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One of football’s highest profile coaches is returning to the NFL

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Jim Harbaugh, LA Chargers, head coach

After nine seasons with the Michigan Wolverines, Jim Harbaugh, the head coach heralded for catapulting the college’s football program to national prominence, is trading it all in to return to the NFL.

He’s been announced as the brand new head coach of Los Angeles Chargers, a team desperate to navigate its way out of irrelevance and mobilise its fan base in LA.

Recognised for rejuvenating a storied but struggling Wolverines outfit, Harbaugh’s departure was made public on Wednesday. He leaves behind a glittering legacy at Michigan, decorated with three consecutive Big Ten titles and the crowning achievement of a recent national championship.

The LA Chargers announce Jim Harbough as new head coach

The Chargers, who grappled with an underwhelming 5-12 record last season, now anticipate a transformation under Harbaugh’s proven leadership. With his record at the Wolverines commanding respect and supremely talented quarterback in Justin Herbert waiting in Los Angeles, the Chargers hope to ascend to Super Bowl contenders. Harbough himself was once the QB of the Chargers franchise, dating back to its San Diego days.

Alongside, one-time Pro Bowler and 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Herbert, on the offensive end, Harbaugh can call on talented wide receiver and six-time Pro Bowler, Keenan Allen. Allen who was targeted 150 times in the 2023 season, the third most of his career, caught seven touchdowns throughout the year.

LA Chargers Herbert image
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is the franchises future, can Harbaugh unlock his potential?

Fresh in the memories of many Chargers fans will be Harbaugh’s efforts with the San Francisco 49ers, where in 2012 he won their first conference Championship since 1994 and led them to Super Bowl XLVII where they succumbed to a Ray Lewis and Ed Reed-inspired Baltimore Ravens coached by his twin brother John.

Despite several offensive weapons on that 2012 roster including Frank Gore, Randy Moss, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, Harbaugh organised his side into the NFL’s second-best defence for that season.

How Michigan reacted to Jim Harbaugh’s departure

Among the many Michigan University officials to sing Harbaugh’s praises, Warde Manuel, the university’s athletic director, celebrates the outgoing coach’s work ethic.

“Every day, he has worked extremely hard to elevate the stature of Michigan across the world, with the goal of winning championships and developing young men on and off the football field,” Manuel said.

Expressing a mixture of sorrow and commendation, University president, Santa Ono explained “[Jim’s] drive and ambition turned our program around, delivered our first national championship in a quarter century, and maintained Michigan as the all-time winningest team in the history of college football.”

Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan brought immense success to the program

As the university prepares for a transition, it will aim to preserve the integrity and continued success of the program, building on Harbaugh’s legacy. Not only does his return to the NFL reshape the Wolverines program, it could also shift the landscape in the professional footballing world.

During his tenure at Michigan, Harbaugh oversaw the development of several players who’d go on to establish themselves in the NFL, notably Detroit Lions defensive end, Aiden Hutchinson, a one-time Pro Bowler who went second overall in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Who’s favourite to fill the Michigan head coaching role?

Putting it simply, they’re faced with an uphill battle to find a successor capable of sustaining the Harbaugh-induced momentum into the future.

As speculation swirls, Sherrone Moore, who has performed in an interim capacity, emerges as a leading candidate. Moore has a tough act to follow given Harbaugh’s storied tenure, one punctuated by not only triumphs but also trials.

His tenure was not without controversy, including allegations of NCAA violations. Yet, even as Michigan navigates ongoing investigations, its on-the-field dominance under Harbaugh’s guidance remains unimpeachable. In sum, Harbaugh’s decision to join the Chargers marks the end of a celebrated chapter at Michigan and the beginning of an anticipated revival in Los Angeles.

Picture of Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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