If a “BELIEVE” sign happens to materialize in the Chargers’ dressing room in the next few weeks, we’ll know why.
“I tried to emulate Ted Lasso in a lot of ways,” Jim Harbaugh said Thursday afternoon, in his official introduction as the Chargers’ head coach, referencing the title character of one of his favorite shows. “I think there’s a life lesson in every one of those episodes.”
And yeah, I know: Where else but the shadow of Hollywood would life and art mesh together just so?
Maybe there’s a correlation of sorts, if ever so slight. In the fictional world that the Apple TV+ show inhabited, Richmond AFC was a forlorn club, one taken for granted by the rest of English soccer. In real life, the Chargers are known primarily for … well, for Chargering, which is sort of how we got here.
But give owner Dean Spanos and his son John, president of football operations, credit in this case. They didn’t go the safe, economical route by giving an assistant his first head coaching job. Harbaugh, fresh off a national championship celebration at the University of Michigan, is returning to the NFL largely because he sees a chance to make history as just the fourth coach to win a college national championship and a Super Bowl.
And, as he made clear during Thursday’s introduction at the YouTube Theater in Inglewood, on the SoFi Stadium grounds, he’s not afraid to recite his goals publicly.
“We stated the goal,” he said. “I’m not going to be shy about stating that, you know, that’s what we want to do. We want to be known as as world champions. And we’re going to work at that; we’re going to do it or die trying.”
What’s the bigger hurdle: The fictional coach with no previous soccer experience getting his team (spoiler alert, for those who haven’t yet watched) promoted to the Premier League? Or overcoming 60 real-life seasons of often frustrating history and bringing the Chargers their first Lombardi Trophy?
Or is it maybe doing the latter and turning SoFi into a true home environment on Chargers game days, with powder blue dominating the stands? Have we said this is a gargantuan ambition?
“I only got got so many hours – sand left in the hourglass,” he said. “And I want another shot, one of those shots at (being) simply known as the world champions, (winning) the Lombardi Trophy. You know, that’s my mission. And, I’m happy, grateful to have this opportunity and already attacking it.”
Tor recap, he has a history of turning downtrodden teams into very good ones. At Stanford, he took a team that was 1-11 the year before he got there, and 16-40 in a five-year stretch, to 8-5 within three years and then 12-1 and an Orange Bowl victory – and if you’re a USC fan you may forever remember, and grumble about, losing 55-21 to the Cardinal at the Coliseum in 2009 and Pete Carroll snapping “What’s your deal?” at Harbaugh afterward.
(Carroll, by the way, is one of the three coaches who have won it all in college and the NFL. The others: Jimmie Johnson and Barry Switzer.)
Harbaugh took over a 49ers franchise that had gone 46-82 with no playoff appearances over its previous eight seasons and, within four years, got them to three NFC championship games and a Super Bowl – though denied that gleaming silver trophy by older brother John and the Baltimore Ravens – before a split with management. And at Michigan, which had lapsed into mediocrity under Brady Hoke, Harbaugh’s teams were 89-25 and capped a 15-0 2023 season by winning the crystal football just 3½ weeks ago.
His new assignment? This should be a much better Chargers team than this past season’s 5-12 record would indicate, though the talent on this roster is about to run up against an unforgiving salary cap. According to overthecap.com, they’re $45.8 million over at this moment with 49 players under contract.
But quarterback Justin Herbert isn’t a bad starting point. Harbaugh indicated Thursday that such talent and potential create immense possibilities, but it also implies an amount of responsibility on his own shoulders. For one thing, he said he intends to study every single one of Herbert’s NFL snaps on video in the coming weeks.
“The thing that’s jumping out is just this enormous talent,” he said. “I’m waking up, like, real early in the morning these days, going, ‘I gotta 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’s going to be worthy of coaching not only Justin, but, you know, Derwin (James Jr.) and all the guys.
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“I really think this is a talented group that’s been assembled here, and that’s what’s going to motivate me. That’s what’s going to drive me. … I’m excited about the challenge. You know, let’s see if I’m man enough, you know, a good enough coach so that all his hard work can be realized.”
The organizational goal is to turn the Chargers into, if not destination viewing, at least on equal terms with their SoFi Stadium landlords, the Rams.
The buzz that comes from signing the best available coach on the market? Winning the press conference is a good start, but only a start.