Jim Harbaugh's first season with the Chargers: What history tells us

Los Angeles Chargers OTA Offseason Workout
Los Angeles Chargers OTA Offseason Workout / Ric Tapia/GettyImages

Jim Harbaugh was the biggest name in the head coaching market this past winter. After hiring multiple first-time head coaches, the LA Chargers finally struck gold and won the Harbaugh sweepstakes.

Now, even though the roster did not improve very much, there are higher expectations for the Bolts in 2024. Harbaugh is viewed as a bona fide winner who has had success everywhere he has turned. This is exactly the kind of winning stability Chargers fans have yearned for.

But will it be an instant turnaround? Or will it take time? Every situation is different but Chargers fans can look at Harbaugh's past to properly form expectations for what the 2024 season might look like.

What can Chargers fans expect out of Jim Harbaugh's first season?

Jim Harbaugh's first season with USD: 7-4 record

Harbaugh's first head coaching job was with the University of San Diego and the team actually took a step back in his first season. USD went from 8-3 in 2003 to 7-4 in 2004 but that does not tell the entire story of his tenure with the program.

In both of his next two seasons, Harbaugh led USD to an 11-1 record and a Pioneer Football League Championship. This created a culture at USD that continued to be followed even after Harbaugh left the program.

San Diego won the title again in 2007 without Harbaugh. The program then went on to win another nine championships between 2011 and 2021, including six in a row from 2014 through 2019.

Jim Harbaugh's first season with Stanford: 4-8 record

Harbaugh's first season with Stanford does not appear to be great on paper with an 4-8 record. However, considering the Cardinal went 1-11 the year prior, a 4-8 record was actually an upgrade. One of the four wins was against No. 2 ranked USC, who would go on to win the Rose Bowl that season.

Stanford only improved to five wins the next season before the program really started to find its groove in Harbaugh's third year. An 8-4 record in 2009 led Stanford to its first bowl game since 2001 (a 27-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl).

Stanford righted that wrong with an 11-1 season and a victory in the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech. Harbaugh left the team as the No. 4 ranked team in the country with Andrew Luck as its quarterback.

Jim Harbaugh's first season with 49ers: 13-3 record

The results were immediate for Harbaugh in San Francisco. Harbaugh took over a 6-10 49ers team and quickly righted the ship with a 13-3 season. Chargers fans are hoping this is what he does in Los Angeles as a seven-win improvement would make the Chargers a 12-5 team next season.

Harbaugh made it all the way to the NFC Championship in his first season with the 49ers, losing to the New York Giants in overtime. Just two years into his NFL coaching career, Harbaugh would lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl, losing to his brother John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens.

After losing in the NFC Championship the following season and then having a disappointing fourth year, Harbaugh left the NFL entirely to return to college football with his alma mater.

Jim Harbaugh's first season with Michigan: 10-3 record

Like in San Francisco, Harbaugh's impact was felt immediately in Ann Arbor. After a 5-7 season which was the standard for Michigan at the time, Harbaugh led the Wolverines to a 9-3 record and win in the Citrus Bowl.

Harbaugh's goal with Michigan wasn't to win a Bowl game right away. Heck, it might not have even been to win the National Championship (which he was still able to do). It was to restore prestige to one of college football's oldest programs that had lost its way.

Harbaugh did exactly that and leaves Michigan in a much better place than he found it. Chargers fans can only hope that is what happens in Los Angeles.