Jim Harbaugh leaves Michigan for Chargers head-coaching job

Jim Harbaugh has made his decision.

The Michigan head coach is heading back to the NFL and will become the head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, the team announced Wednesday.

They also made an interesting choice for a new profile picture.

Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel reported Michigan offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore is the significant favorite to take over as Wolverines head coach.

Harbaugh’s return to the NFL comes after he spent the past nine seasons as the head coach of his alma mater and won the national championship.

It’s not much of a surprise that Harbaugh is heading to the NFL. Another stint in the league has been mentioned for years and he had interviewed with the Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings in previous years. His departure from Michigan also comes after he missed six of the Wolverines’ 15 games over the 2023 season because of suspensions.

Harbaugh sat out the first three games of the year as part of a self-imposed suspension by Michigan relating to an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations. The suspension was self-imposed after talks between Michigan and the NCAA broke down regarding a settlement following alleged violations by Harbaugh and his staff.

He then missed the final three games of the season because of a suspension imposed by the Big Ten for the alleged advanced scouting scheme that former Michigan staffer Connor Stalions ran.

The Big Ten suspended Harbaugh for the school’s violation of the conference’s sportsmanship policy and said that he was punished because he was the face of the Michigan football program and his suspension would be a punishment that was minimally disruptive to Michigan’s players. The conference also said it had no evidence Harbaugh was aware of Stalions’ scheme.

Before coming to Michigan ahead of the 2015 season, Harbaugh coached the San Francisco 49ers for four seasons. The 49ers never had a losing record in any of those seasons, but an 8-8 season in 2014 and acrimony between Harbaugh and the front office helped lead to his return to the college ranks. Before taking the 49ers job, Harbaugh coached at Stanford for four seasons and improved the Cardinal from 4-8 in his first season to 12-1 in his final season.

What can Jim Harbaugh do with Justin Herbert?

Harbaugh arrives at a curious time for the Chargers. The good news is the team has its franchise quarterback, which many teams looking for a head coach do not.

Justin Herbert, who is locked in under center by virtue of his $262.5 million contract, has demonstrated clear talent in his four NFL seasons, averaging a career 17-game pace of 4,722 passing yards, 31.2 passing touchdowns, 11.5 interceptions, a 66.6 completion rate, 7.1 yards per pass attempt, 249 rushing yards and 3.0 rushing touchdowns. Those numbers are very good.

The bad has been the overall results for the Chargers, who are 30-32 in Herbert starts with one playoff appearance (a wild-card loss) and some truly Chargers-ian ways to lose a game. Harbaugh will be tasked with shaping a team that can make use of Herbert’s arm while building a winning team everywhere else.

The Chargers are also looking for a general manager after Tom Telesco was fired before landing the same position with the division-rival Las Vegas Raiders. You would imagine Harbaugh will have some input on how the team approaches that hire.

Michigan made 3 consecutive playoff appearances

If Harbaugh stayed at Michigan he was likely to sign a contract extension that made him one of the highest-paid coaches in college football. The idea of such a massive extension felt incredibly far away just three seasons ago after a rough 2020 season.

After a 9-4 season in 2019, Michigan went 2-4 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. The Wolverines’ struggles led to much consternation about Harbaugh’s future and he agreed to a new incentive-laden contract that lowered his base salary to stay with the school.

That was a wise decision for both parties. Michigan went 12-1 in 2021 and won the Big Ten for the first time since 2004 on the way to the school’s first College Football Playoff appearance.

That season earned Harbaugh a pay raise to over $8 million a season and slightly above where he was before his post-2020 paycut. The Wolverines made the playoff again in 2022 but were bounced out in the semifinals for the second straight season.

Despite a tumultuous season of off-field drama, Michigan went undefeated and won the school's first national championship since 1997 on Jan. 8.

Where does Michigan go from here?

Will the Wolverines look outside the building to find Harbaugh’s successor or will they stay in-house?

In line with what Wetzel reported, Moore is the obvious in-house candidate after he was the team’s interim coach during Harbaugh’s Big Ten suspension. Michigan beat Penn State and Ohio State in that stretch.

A hire of Moore or defensive coordinator Jesse Minter could largely keep Harbaugh’s staff intact and prevent as many transfer portal losses as possible. An outside hire would likely lead to a lot more overhaul within the program.