Column: Chargers want to finally make a splash? Hire Jim Harbaugh

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh raises his arms overhead along the sideline during a game.
Jim Harbaugh, who led Michigan to a national championship this season, has a proven track record as an NFL coach with a 44-19-1 record.
(Ryan Sun / Associated Press)
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Jim Harbaugh is there if the Chargers want him.

The question is, how bad do they want him?

Do they want to deal with the eccentricities that have alienated him at every stop?

Do they want to pay him the huge sum that will be required to steal a national championship coach?

Do they want a personality who will be more respected than the team’s owners and more popular than its quarterback?


Do they want to dramatically establish a singular face of the franchise for the first time since the Spanos family bought the team 40 years ago?

When will the Chargers hire a new coach? The team has interviewed Jim Harbaugh, but it can’t make an offer yet due to Rooney Rule requirements.

Jan. 15, 2024

The questions are complex but the answers are simple.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

If Los Angeles’ most obscure major sports franchise wants to take advantage of their best chance to steal eyeballs, change perceptions and win games, they need to embrace all that is Jim Harbaugh.

They interviewed him Monday. It was reportedly his first NFL interview. There don’t appear to be a bunch of teams chasing him. He is an odd dude who might not get a lot of interest. If he wants to return to the NFL, he will have to go to a place looking for a different perspective and unique voice.

To steal from a trademark Harbaugh saying, who would be a better fit for the Chargers?


For all the baggage he will deposit on the Chargers’ carefully manicured front lawn — he missed two-thirds of last season at Michigan because of suspensions — Harbaugh represents everything their franchise needs after spending seven years stuck in a Southland haze.

He is an NFL name people know. He has an NFL record people respect. And he has a voice that Justin Herbert will hear.

That last part is the most important. Harbaugh is an offensive coach who can make their greatest asset great again. This entire column could be boiled down to one incomplete sentence. Harbaugh for Herbert. Period. No other explanation necessary.


Just look at who Harbaugh has tutored during his long and diverse coaching career.

He helped make Andrew Luck great at Stanford. He nearly won a Super Bowl with Colin Kaepernick for the San Francisco 49ers. He transformed J.J. McCarthy into a national championship leader at Michigan.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy, left, and coach Jim Harbaugh let out a yell while celebrating their national championship
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh helped turn J.J. McCarthy into a championship-caliber quarterback.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Which brings us to Herbert, one of the league’s best young quarterbacks whose development has stalled. Herbert needs a quarterback whisperer as badly as he needs a healthy wide receiver. Harbaugh would be that guy.

By the numbers, Harbaugh is a slam-dunk sell, with a 44-19-1 NFL record and NFC championship game appearances in each of his first three years with the 49ers.

Everywhere he goes, his teams not only win but are transformed.

He changed the culture at Stanford from 2007 to 2010, eventually turning a hapless program into a 12-1 team and Orange Bowl winner. Remember when the Cardinal pulled one of the greatest upsets in college football history in 2007 with a victory over USC despite being a 41-point underdog? That was Harbaugh.

He ended the frustration at Michigan, breaking a six-bowl losing streak this winter with a Rose Bowl victory and eventual national championship with a 15-0 record. Remember that fourth-down conversion that eventually led to the Wolverines’ defeat of Alabama this month in Pasadena? That was Harbaugh.


He has not yet announced he is leaving Michigan but seriously, why on earth would he stay? He has reached their mountaintop. There’s nowhere for him to go but down.

Besides, he has hired renowned NFL agent Don Yee to figure out his next contract, and he has now interviewed with NFL teams in three consecutive offseasons.

Two years ago, he was considered a lock to join the Minnesota Vikings. But his interview with the Vikings went terribly wrong. He gave no indication that he would be a willing collaborator with the Vikings’ football people. He came across as arrogant and strange. It didn’t work.

Here’s hoping the Chargers interview went smoother. And here’s hoping they cut him some slack. He’s different. He’s difficult. Yet he is magnetic, enough to unify a talented Chargers team while even stealing attention from those lovable Rams. Sean McVay has one of the brightest minds in the game, but Harbaugh is great copy, and, in this market, that will win a lot of news conferences.

The Chargers are also looking for a general manager, but Harbaugh is important enough that they can hire him first and then bring a boss who can work with him. You don’t have to give him the keys to the franchise, but you make them readily available to him, then you stand back and watch the fireworks.

This is, of course, not how the Spanos family generally does business. It has been more than a decade since they hired a coach with NFL head coaching experience. Their last three hires were Mike McCoy, Anthony Lynn and Brandon Staley.


They don’t go for big-money head coaches. They don’t go for big-name head coaches. But they’ve also never been in Los Angeles on the verge of finally making a permanent mark on a crowded landscape.

Jim Harbaugh is there if the Chargers want him.

They better want him.