Jim Harbaugh to Chargers is bad for Falcons, good for Georgia Bulldogs

Michigan poses less of a threat with Harbaugh’s departure
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh celebrates the team's win in the national championship NCAA college football playoff game against Washington, Jan. 8, 2024, in Houston. Harbaugh will be the coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, leaving Michigan after capping his ninth season as coach of college football’s winningest program with the school’s first national championship since 1997, two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team hasn’t made the announcement. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vasquez, File)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh celebrates the team's win in the national championship NCAA college football playoff game against Washington, Jan. 8, 2024, in Houston. Harbaugh will be the coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, leaving Michigan after capping his ninth season as coach of college football’s winningest program with the school’s first national championship since 1997, two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team hasn’t made the announcement. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vasquez, File)

The Falcons couldn’t get a second interview with Jim Harbaugh before he picked the Chargers. That was a setback for Falcons team owner Arthur Blank. Harbaugh wasn’t the only available coach candidate who’s done a lot of winning in the NFL. He was the only one with that resume who isn’t past retirement age and facing questions about whether he’s still got it.

Harbaugh’s decision to return to the NFL is a win for the Georgia Bulldogs. That’s one less challenger for them to worry about as they seek to win their third national championship in four years.

Michigan is looking for a new coach after Harbaugh led the Wolverines to the 2023 national championship. That’s another positive development for Georgia during what had been a rough offseason. It started with very good news of quarterback Carson Beck returning instead of declaring for an NFL draft that’s loaded with top QB prospects. That was followed by a steady stream of headlines about other good players leaving Athens.

But, since then, other top College Football Playoff contenders have suffered more attrition.

Nick Saban’s retirement caused several Alabama players to join a parade out the door. No program lost more talent via the transfer portal, per 247Sports. The Crimson Tide fell from Georgia’s main rival to just another challenger.

Texas had nearly as many top players declare for the draft or transfer portal as Georgia. The Longhorns also must replace assistant coach Jeff Choate, who helped build a good defense before becoming Nevada’s new head coach. The Longhorns need to stay good on defense if they hope to thrive during their first season in the SEC.

Alabama and Texas falling back leaves Ohio State as the team most likely to stop Georgia. The oddsmakers agree with my view.

The Bulldogs are 3-1 to win the national championship. That’s an implied probability of 23%. Ohio State is 5-1 to win the title (implied probability of 16.7%). Texas is 7-1 (12.5%) and every other team is an 11-1 or longer shot to win the championship.

The Buckeyes have had the best offseason among the elite programs. Wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is the only NFL draft early entrant who’s projected to be selected within the first two rounds. Four Buckeyes who might have been drafted within that range decided to stay in Columbus: running back TreVeyon Henderson, edge rusher JT Tunimoloau, wide receiver Emeka Egbuka and cornerback Denzel Burke.

Ohio State had more good players coming in through the portal than leaving. The Buckeyes are No. 8 in the 247 Sports transfer team rankings. They got two of the best transfers from Alabama, safety Caleb Downs and quarterback Julian Sayin, plus ex-Ole Miss star running back Quinshon Judkins. Ohio State’s 2024 class is No. 3 in the 247 Sports composite ranking behind Georgia and Alabama.

Offensive regression is a big reason why the Buckeyes failed to make the CFP field last season. That shouldn’t be a problem in 2024.

Ryan Day has some good options to replace quarterback Kyle McCord, who transferred to Syracuse. Kansas State transfer Will Howard ranks among the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. Behind him are former five-star recruits Sayin and Air Noland of Langston Hughes High. The skill corps includes two players who could be the top draft picks for their position next year, Henderson and Ugbuka.

Georgia has a lot more roster questions than Ohio State. The expectation is that Kirby Smart will find answers among his young players. No one can match UGA’s talent base now that so many of Saban’s former recruits will play elsewhere. Still, even Georgia could feel the effects of lots of good players leaving at the same time.

Five Bulldogs underclassmen declared the NFL draft: tight end Brock Bowers, offensive tackle Amarius Mims, cornerback Kamari Lassiter, safety Javon Bullard and center Sedrick Van Pran. Top wide receiver Ladd McConkey and leading rushers Daijun Edwards and Kendall Milton are among the Georgia players who decided to go pro instead of using an extra season of eligibility. Star linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson and top pass-rush prospect Marvin Jones Jr. decided to transfer.

The biggest holes to fill for Georgia are at tight end, wide receiver and along the defensive front. It seems unlikely that Georgia’s defense and offensive line will remain below their usual high standard for two years in a row. But it’s also doubtful that the Bulldogs will have a playmaker like Bowers. We’ll see if Smart can mold the Bulldogs into a championship team again.

At least Georgia won’t have to worry much about Michigan being in the way. The Wolverines were an unlikely champion to begin with. Harbaugh won it all with less player talent than any other title-winning coach. Good luck to his replacement in pulling that off with whatever players are left after the inevitable defections during the 30-day transfer window.

Harbaugh was in demand as an NFL coach because he once helped turned around the 49ers. He was 44-19 at San Francisco from 2011-14 with an NFC championship among three playoff appearances. Harbaugh will coach a better quarterback with the Chargers (Justin Herbert) than he would have with the Falcons, who don’t even have an average starter. Harbaugh also could have personnel control because Chargers team owner Dean Spanos hired him without a general manager in place.

Blank missed out on the chance to hire Harbaugh. It’s a big loss for the Falcons. It’s another offseason win for Georgia.

FALCONS TIMELINE

Here is the current timeline of interviews — virtual and in-person — conducted by the Falcons in their search for a new head coach:

Jan. 8 – Arthur Smith is fired after three consecutive 7-10 seasons, one day following a season-ending loss to the Saints.

Jan. 12 – Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald completes virtual interview.

Jan. 13 - Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks complete virtual interviews.

Jan. 14 - Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and Ravens assistant head coach/defensive line coach Anthony Weaver complete virtual interviews.

Jan. 15 - Former Patriots coach Bill Belichick completes in-person interview.

Jan. 16 - University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh completes in-person interview.

Jan. 18 - Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson completes virtual interview.

Jan. 19 - Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn completes virtual interview and Belichick completes second in-person interview.

Jan. 20 - Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and Bills interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady complete virtual interviews.

Jan. 21 - Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik and Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson complete virtual interviews.

Jan. 22 - Callahan, who had a second interview with the Falcons scheduled for Jan. 25, accepts head coach position with Titans.

Jan. 23 -- Morris has in-person interview, his second with the team.

Jan. 24 - Evero completes a second interview, this one in-person. He is the third candidate to have a second interview. The interview puts the team in compliance with the NFL’s Rooney Rule. Former Titans coach Mike Vrabel completes in-person interview. Harbaugh reaches an agreement to become the Chargers’ head coach.

Jan. 25 - Slowik completes a second interview, this one in person. He is the fourth candidate to have a second interview. Morris hired as next head coach.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart greets players after Georgia’s 63-3 win against Florida State in the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Bulldogs are 3-1 to win the 2024 national championship. And with Jim Harbaugh's return to the NFL, the Bulldogs probably won’t have to worry much about Michigan being in the way. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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