Lead up to the Interview
Over the weekend, multiple reports emerged that University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh would be interviewing with the Los Angeles Chargers for their vacant head coaching position. This comes on the heels of rampant speculation that Harbaugh could leave Ann Arbor and return to the NFL.
Harbaugh has been the head coach at Michigan since 2015, leading the Wolverines to a 74-25 record in that span. While he has achieved success in terms of wins and losses, Harbaugh is just 2-6 in bowl games and has failed to lead Michigan to a Big Ten championship or College Football Playoff appearance.
With just one year left on his contract, negotiations on an extension with Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel had apparently hit snags in recent weeks. That led to rumors that Harbaugh could opt to return to the NFL, where he previously served as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-2014.
The Chargers job came open when they fired former head coach Brandon Staley after a disappointing 9-8 season. With star quarterback Justin Herbert in place, the Chargers present an enticing opportunity for Harbaugh or any head coaching candidate.
On Monday, Harbaugh formally interviewed for the position virtually with the Chargers’ search committee led by owner Dean Spanos. The meeting reportedly lasted several hours and included discussions not only about Harbaugh’s credentials but also his vision for the franchise.
Details from the Interview
While full details of Harbaugh’s conversation with the Chargers remain tightly guarded at the moment, some additional information has trickled out.
Harbaugh emphasized his NFL experience and success in San Francisco as evidence he could lead and develop Herbert into an elite, championship-caliber quarterback. Harbaugh worked wonders with 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, taking San Francisco to 3 straight NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl appearance. He touted his leadership, play calling acumen, and QB coaching prowess.
At Michigan, Harbaugh helped turn a struggling program back into a yearly Big Ten title and playoff contender. He believes he could engineer a similar turnaround with the Chargers. Insider reports indicate Harbaugh conveyed supreme confidence that he would get the most out of the Chargers roster.
However, Harbaugh did not simply sell himself to the Chargers brass. He probed team executives for details on their vision and commitment to building a championship program. Harbaugh has seen firsthand how critical ownership and management support are for sustained NFL success during his San Francisco tenure.
Specific topics included the team’s philosophy around free agency, the draft, analytics versus gut feel, practice regiment, and culture building. Essentially, Harbaugh wanted to ascertain if Chargers leadership is truly devoted to creating the infrastructure for long-term excellence.
What Comes Next
While most expect Harbaugh to take an NFL job this offseason if the right opportunity comes along, his candidacy is not assured yet. The Chargers reportedly have more interviews scheduled and no timeline for making a final decision.
However, some close to the situation believe if Harbaugh blows the Chargers away in a second meeting, he could be named head coach quickly, perhaps within a week. Conversely, a lukewarm follow-up session may lead the Chargers to drag things out or turn their attention fully to other candidates.
For Harbaugh, the central question is whether coaching the Chargers marks his best path back to NFL glory. Sources say he still holds some reservations about leaving his alma mater Michigan. But he also wants talented personnel and a serious championship culture, two things he apparently did not find to his full satisfaction in Ann Arbor.
From Michigan’s side, they seem likely to lose Harbaugh unless contract talks restart soon. Athletic director Manuel promises he is working hard on the matter but so far a new deal remains elusive.
What Happens if Harbaugh Leaves?
In the growing likelihood Harbaugh departs for the NFL in coming weeks, Michigan has already begun contingency planning for its next head coach.
Early betting favors these four candidates should the Wolverines job open up:
|Cincinnati Head Coach
|Iowa State Head Coach
|Alabama Offensive Coordinator
|Colorado Head Coach
Luke Fickell boasts the most impressive credentials, having led Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff last season and establishing the Bearcats as a top Group of 5 program. He built a physical, defensive-minded roster that reflects the style of play preferred by many Michigan fans.
Campbell and O’Brien offer extensive Big Ten experience from their time leading Iowa State and Penn State respectively. That proves valuable in navigating the conference landscape and rigor.
On the other hand, Deion Sanders brings invaluable name recognition and elite recruiting clout from his work at Jackson State and now Colorado. He would energize the program and fanbase almost instantly.
Of course, Michigan likely wants to keep Harbaugh if at all possible given his largely successful tenure. But with the Chargers now circling, his days in Ann Arbor seem numbered. The next week promises more drama and intrigue in this developing coaching carousel saga.
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