Home Depot, ‘Ted Lasso’ and an RV: What we learned at Jim Harbaugh’s Chargers introduction

He quoted “Shawshank Redemption” and raved about “Ted Lasso.” He called his brother “as tough as a two-dollar steak.” He suggested driving his RV to the Pacific Ocean and living in a trailer park for the next few months, channeling television character Jim Rockford from the 1970s drama series “The Rockford Files.”

And with that, the Jim Harbaugh era officially began.

The Los Angeles Chargers introduced Harbaugh as their new coach on Thursday afternoon at the YouTube Theater inside SoFi Stadium.

He discussed culture, coaching staff, vision, quarterback Justin Herbert and much more.

Here are my takeaways.

Culture shift underway

The Spanos family brought Harbaugh to the Chargers for one reason above all else: to win.

Harbaugh has done that at every stop in his head coaching career, college and pros. He resets cultures and builds winning programs. And while he has only been in his current role for one week, he is already getting his hands dirty in bringing that identity to the Chargers. Literally.

It might have seemed like a passing joke when Harbaugh said he got “fulfillment” out of heading to Home Depot and buying a Shop-Vac to use on remodeling the weight room at the Chargers’ Orange County facility. But I’m told that was no joke. Harbaugh actually went to Home Depot first thing Wednesday morning to buy that Shop-Vac.

Harbaugh confirmed he is bringing former Michigan strength coach Ben Herbert with him to the Chargers. Harbaugh has already started putting his fingerprints on the weight room. The plan was for Harbaugh and the Spanos family to head to the new facility in El Segundo after the presser Thursday. That facility will officially open sometime later this year. After that stop, Harbaugh said he hoped the Chargers would “maybe get some of the equipment ordered that we want.” He was smiling. It sounded like a joke. But what is becoming abundantly clear is that he is never really joking when discussing the question of, as he phrased it, “How do we make this so we can put our players in the absolute best environment to be successful?”

“What you see with Jim is what you get,” owner Dean Spanos said.

Harbaugh laid the expectations out in plain terms: “Multiple championships.”



Harbaugh aiming for ‘multiple championships’ with Chargers

“We want to be known as world champions,” he said, “and we’re going to do it or die trying.”

The Chargers needed a head coach who demanded more from the organization. That applies to the big things, like a Lombardi Trophy. It starts with the little things like elevating the weight room.

“Players come in here and everything’s organized and you’re going to see that things are changing, things are different,” Harbaugh said. “We want to get into that center of player development. That weight room, let’s have at it. You hungry? You want to eat? This is an all-you-can-eat buffet right here. Let’s get that work in, and that’s what the players have been saying back to me. ‘Let’s get it, Coach.’ So let’s go.”

Harbaugh recounted telling Dean Spanos that he is “hungry to win.” Spanos’ response? “I’m starving.”

“I have no doubt that it’s all about winning and winning the right way and doing everything for this organization to apex,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve got a pretty good sense of the sincerity of that. They’re sincere people, and I take them at their word. … We’re working toward it. I feel good about it.”

Coaching staff

Outside of Ben Herbert, Harbaugh did not confirm any other additions to the coaching staff or organization.

Jesse Minter, Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator at Michigan, is expected to take the same role on Harbaugh’s Chargers staff. Harbaugh said Thursday that Minter is a “tremendous coach.” But he said the team is still “going through the process right now” as far as hiring Minter.

Harbaugh’s son, Jay, is also expected to join his Chargers staff. Jay Harbaugh was on Harbaugh’s Michigan staff from 2015 to 2023, most recently as special teams coordinator and safeties coach. Harbaugh had a similar response on that front. “Haven’t made the final decisions on the staff yet,” he said.

The other two coordinator spots will be crucial hires. Harbaugh did provide a clue when discussing new Chargers general manager Joe Hortiz, who was in attendance at the news conference Thursday.

“He knows, potentially, some of the systems that we’re going to put in on defense and offense,” Harbaugh said of Hortiz.

Hortiz joins the Chargers from the Baltimore Ravens. Mike Macdonald spent the last two seasons as the Ravens defensive coordinator before he was hired as Seattle Seahawks head coach this week. Before the Ravens, Macdonald was Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator at Michigan. Minter took over for Macdonald at Michigan in 2022. So that through-line is easy to discern.

The more interesting tidbit is that Hortiz could be familiar with the offensive system, as well. Notably, Greg Roman spent six seasons on the Ravens’ offensive staff, including as offensive coordinator from 2019 to 2022. Roman was offensive coordinator for Harbaugh’s four-year run as head coach in San Francisco from 2011 to 2014. Could Roman be who Harbaugh is alluding to?

On the special teams front, the logical decision for the organization is retaining Ryan Ficken, who groomed the unit from a bottom-feeder to one of the top groups in the league over the last two seasons. Harbaugh said he has been “having the conversations with” Ficken. President of football operations John Spanos echoed that, saying, “there have been some ongoing conversations between Jim and the coaches we have.” That would indicate Ficken still has a chance at keeping his current role.

Harbaugh said “priority No. 1” is getting his coaching staff finalized. So I imagine the Chargers will move relatively quickly, particularly with the coordinator spots.

“Want an all-star staff that’s worthy to coach our players,” Harbaugh said.



What’s next for the Chargers after hiring Jim Harbaugh as head coach?

The offensive vision

The most insightful responses from Harbaugh came when he was asked about his vision for the offense and Justin Herbert.

“First of all, the quarterback that we have, protect him, protect his environment on the field,” Harbaugh said. “Also beef up the run game. And the play-action pass and the dropback game, we’re going to try to get as great as we can. I think we can be extraordinary there with the receivers we have and the quarterback. But also the running game. Work just as hard at that and get to be a balanced type of a football team and always protect the football. But that’s where it starts.”

It is no secret that Harbaugh wants a team identity of physicality, and that always starts on the line of scrimmage. Expect the Chargers to be investing in those parts of the roster. And there is work to be done. Specifically with the offensive line, the Chargers have an All-Pro tackle in Rashawn Slater. Beyond that, there are questions. Left guard Zion Johnson has not lived up to his draft slot. Right tackle Trey Pipkins is coming off a down year. Center Corey Linsley is set to retire.

“A tough team, a resilient team, a relentless team, a physical team is what we’re going to aspire to be,” Harbaugh said. “Don’t let the powder blues fool you.”

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Jim Harbaugh, mimicking his reaction to meeting Justin Herbert, wants to provide an offensive environment to help his QB thrive. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

Harbaugh was asked about traits he would be looking for in an offensive coordinator. He said his first question to any candidate would be, “What kind of unit do you envision?” The next question, he said, would be, “Tell me about the offensive line. Go through that position. That’s where it starts.”

What is the best way to maximize Herbert? The previous regime put a ton on his plate because they felt like Herbert was capable of handling it. With Harbaugh, the plan, at least based on these initial comments, is to try and make Herbert’s life easier. To take some of that weight off his shoulders. That starts with protection, of course, which was also a priority for the last coaching staff. But where that staff fell short was building a viable running game. The Chargers ranged from mediocre to horrific in that department in the Brandon Staley-Tom Telesco years.

Harbaugh hopes to change that.

Harbaugh said he is in the process of watching “every one” of Herbert’s NFL snaps.

“I’m waking up real early in the morning these days going, I got to bring it,” Harbaugh said. “I got to bring my A game in every sense of the word. And I want to get a coaching staff put together and hired that’s going to be worthy of coaching not only Justin but (safety) Derwin (James) and all the guys.

“I really think this is a talented group that’s been assembled here. That’s what’s going to motivate. That’s what’s going to drive. So I’m really thinking about my accountability and just making sure that I’m ready and the things that I tell him are going to be exact because I’ve looked at it and watched it. But it’s going to a team effort all the way. I’m excited about the challenge. Let’s see if I’m man enough, a good enough coach so that all of his hard work can be realized. I want to work really hard so that his hard work is going to be realized — Justin and every player on our football team.”

Final notes

• Hortiz will meet with the media Tuesday for his introductory news conference. Both Dean and John Spanos stopped short of saying explicitly who, between Harbaugh and Hortiz, will have the final say over personnel. The only sure thing they revealed about the power structure is that both Harbaugh and Hortiz will report directly to John Spanos.

Said John Spanos: “The healthiest of healthy organizations have to have a collaborative process. And it’s OK to have a disagreement or a difference of opinion on a player, but you have to be able to work through that together. And if you’re ever in a situation where you’re having to kind of look up in the contract, well, who has final say here, you’ve got much bigger problems on your hands, and that’s not what we’re going to have. We’re going to have a collaborative effort.”

• Hortiz had worked with Jim’s brother John Harbaugh in Baltimore since 2008. That connection was crucial in Hortiz landing the GM job. Dean Spanos said Harbaugh had “some input” in the GM hire. Harbaugh had this to say on the connection: “Nobody I trust more than my brother, and when my brother says somebody is good and, ‘You and Joe are going to get along great and you’re going to be a great team,’ I know it’s going to be good and it’s going to be dynamic.”

• We’ll end with one of many Harbaughisms to come from this presser. He was discussing his mentality while he was playing in the NFL for the Chargers, in 1999-2000: “I’m going to play as long as I can, then coach, then die.”

(Top photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)

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