Jim Harbaugh is introduced as the new Head Coach of the Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers formally introduced Jim Harbaugh as their new head coach last Thursday at the YouTube theater at SoFi Stadium, in what felt like a celebration of a new era for Chargers football.

The 60-year-old Harbaugh was considered the top coaching candidate available in this years' cycle and maybe the hottest coaching candidate in years. Harbaugh has won at the college and NFL level and led Michigan to an undefeated 15-0 record and the college football national championship this year.

He turned the Stanford football team around, leading them to a 12-1 season in 2010 and the No. 4 ranking in the nation. Harbaugh's head coaching career began at the University of San Diego in 2004, where he led the USD to back-to-back 11-1 seasons in 2005 & 2006.

With the San Francisco 49ers, he led the team to three consecutive NFC Championship games, winning the NFC Conference title in the 2012 season and making it to the Super Bowl, where the 49ers lost 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens. So, why would Harbaugh leave Michigan, his alma mater, and why would he want the Chargers head coaching challenge?

The Lombardi Trophy, which goes to the winner of the Super Bowl and signifies the world champions of football would seem to be a driving force for Harbaugh's return. Coming that close to winning the Lombardi Trophy in the 2012 season seems to be a significant reason for his return to the NFL. That and the opportunity to coach franchise quarterback Justin Herbert.

"The opportunity was presented, and I felt that the Spanos family, the Chargers organization, they made it clear that they liked what I did and how I did it," Harbaugh said. "That's all you can ever want from somebody that's employing you. I have a love of Michigan but love the NFL."

Harbaugh added, "This opportunity, as my Dad would say, who's got it better than us? It was time. I know that I said this the other day, but I've only have so many sands left in the hourglass. And I want another shot. I want another shot to be simply known as world champions. The Lombardi Trophy–that's my mission".

When asked about Herbert, Harbaugh was quick with praise. "The thing that is just jumping out is this enormous talent. I'm waking up like real early in the morning these days going, 'I got to bring it, I got to bring my A game in every sense of the word.' I want to get a coaching staff put together and hired that is going to be worthy of coaching not only Justin, but (safety) Derwin [James Jr.] and all the guys. I really think that this is a talented group that's been assembled here."

To be sure, there are plenty of challenges that are facing Harbaugh and the Chargers in this offseason. First and foremost is the management of the salary cap. The Chargers are currently about $44 million over the salary cap, according to Spotrac.com. The Chargers will need to cut some key players from the roster and may be unable to re-sign some of their key free agents.

The Chargers have $24.5 million in dead cap salary for 2024, which is a salary cap charge for players no longer on the Chargers roster. Former Charger cornerback J.C. Jackson is the majority of the Chargers dead cap salary, with a dead cap charge of $20.8 million dollars.

Harbaugh has left no doubt about the type of team that he wants to put together. When asked about the type of offensive coordinator he wanted for the Chargers, Harbaugh responded with his vision and what he expects from an offensive coordinator.

"Tell me about the offensive line, go through that position," Harbaugh said. "That's where it starts. Hear that the vision is the same, that the offense is not going to turn the ball over, but is going to be able to drive, put points on the board and be physical, especially up front. A team that is tough, can block, can tackle, block on offense. We want to be balanced, run game and pass game. Have to protect the quarterback. There's a tone there. There's an example set from the coordinator that it's unselfish. The same that we want from the players, we want from our offensive coordinator, not about stats, it's about our team winning."

A constant theme with Harbaugh, one that was lacking the past three seasons with the Brandon Staley coached Chargers, is an emphasis on toughness. The emphasis on toughness will probably require the Chargers to run more 21 personnel groupings (two running backs, 1 one tight end, 2 wide receivers) or 12 personnel groupings (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers).

At this point, they don't have the personnel on the roster to make it work, particularly with so many players in free agency. Running back Austin Ekeler, tight end Gerald Everett, and running back Joshua Kelly are free agents.

The Chargers don't have a true fullback on the roster. They are going to need better blocking tight ends and more physical running backs. Wide receivers are going to need to be better blockers. That goes back to the importance of the salary cap and getting far enough under the cap to make the changes necessary for the offense that Harbaugh envisions.

The 2024 season will be interesting with Harbaugh. The 2023 Chargers team went 5-12 and wilted late in games, going 0-7 in games decided by less than three points. Harbaugh, who as a quarterback in the NFL threw for 26,000 yards and had 19 game winning drives in his 14-year career, should be an asset for Herbert and the offense. He has been there as a player and a coach.

Harbaugh was asked about the fact that 50% of the fans at Charger home games are often rooting for the other team. "My thought is pretty much what I said earlier; by your talent and by your effort, you will be known, and winning. Our team, when people look at it, that's the vision that they're going to see, that kind of football team."

If the Chargers can create a true homefield advantage at SoFi Stadium, that indeed would be the sign of a new era of Chargers football.

 

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