring as a player in 2001, Harbaugh transitioned into coaching and landed his first NFL head coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. He spent four seasons in San Francisco, leading the team to a Super Bowl appearance and two NFC championship games.

But the lure of his alma mater proved too strong, and Harbaugh returned to Michigan in 2015 hoping to restore glory to one of college football’s most storied programs. Early results were mixed, but after nine seasons that culminated in this year’s thrilling national title run, Harbaugh had cemented his legacy in Ann Arbor. Still, rumblings of a return to the NFL persisted, and after interviewing with the Vikings and Broncos in recent offseasons, Harbaugh has finally made the jump back to the pros.

For the Chargers, the hiring provides a clear upgrade at head coach after moving on from Brandon Staley following last season’s disappointing playoff loss. With Harbaugh, they bring in a proven winner with extensive NFL experience. And it doesn’t hurt that he has familiarity with the franchise from his playing days over two decades ago.

The Chargers are banking on Harbaugh’s leadership and championship pedigree to guide a talented roster led by star quarterback Justin Herbert over the hump to their first ever Super Bowl title. Harbaugh will be tasked with taking an underachieving team that often fails to play to its potential and instilling the discipline and winning culture needed to turn them into bonafide contenders.

Of course, Harbaugh’s return to the NFL does not come without some red flags. His final season at Michigan was embroiled in controversy, as Harbaugh was suspended three games for lying to NCAA investigators about potential recruiting violations. He was later suspended another three games as part of the Big Ten’s investigation into a sign-stealing scandal. While Harbaugh’s transgressions at Michigan appear isolated, the Chargers will hope his questionable ethical decisions do not follow him to the NFL.

Still, Harbaugh’s track record of success at both the college and pro levels was too tempting for the Chargers to pass up. Harbaugh becomes just the fifth head coach in franchise history, and the team believes he is the perfect fit to lead Justin Herbert and a star-studded roster beyond regular season dominance and to playoff success that has thus far been elusive.

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It’s a new era in Los Angeles, as the Chargers look to take over the city from the Rams as its premier NFL franchise. Harbaugh’s leadership could very well be the missing ingredient needed to finally get over the hump and bring a Lombardi Trophy to Los Angeles.

For Michigan, Harbaugh’s departure adds to the challenge of maintaining their newly-rediscovered spot amongst college football’s elite. The program had not won a national championship since 1997 prior to this past season, and Harbaugh was the key architect in returning the Wolverines to the mountaintop of the sport. Maintaining that success will be a tall task for Harbaugh’s replacement, as the team faces stiff competition annually from division rivals Ohio State and Michigan State.

Of course, Michigan is one of the few programs capable of luring an elite head coach to replace Harbaugh. With tradition, resources and a fertile recruiting ground in their favor, the Wolverines are well-positioned to find a worthy successor who can build upon Harbaugh’s foundation and keep them competing for Big Ten titles. But in the short term, his departure undoubtedly stings, and leaves the program with plenty of uncertainty just months after their greatest triumph in over two decades.

As for Harbaugh himself, the move allows the veteran coach to take another shot at winning the one prize that has eluded him across his accomplished career – a Super Bowl title. He came agonizingly close with the 49ers, but ultimately could not deliver the franchise’s sixth championship. With the Chargers, he’ll have another shot at cementing his NFL legacy with a ring.

At age 59, Harbaugh’s fire to compete, coach and win is still clearly burning bright. Leaving Michigan after a storybook season would have been the perfect Hollywood ending to ride off into the sunset. But Harbaugh remains hungry for another challenge and chance to prove himself and build another winner at football’s highest level.

If his track record is any indicator, it would be unwise to bet against Harbaugh in his quest to bring a title to his third NFL franchise. Love him or hate him, few coaches in football are more driven to win than the Khakis-wearing, oft-eccentric Harbaugh. And the Chargers hope that competitive obsession will be exactly what it takes to finally get them over the hump after years of falling short with talented teams.

Buckeye and Wolverine fans may hate to see Harbaugh go, but the coach always marches to the beat of his own drum. For now, that drumbeat is pulling him back west to Los Angeles and the NFL. Michigan’s loss is the Chargers’ gain, as the franchise looks to start a new era as the city’s football powerhouse led by Harbaugh’s trademark grit, passion and championship culture.

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