Why did Jim Harbaugh leave Michigan for Chargers? Super Bowl pursuit after national title drives NFL return

Jim Harbaugh considers himself a builder. He arrived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, not looking to put up a few walls and a roof and call it a home. He wanted to build a cathedral.

“You build a home, and hopefully it’s a great cathedral,” Harbaugh said in his introductory press conference. “Then afterwards, they go tell you to build another one. There’s some dirt down there, go build another home. I feel like that again. I’m at that point where even though you’ve done well and built some pretty nice homes, you have to do it again, and you have to prove it again. But I would really like to live in one permanently. That’s what I’m very hopeful for here.”

On Jan. 8, he put the final shingle on the top of the steeple. Harbaugh guided Michigan, his alma mater, to a national championship, the program’s first title-game victory in history and its 10th claimed national championship overall. Just 16 days later, he is leaving to build the next house, this one in Los Angeles with the Chargers.

The hire pairs Harbaugh with Justin Herbert and ends what has been years of speculation that Harbaugh would at some point return to the league at which he spent four years coaching the 49ers.

Harbaugh would be linked to an NFL team seemingly every year. In the past, those rumors would dissipate and Harbaugh would strongly affirm his commitment to coaching the Wolverines. But after winning the national championship, he was less committal than ever about his future, saying only that he wanted to relish winning the title.

He’s had the time now to relish the victory. Now, he’s taking a step toward what’s next.

Why Jim Harbaugh is coaching the Chargers

Harbaugh has not shied away from sharing his feelings about the NFL in the past. In 2022, he spoke with the Detroit Free Press’ Mitch Albom about why he entertained the Vikings’ job opening. He made it clear that there is still an attraction for him to coach in the NFL.

“There was a tugging at me that I was once that close to a Super Bowl and I didn’t get it,” Harbaugh said. “For better or for worse, it was something I wanted to explore. I went in thinking, ‘I’m gonna have 100 percent conviction on this, and if they [Vikings] have 100 percent conviction on this, then it’s something I’m gonna do.”

Harbaugh doubled down in the interview about the allure of pursuing a Super Bowl.

“Sure, the Super Bowl is the greatest prize in our sport,” Harbaugh said. “But winning a national championship. That’s pretty darn great. Let’s do that.”

The Vikings did not offer Harbaugh a job, and he returned to Ann Arbor. He said at the time it would be the last time he would consider a return to the NFL. The next offseason, he met with the Broncos owner, but he did not wind up going much further than that.

Harbaugh has now won the “pretty darn great” prize. Back in 2012, he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, where his team lost to a Ravens team coached by his brother, John Harbaugh.

So, why the Chargers, a team that went 5-12 in 2023? Despite its 2023 record, the team has a roster capable of winning a Super Bowl.

Star quarterback locked up for the long haul? Herbert checks that box. An offensive line capable of protecting him? It could use some work, but it will do. Weapons for Herbert? Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are stars, even if aging, injury-prone stars, though an Austin Ekeler departure could be problematic. A capable defense? Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Derwin James, Eric Kendricks, and Asante Samuel Jr. all bring star talent to the team. Add to all that the Chargers’ high draft spot — they pick fifth in the 2024 NFL Draft — and Los Angeles will be plenty capable of loading up a high-quality team in 2024.

The biggest question will be how Los Angeles handles the cap space. The Chargers are projected to be $40 million over the cap in 2024, which could provide some obstacles toward the roster looking as stout as it was in 2023. Fortunately, Harbaugh has shown an ability to get the most out of his players. His penchant for developing quarterbacks could maximize a group headlined by Herbert.

Harbaugh wants to win a Super Bowl, and the Chargers are desperate to capitalize on winning a title with their young star quarterback. After years of flirting with going back to the NFL, Harbaugh found his perfect situation.

Why Jim Harbaugh is leaving Michigan

This is the perfect timing for Harbaugh to leave the Wolverines. When he arrived, Michigan was 5-7, and Ohio State was the reigning national champion. The Wolverines had largely struggled under Brady Hoke after going 11-2 in his opening season with the team.

Harbaugh lost five straight games to the rival Buckeyes early in his tenure. Though Michigan was consistently ranked between 2015 and ’19, the team went 2-4 in a woeful COVID-shortened ’20 season. It appeared Harbaugh would be leaving Michigan, but not because he had changed the program. Rather, it appeared he had stalled.

He’s leaving Michigan in a better place than it was when he arrived. The Wolverines have won three straight games against rival Ohio State, taken home three straight Big Ten titles, and been to the College Football Playoff three years in a row. Now, they’ve added a national championship.

There’s a little bit of a cloud hanging over Harbaugh as he prepares to leave Michigan, and it likely influenced why he chose to exit the program now. The NCAA is still investigating Michigan and Harbaugh for allegedly misleading investigators over a meeting with recruits in 2020 during a dead period. It’s also investigating the program and Harbaugh for an alleged sign-stealing scandal.

For both, Harbaugh was put on a self-imposed suspension for three games each. The NCAA could still hand out more punishments for both investigations. Would he have wanted to be suspended for a significant portion of two straight seasons? It’s possible the prospect of being taken off the sideline and dealing with the NCAA for another offseason might have influenced his decision to leave.

Jim Harbaugh Michigan contract

The move to the Chargers could also come with a bit of a pay raise. Harbaugh was reportedly offered a 10-year, $125 million extension by Michigan, which would have made him among the highest-paid coaches in college football. In 2023, he had a base salary of around $7 million and earned over $11 million after hitting multiple bonuses.

Harbaugh is going to command a much larger salary in the NFL. He is considered one of the top coaching candidates and could make near the top of the market. Sean Payton is currently the highest-paid coach in the NFL at around $18 million per year. Bill Belichick had been the highest-paid coach in the NFL at around $20 million per year before leaving the Patriots.

Source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *