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Welcome to the AFC West Jim Harbaugh

On Wednesday, the AFC West added one of the best coaches in college football. Former Michigan Football Head Coach and NCAA Champion Jim Harbaugh has agreed to become the next head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers. He joins a crowded list of accomplished head coaches and inherits a mess.

If any of these rumors surfacing about Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid stepping down after his team wins their third Super Bowl in six seasons were true, Jim Harbaugh would have been the perfect successor to Reid.

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Instead, he goes to a division rival where he’ll spend the next five years of his coaching career coveting the one thing he has left to accomplish – hoisting a Lombardi Trophy. His brother, John Harbaugh, has one during his tenure with the Baltimore Ravens. Jim recently led Michigan to the national title, but his work in college is done.

This will be the second sting for Jim in the NFL. He coached the San Francisco 49ers for five seasons but lost Super Bowl XLVII to his brother John. In 2024, they’ll face off again when the Ravens visit the Chargers later this year.

Harbaugh had a lot of success in San Francisco. He had a veteran quarterback in Alex Smith, but injuries put the ball into the hands of rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He took the 49ers to the Super Bowl but fell flat against the vaunted Ravens defense.

After the 2014 season, he and the 49ers parted ways, and he began an eight-year odyssey going back to his Alma Mater at Michigan. That path finally produced the national championship he coveted, but it took eight years to get it done.

I caution Chargers fans that he will instantly make Los Angeles a team that can compete with the Chiefs, Broncos, or Raiders in 2024. They have major cap woes and an old roster, and honestly, he’s going to battle two Super Bowl-winning head coaches, Sean Payton and Andy Reid.

The appeal for Harbaugh and the Chargers rests solely on Justin Herbert’s potential. Yet, in four NFL seasons, he’s produced great numbers, but his career numbers as a starter are underwhelming.

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He’s a Phillip Rivers clone, and I don’t expect he can make him a perennial championship quarterback, even with Harbaugh at the helm. However, he will elevate his game, but at the core, he has some fundamental obstacles to overcome. Herbert, once again, must learn a new offense. He’s not been good with change thus far in his NFL career.

Of course, he was significantly disabled while playing under Head Coach Brandon Staley, and that, more than anything else, stunted his potential. Still, he put up great numbers, but he’s 30-32 in the regular season and 0-1 in the playoffs.

He’ll be 26 years old this year, and Harbaugh will get the most out of him. However, to do that, he needs to change his game. If the Chargers will challenge the Chiefs in the future, especially if Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid stay together for the next five seasons, Harbaugh will need Herbert to become a game manager like Alex Smith.

The Chargers have some great pieces, but Harbaugh has inherited some heavy cap numbers. Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa and Derwin James on defense and Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Corey Linsley on offense.

Luckily, Herbert got his money, but everyone else is expendable outside of Bosa. Yet, it would kill their salary cap next year, not to mention the dead money they’ll need to carry in future years. The bottom line is that blowing up the Chargers might be a more straightforward long-term fix to clean up Tom Telesco’s significant mistakes with the team.

It took Harbaugh eight years to overcome the dominance he faced each year versus Ohio State. However, he found the path to defeat them in the last two years, which put his team into the College Football Championship round.

I suspect the same process will happen with the Chargers. He has the second-best quarterback in the division, partially by default because neither Denver nor the Raiders have their 2024 quarterback on the roster.

Ultimately, I’m shocked the Spanos family opened their wallets and gave Harbaugh the five-year contract he demanded. They did that because they were tired of losing to the Chiefs. It is suitable for their fan base, who now hope Harbaugh can fix the roster and expectations.

One thing is sure: the Chargers are a better football team today with Harbaugh as their head coach than they were at any point in the last four seasons.

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