Jim Harbaugh arrived at Michigan with many expecting him to return to the NFL before long. Instead, he stayed for nine years. During that time, he brought an underperforming, blue blood of college football to the peak, capping off his run in Ann Arbor with a national championship and an undefeated season in 2023.
Now, the question on everyone’s mind is whether he is done in college football or bound for the NFL.
There is still the possibility Harbaugh returns to college football to coach at his alma mater. He has flirted with NFL jobs on a seemingly annual cycle, yet he’s returned to Michigan each year.
Harbaugh has accomplished his goals of building up Michigan to a national power again, and with a national championship under his belt, he’s checked off the biggest accomplishment in college football.
MORE: Could Harbaugh be a candidate for Cowboys if McCarthy is fired?
If he returns to Michigan, an uncertain future awaits him. He’d come back on a mega-extension that makes him among the highest-paid coaches in the sport, but he also faces the conclusion of a pair of NCAA investigations that could see him suspended for parts of the 2024 season, marking his second straight campaign being sidelined for extensive action.
He also faces the prospect of a potential rebuild, with his quarterback, star running back, and a litany of other major contributors leaving for the NFL. All this while dealing with a new Big Ten that will feature several former Pac-12 standout programs, an ever-changing NIL and transfer landscape, and an expanded College Football Playoff.
Harbaugh has talked often about the allure of a Super Bowl, at one point calling it the “greatest prize in our sport” and describing the national championship as “pretty darn great.” After he did not get an offer from the Vikings in 2021, he said he was done pursuing NFL jobs and that it was “the last time.”
That is clearly no longer the case. There is more smoke than ever around the rumors of Harbaugh leaving for the NFL. It appears that for Harbaugh, this year could wind up being the make-or-break offseason. He will either sign the extension and continue his career with Michigan or depart for the NFL, leaving a shining legacy with the Wolverines and finally work to achieve his long-held goal of winning a Super Bowl.
Here’s the latest on the rumors surrounding Harbaugh’s future.
Jim Harbaugh coaching rumors
Discussions between Chargers and Harbaugh are underway
Date: Tuesday, Jan. 23
CBS Sports’ NFL insider Josina Anderson reported at 4:12 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 23 that “discussions with Harbaugh and the Chargers are now underway as I type this, per source.”
Chargers in ‘striking distance’ of deal with Harbaugh
Date: Tuesday, Jan. 23
As ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Monday, Harbaugh is in Los Angeles on Tuesday for his second meeting with the Chargers. According to NFL Network’s Mike Garofalo, it feels like the two sides are “in the zone where something can happen” in the near future.
The second meeting is expected to pertain to staffing in both Los Angeles’ front office for the general manager, as well as on the coaching staff.
From The Insiders on #NFLPlus and @nflnetwork: The #Chargers and Jim Harbaugh are now in striking distance of getting a deal done as Harbaugh is in LA today for another meeting with the team. pic.twitter.com/YJhNzRzOcP
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) January 23, 2024
Harbaugh set to have second interview with Chargers
Date: Monday, Jan. 22
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Harbaugh is set to have a second meeting with the Chargers. Harbaugh was already viewed as a top candidate for the Los Angeles job, so this may establish him as the favorite to land that position — provided that he doesn’t prefer another job.
Harbaugh interviews with Falcons
Date: Tuesday, Jan. 16
Jim Harbaugh has had an interview with the Falcons, the team announced late Tuesday. It was Harbaugh’s second interview with an NFL team this week. The Falcons also interviewed Bill Belichick on Monday as they conduct a high-profile search for Arthur Smith’s replacement.
Harbaugh expected to be a ‘strong candidate’ for Chargers, ‘mutual interest’ between sides
Date: Monday, Jan. 15
As Harbaugh is slated to meet with the Chargers on Monday, reports are that there is “mutual” interest between the coach and NFL team. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Monday that Harbaugh is believed to be a “strong candidate” for Los Angeles.
Rapoport confirmed the Chargers would not be able to hire Harbaugh officially until after completing more in-person interviews with minority candidates with either coaches that are not currently employed by an NFL team or wait until next week to interview those who are currently working for other teams.
From @NFLGameDay Kickoff: Jim Harbaugh interviews with the #Chargers, and Caleb Williams declares for the NFL Draft. Plus, while Sean Desai will reemerge as a DC candidate this cycle, all eyes are on Matt Patricia in today’s #Eagles game. pic.twitter.com/mq0qu9MVP2
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 15, 2024
Chargers meeting with Harbaugh
Date: Monday, Jan. 15
The Harbaugh NFL coaching sweepstakes begins on Monday. The Athletic reported Harbaugh is slated to have an in-person meeting with the Chargers, a team that has been by far the most connected with Harbaugh as a coaching candidate.
The Chargers have already interviewed former Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier in-person and have lined up virtual interviews with 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. Per the Rooney Rule, Los Angeles has to complete one more in-person interview with a minority candidate. League rules prohibit teams from interviewing candidates currently employed by NFL teams until after the divisional round.
The expectation with Harbaugh is that he will take time to consider his options, with Michigan officials noting they don’t believe it’s a guarantee he will leave, though they understand why he would leave for the NFL.
Michigan AD says Wolverines working on new Harbaugh deal
Date: Saturday, Jan. 13
The Wolverines were in the midst of their parade and celebration over winning a national championship on Saturday. While at the Crisler Center, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel addressed a topic that he said he had been asked nearly 500 times.
“I am working on getting this man a new contract, I promise you,” Manuel said.
A new contract has been on the table since before the national championship, per reports, with the Wolverines reportedly placing a 10-year, $125 million deal in front of Harbaugh.
Should he pursue a job in the NFL, it’s possible the money could be even loftier. Given his previous success with the 49ers and with the Wolverines, Harbaugh could likely command a large paycheck. According to NBC Sports, Mike Tomlin, at $12.5 million per year, was the fifth highest-paid coach in 2023. Bill Belichick at $20 million was the highest paid. It’s possible Harbaugh falls somewhere between those two to slot in as a top-five highest-paid coach.
Harbaugh declines to address future after title game
Date: Monday, Jan. 8
Manuel was quick to publicly say that he wanted to get Harbaugh a new contract. Harbaugh, for his part, has been far less public about his decision.
Asked after the national championship victory, Harbaugh said he just wanted to enjoy the title and not be asked about his future.
“I just want to enjoy this. I hope you give me that. Can I have that?” Harbaugh said. “Does it always have to be what’s next, what’s the future?”
At the time, the Wolverines’ president and athletic director were much more non-committal on his future. Manuel said he wanted Harbaugh and the team to celebrate the win and that “we’ll deal with that when we deal with it.” President Santa Ono said he is “doing my very best. Hopefully he will stay.”
Commanders among teams interested in Harbaugh
Date: Monday, Jan. 8
Washington decided to part ways with Ron Rivera after four years with the team. According to Bleacher Report’s Jordan Schultz, the Commanders are among the teams interested in Harbaugh.
Schultz reported Washington’s advisor, former Warriors general manager Bob Myers, has reached out to Harbaugh’s agent, Don Yee, who also represents Tom Brady and Sean Payton. Myers is leading the search for Washington’s new head coach.
Yee was hired by Harbaugh on New Year’s Eve, a sign many believed Harbaugh intended to more fully pursue NFL offers than in past years.
‘Multiple NFL teams’ considering Harbaugh as an option
Date: Saturday, Jan. 6
As would be expected, several teams are likely to be interested in Harbaugh beyond just the Chargers. NFL Network insiders Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported there are “multiple NFL teams” that started to gather information on Harbaugh.
Harbaugh has also reportedly updated staff lists and considered the different openings across the league if he winds up returning to the NFL.
It had previously been reported by The Washington Post that his hiring of Yee could be over interest in consideration for the Raiders’ head coaching job, though Las Vegas has had several players make strong cases for interim coach Antonio Pierce being retained as the full-time head coach.