Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh is set to return to the NFL for his second head coaching stint. ESPN reported late Wednesday afternoon that Harbaugh is taking the Los Angeles Chargers vacancy. It will be the second time he has taken the reins of a California NFL team – his previous pro team is still in the playoffs; check out our San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl odds for an update there.
It’s worth wondering how college football coaches have fared in the pro ranks over the years. For every CFB-to-NFL success story, like former USC national championship winning coach Pete Carroll, there are a handful of flops like Matt Rhule and Urban Meyer.
Harbaugh’s four-year stint with the San Francisco 49ers between 2011 and 2014 saw him win 13, 11, 12 and 8 games by year, with San Francisco reaching the Super Bowl in 2012. In all, the team went 5-3 in the postseason under his leadership before he left to coach his alma mater in Ann Arbor.
BetCalifornia.com, your source for California sports betting updates, used ProFootballReference.com to find the win percentage and playoff appearances of all coaches hired by NFL teams from college head coaching jobs. Using only head coaches hired since 2010, we found the averages of how the college to NFL shift goes in Year 1. Note that Urban Meyer did not complete his first season with Jacksonville; the Jaguars fired him 13 games into the 2021 season.
CFB to NFL Head Coaches (Since 2010)
Pete Carroll Bucked Trend To Win Super Bowl
Even if there were legal California sportsbook apps, you would not find this analysis there.
Carroll is the best NFL success story on our list, but he had previous head coaching experience in the pros, leading the New York Jets and New England Patriots between 1994 and 1999. He went 97-19 during his college run with the Trojans, taking USC to a BCS championship in 2004 and an AP title in 2003. USC won the Pac-10 conference seven years in a row between 2002 and 2008.
He followed that up by returning to the pro ranks for a second go-round and won the Super Bowl in the 2013 season. The guided the Seahawks for 14 years, posting a 139-89-1 record (.606 winning percentage) before the team fired him this month.
But even Carroll struggled at first in Seattle, going 7-9 (.438) in 2010 and 2011, before going 11-5, 13-3 and 12-4 in succession with two Super Bowl berths and that title in 2013. That shows how hard the shift is from the college game to the NFL for even the best of coaches.
Early NFL Success Not Guaranteed For CFB Coaches
Of the eight head coaches that moved up from the college ranks to the NFL between 2010 and 2023, only two made the postseason in their first seasons with their given teams. Harbaugh was one of them, in 2011 with San Francisco. The other was Chip Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013.
Kelly went 10-6 with the Eagles, kicking off the first of two straight 10-win seasons before Philly bottomed out by going 6-9 in Kelly's third season when he took over roster control. Kelly was fired with one game left in the 2015 season.
The worst first-season was Meyer with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021. He was 2-11 and was fired before the end of an awful season, with his NFL foray lasting just 13 games.
In total, the eight CFB-to-NFL coaches since 2010 have posted a .438 win percentage between them in their first seasons with their new teams.
Chargers fans are likely to dream that Harbaugh can pick up where he left off with the Niners, rather than backsliding to the level of fellow CFB giants like Meyer, who faceplanted in the NFL ranks out of the gate. Fans around the state are also waiting for sport betting, which would lead to the best California sportsbook promos at BetCalifornia.com.