How Quickly Could Jim Harbaugh Turn Around The Carolina Panthers?

How Quickly Could Jim Harbaugh Turn Around The Carolina Panthers?
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Interim coach Steve Wilks managed to rejuvenate a down-and-out Carolina Panthers team this season, but the club's 30-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, which eliminated them from postseason eligibility, seemingly has cast doubts on Wilks landing the full-time gig. 

The proof? A report earlier this week that Panthers Owner David Tepper has already discussed the coaching position with Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, who has been a white whale for NFL owners since his largely successful run with the San Francisco 49ers came to an end in 2014.

Harbaugh has played it coy with the media since the report came to light, and time will tell if he truly leaves Ann Arbor for the Queen City. 

But he's clearly in Tepper's mind, and that's enough for BetCarolina to dive into the turnarounds Harbaugh has led not only in San Francisco and Michigan, but previous head coach stops as well.

Should Harbaugh return to the NFL sideline, his track record suggests the Panthers could be sleepers across hypothetical North Carolina sports betting next season.

Jim Harbaugh's Record In 1st Season At Previous Stops

Year University/Team Year 1 Record Win Improvement
2004 San Diego 7-4-1
2007 Stanford 4-8+3
2011 49ers 13-3+7
2015 Michigan 10-3+5

Big Man on Campus

While he rose to prominence as the coach at Stanford from 2007-2010, Harbaugh's first head coaching gig came at the University of San Diego, the only stop where he actually failed to improve upon his predecessor's win-loss record in Year 1.

While Harbaugh, who joined the Toreros after two years on the Oakland Raiders staff, led the team to a respectable 7-4 mark, the program fell one win short of their 8-2 campaign the previous season. 

Harbaugh didn't take long to up the ante though, going 11-2 in Year 2 and capturing the 2005 Pioneer Football League championship. The Toreros would repeat as conference champs the following year, after which Harbaugh found his way to Stanford.

Harbaugh's first season as a Cardinal may not jump off the page with an 4-8 record, but context matters most for what took place at Stanford Stadium that season. 

Coming off a lowly 1-11 record in 2006, Harbaugh and his team not only defeated rival Cal for the first time in six years, but also took down No. 1 USC in one of the greatest upsets in college football history (a game that also kicked off a back-and-forth rivalry with Pete Carroll.)

The three-win improvement in Year 1 laid the groundwork for the Harbaugh era at Stanford, culminating with a 12-1 season in 2010 that ended with an Orange Bowl victory.

Proven NFL Track Record

While Tepper took heat for hiring a "college coach" in Matt Rhule, Harbaugh has already proven his muster in the NFL, with the 2011 49ers perhaps serving as his most impressive turnaround. 

The 49ers went 6-10 in 2010, their last under Hall of Famer Mike Singletary. To make matters worse, the organization was in the midst of a eight-year playoff drought, an eternity for a fanbase used to the likes of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. 

In walked Harbaugh, who immediately resurrected former No. 1 pick Alex Smith's career and took the team all the way to the NFC Championship game after posting a 13-3 record, a seven-win improvement over 2010.

This year's Panthers squad will finish either 7-10 or 6-11, familiar ground for Harbaugh should he feel he can strike gold as he did in San Francisco.

MORE: Betting on the NFL in North Carolina

The Michigan Man Returns

Why the Harbaugh-49ers era did not last longer remains a bit of a mystery, as the two parted ways in late 2014 despite a 44-19-1 mark. 

Regardless, Harbaugh in 2015 returned to his alma mater, Michigan, where he again won quickly. Harbaugh improved the Wolverines from a 5-7 mark in 2014 to 10-3 in his return to Ann Arbor, the school's first 10-win season since 2011.

While he takes some criticism for not yet delivering a national title to Michigan, Harbaugh has continued his winning ways, compiling a 74-25 overall mark over eight seasons, including back-to-back trips to the CFP over the past two years.

Also of note: While his reputation as a quick turnaround coach is more than valid, Harbaugh has also stayed at UM for twice as long as any previous stop in his coaching career. 

Could it be time for a new challenge in Charlotte? Panthers fans are fond of Wilks, whose 5-6 mark doesn't quite do justice to the turnaround he has led on the field and in the locker room following the trade of star back Christian McCaffrey. 

But unfortunately for Wilks, Harbaugh's record – both in college and the NFL – speaks for itself. 

Stay close to this site for more developments around the Panthers and the state's eventual path to legalized sports betting, including potential North Carolina sports betting promos.



Thomas Leary is an editor and writer for, with a focus on the Panthers, Hornets and college sports. He previously worked at Sports Business Journal.

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