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Multiple NFL teams gathering information on Michigan's Jim Harbaugh as potential coaching hire

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Multiple NFL teams have been making calls in recent weeks to gather information about Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has updated staff lists and has evaluated openings in anticipation of a potential return to pro football after Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship game, sources say.

Harbaugh also recently retained agent Don Yee, who has represented high-profile NFL clients such as legendary quarterback Tom Brady and Broncos head coach Sean Payton -- another sign Harbaugh remains interested in an NFL return after interviewing for jobs the past two years.

The Chargers are believed to be among the teams at least considering speaking with Harbaugh, who turned 60 last month. The Raiders might speak with him, as well. Harbaugh has connections to other teams that could potentially make head-coaching changes, such as the Bears, who selected him in the first round of the 1987 NFL Draft. And his resume easily makes him the most accomplished coach available, pending the outcome of Bill Belichick's upcoming meetings with Patriots brass following the conclusion of the regular season.

Harbaugh and the Wolverines had a frantic week, landing back in Ann Arbor early Tuesday morning after their Rose Bowl victory over Alabama in the semifinals, then jetting to Houston on Friday for the upcoming championship game against Washington. Once that game is over, Harbaugh's attention will turn back to his future -- and his NFL prospects could heat up quickly.

Unlike current NFL assistant coaches -- who are barred under the new anti-tampering policy sent to clubs on Friday from interviewing in-person for head coaching jobs until the conclusion of divisional playoff games on Jan. 21 -- Harbaugh is free to speak with NFL teams immediately.

A former NFL quarterback, Harbaugh has won at every stop in his coaching career, including four years as the 49ers' head coach. San Francisco was 44-19-1 in that span, reaching three consecutive NFC Championship Games and making an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII, a 34-31 loss to brother John and the Ravens. (Sources say at least one notable member of that San Francisco staff, offensive coordinator Greg Roman, is likely to be part of a potential Harbaugh NFL staff in some capacity.)

Since Harbaugh arrived at his alma mater in 2015, Michigan is 88-25 -- including 39-3 since 2021, with trips to the College Football Playoff each of the past three seasons.

But there has been friction between Harbaugh and the Michigan administration, tracing in part to a school-imposed pay cut in 2021 coming off the COVID-19 season. Multiple NCAA investigations, including into allegations of an elaborate sign-stealing operation, could yield significant discipline for Harbaugh and the program -- another factor as Harbaugh sorts out his future.

Harbaugh's intrigue with returning to the NFL is well-documented. He interviewed twice for the Vikings job two years ago and with the Broncos last year; he was believed to be the favorite in Denver, but decided to stay at Michigan and the Broncos acquired Payton instead.

Asked Saturday at media day in Houston about whether he has assured Michigan's administration he will return next season, Harbaugh said in part: "There's a calendar. I'll gladly talk about the future next week. I hope to have one. How about that? A future? I hope to have one."

Sources told last month that Harbaugh, who is under contract with Michigan through 2026, received a 10-year, $125 million contract offer from the school that would make him one of college football's highest-paid coaches, but also would require him not to accept an NFL job for the 2024 season. If he does leave for the NFL, Harbaugh wouldn't come cheap, with salaries for some top coaches now exceeding $17 million per year.

Many within the league believe Harbaugh's preferred landing spot would be the Chargers, who plan to run parallel searches for a new coach and GM after firing Brandon Staley and Tom Telesco on Dec. 15. However, sources say Harbaugh is just one of many names they're doing homework on at this time. While there are some hard decisions on older, expensive players such as Keenan Allen, Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa, the presence of 25-year-old quarterback Justin Herbert is one big reason the L.A. job is attractive. The Chargers also have a new $250 million training facility opening soon in El Segundo, Calif.

The Raiders fired Josh McDaniels and general manager David Ziegler on Oct. 31 and have been impressed with interim coach Antonio Pierce, who is 4-4 and led an upset win over the Chiefs on Christmas Day. Pierce is expected to interview for the full-time job. But owner Mark Davis also has told people for years he believes he wants a big name atop the marquee in Las Vegas, and Harbaugh certainly would fit the bill. The Raiders don't have a franchise quarterback and owe Jimmy Garoppolo another $11.25 million guaranteed in 2024. But they have an excellent stadium and training facility, an iconic brand and some superstar players. (Harbaugh also started his coaching career with the franchise as an assistant under Bill Callahan.)

The Panthers' job is also currently vacant, but sources say Carolina is unlikely to pursue Harbaugh. Other NFL head coaching jobs, including in Washington, D.C., could be open in the coming days and weeks, as well.

During previous interviews, Harbaugh was thought to only take a job that would include the hire of his preferred GM. Sources now say that's not in Harbaugh's mind. He's much more flexible than in previous years, open to a variety of structures with an acknowledgement that the structure of NFL buildings has changed since he last coached in the league.

It also remains to be seen whether Harbaugh will be on the sidelines for the start of the 2024 season, regardless of what level. Harbaugh served a school-imposed three-game suspension this season for alleged recruiting violations during the COVID-19 dead period and not cooperating with investigators, and he could still be further disciplined by the NCAA in that case, as well as for allegations against the program for an elaborate sign-stealing operation. Sources told in October that the NFL is unlikely to be a safe harbor for Harbaugh and could enforce some or all of any discipline imposed by the NCAA. At this point, however, the NCAA has not ruled in either case and generally moves at a glacial pace in such matters.

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