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Chargers hiring Jim Harbaugh: L.A.’s new head coach returning to NFL after leading Michigan to national title

The Los Angeles Chargers are nearing a deal to hire Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh as their next head coach, a source tells CBS Sports.

Harbaugh has long been the top target for the Chargers, and the coach has been looking to jump back to the NFL ranks the last several years. Winning the national championship at Michigan, his alma mater, was crucial for Harbaugh to comfortably leave for the NFL.

Harbaugh, 60, has won everywhere he has coached. He went 29-6 at the University of San Diego before turning Stanford around after just three years. In just four years with the San Francisco 49ers, he went to three NFC championship games and narrowly lost Super Bowl XLVII. The last nine years he’s helmed Michigan, and in the last three years he’s gone undefeated against Ohio State and made it to three College Football Playoffs. Now Michigan will look to fill his shoes, which won’t be easy.

Harbaugh initially interviewed with the Chargers on Jan. 15, and there was always a strong desire to make it to a second interview. That took place Tuesday at the team facilities. Harbaugh is expected to bring Jesse Minter, the Michigan defensive coordinator, with him to L.A, according to sources.

The Chargers search committee consisted of team owner Dean Spanos, president of football operations John Spanos, president of business operations A.G. Spanos, EVP and chief operating officer Jeanne Bonk, chief of staff and counselor Fred Maas, VP of cultural programs and development James Collins, chief administrative officer Catherine Iste and EVP of football administration/player finance Ed McGuire.

Harbaugh flirted with a return to the league each of the last two years. He interviewed twice for the Vikings job following the 2021 season. Last year, he and the Denver Broncos had strong mutual interest, according to multiple sources, but ultimately the two sides did not get a deal done. One source said Harbaugh opted against further pursuing the Broncos last year when he determined he had a good chance to win the national title at Michigan in the 2023 season.

CBS Sports previously reported Panthers owner David Tepper had a conversation with Harbaugh after the coach — or someone on his behalf — called Carolina multiple times during last year’s coaching cycle. The Panthers never officially interviewed Harbaugh in either of their two coaching searches.

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Harbaugh did meet in person with Falcons owner Arthur Blank on Jan. 16 for an initial interview. He and the team had tentatively set up another in-person interview for later this week, but that obviously won’t take place. Atlanta and former Patriots head coach Bill Belichick remain linked as the Falcons continue their head-coaching search with more scheduled in-person interviews this week.

The Chargers interviewed 15 coaches for their vacant position, but Harbaugh was always the leading candidate so long as he was ready to jump back to the NFL. L.A. interviewed most of the candidates virtually, but it did bring in former Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and former Stanford head coach David Shaw for in-person interviews last week.

Those two external interviews with candidates with a diverse background fulfilled the league’s Rooney Rule, and it allowed the Chargers to move forward with the Harbaugh hire without needing to bring in another coach in person.

The hiring of Harbaugh is a splash hire for a Chargers franchise in need of fresh leadership. Since 2010, the Chargers have gone to the playoffs three times and won just two postseason games.

The Chargers fired Brandon Staley after two-plus years with the team. Staley, a former defensive coordinator and fast-riser in the pro coaching ranks, compiled a 24-24 record but failed to produce a playoff victory. L.A.’s 27-point wild-card collapse last year against the Jaguars put Staley on notice for the 2023 season, and his 63-21 defeat against the Raiders in Week 15 sealed his fate.

Harbaugh is tasked with maximizing Justin Herbert as the quarterback enters his early prime. The Chargers haven’t won the AFC West since 2009, and they’ll face a Kansas City team twice a year that has dominated both the division and the conference.

The Chargers now need to hire a general manager after firing long-time GM Tom Telesco in Week 15. The team ran its search for a head coach and GM concurrently, and L.A. interviewed nine GM candidates. A majority of the candidates had some level of personal familiarity with Harbaugh or his agent, Don Yee.

But until Wednesday, the Chargers had interviewed just one candidate in person. Dawn Aponte, the NFL’s chief administrative officer, met with the team Monday for an interview that went unreported until the day of the meeting and two weeks after the conclusion of the regular season. According to a source, they brought in Giants assistant GM Brandon Brown for a second interview Wednesday, a day after their second meeting with Harbaugh.

It would not be surprising if the Chargers moved quickly to hire a GM to pair with Harbaugh. It’s unclear whether Harbaugh would have full authority over personnel matters, and sources previously indicated that wasn’t necessarily a sticking point with Harbaugh during conversations.

Meanwhile, at Michigan, Sherrone Moore has been presumed to be the next head coach. He led the Wolverines to a 4-0 record with Harbaugh serving multiple suspensions, including a three-game suspension related to the in-person scouting scandal that rocked the college football world. Moore has spent the last several weeks preparing his own staff in anticipation of Harbaugh’s departure, sources say.

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