Jim Harbaugh NFL coaching record: Revisiting 49ers career, Super Bowl run with Colin Kaepernick and more

Jim Harbaugh spent the past few years coaching Michigan but he’s ready to make his return to the NFL.

The Los Angeles Chargers announced on Wednesday that Harbaugh is set to become their next head coach.

Harbaugh is undoubtedly revered among coaches and considered to be among the sport’s best. Since becoming a head coach at San Diego in 2004, he has won at every step of the way. He went a combined 29-6 with the Toreros. Moving to Stanford, he turned the program around and powered them to a 29-21 record during his four seasons with the Cardinal.

Most recently at Michigan, he had just one losing season (the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign) and had a record of 86-25 with three College Football Playoff appearances, three Big Ten titles and one national championship.

MORE: Jim Harbaugh replacements: Michigan’s list will start with Sherrone Moore, Lance Leipold

But Harbaugh’s ability to win at every stop is not limited to his time at college. Between Stanford and Michigan, he enjoyed a successful four-year run with the 49ers that has him ranked as one of the best NFL coaches of all time, even if it comes in a more limited sample size than plenty of the other coaches on the list.

Jim Harbaugh NFL coaching record

Harbaugh was San Francisco’s head coach for four years. During that time, he coached the team to a combined 44-19-1 record.

Year Record Result
2011 13-3 Lost conference championship
2012 11-4-1 Lost Super Bowl
2013 12-4 Lost conference championship
2014 8-8 Missed playoffs
Career 44-19-1

Harbaugh’s .695 winning percentage ranks fifth all-time among NFL head coaches, though his four seasons as an NFL head coach are the fewest of any coach ranked in the top 10 (next closest is No. 6 Tommy Hughitt, who coached Buffalo for five seasons in the 1920s).

The only head coaches above Harbaugh in win-loss percentage are Guy Chamberlin (six seasons, .784), John Madden (10 seasons, .759), Vince Lombardi (10 seasons, .738) and George Allen (12 seasons, .712).

2011 season

Harbaugh took a Stanford program that went just 1-11 in 2006. Each year under Harbaugh, the Cardinal improved, ultimately going 12-1 in 2010 with a win in the Orange Bowl. They ended the season ranked fourth in the nation thanks to transcendent quarterback Andrew Luck powering the offense.

That impressive turnaround caught the attention of another football program in the Bay Area: the 49ers. San Francisco had rotated through four head coaches since it last reached the playoffs in 2002, and had posted a paltry 46-82 record during that span. San Francisco went down I-280 from Candlestick Park to Stanford to hire a coach who had turned around one California team in the hopes he could do it again.

There were expected to be some growing pains for the 49ers. Instead, the vaunted San Francisco team had the second-ranked defense in the NFL and was powered by a breakout campaign from Alex Smith, who in his seventh NFL season, posted career-bests in completion percentage (61.3 percent), passing yards (3,144), interception rate (1.1 percent) and rushing yards (179), while also throwing for 17 touchdowns and rushing for two more.

San Francisco had a 13-3 campaign. They lost to the Cowboys in overtime in Week 2, Harbaugh’s brother Jim and the Ravens in Week 12 and the Cardinals in Week 14. The 49ers reached the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons.

BENDER: What to expect in Jim Harbaugh’s NFL return

In that first playoff game, the 49ers survived a tumultuous game against the Saints. San Francisco got off to a 14-0 first-quarter lead, but New Orleans made it 17-14 by the end of the first half. The 49ers notched a field goal in the third quarter to tie things up. That’s where things got crazy. Both sides alternated scoring, matching field goal for field goal, touchdown for touchdown, then touchdown for touchdown. Fortunately for Harbaugh, the latter was a touchdown from Smith to Vernon Davis with nine seconds left that put San Francisco up and gave it the 36-32 win over Drew Brees and the Saints.

The 49ers were off to their first NFC championship game appearance since 1997, where they faced a Giants squad that was riding a four-game winning streak and entered the playoffs at 9-7. The Giants went into halftime leading 10-7. Davis scored a touchdown in the third quarter, his second score of the game, to give San Francisco the lead. New York re-took the lead midway through the fourth and the 49ers responded with a game-tying field goal, but neither team scored the rest of regulation.

Going into overtime, the Giants started with the ball but amassed one first down and punted it away. The 49ers went three-and-out to give New York another chance. This time, Eli Manning and Ahmad Bradshaw marched the Giants to the San Francisco 13-yard line, and Lawrence Tynes kicked a game-winning 31-yard field goal to win 20-17.

2012 season

The 49ers were back. A team that was believed to be in a potential state of rebuilding ascended much earlier than anticipated, and coming into the 2012 season, expectations were considerably higher for the 49ers to make waves. Only the Packers (+600), Patriots (+700), Texans (+1000) and Eagles (+1200) had better odds of winning the Super Bowl than San Francisco, which had an over/under win total of 10.

The season could not have started much better. On the road against the Super Bowl-favorite Packers, the 49ers won 30-22 behind a two-touchdown performance from Smith and a 112-yard-rushing day for Frank Gore. The 49ers largely continued their winning ways, and added a new wrinkle to the offense, opting to bring in backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick for a few run plays.

In a Week 10 game against the Rams, Smith, who had signed a three-year contract to remain in San Francisco in the offseason, sustained a concussion that kept him out for the rest of the game. At the time of his injury, he led all quarterbacks in completion percentage and had amassed a 6-2 record as the starter. Kaepernick was called on by Harbaugh to take that mantle.

Kaepernick finished the Rams’ game, which ended in a tie, with 117 passing yards and 66 rushing yards with no passing scores and a rushing touchdown. He lit up the Bears in his first NFL start the next week, however, throwing for 243 yards and two touchdowns while rushing only four times for 10 yards. Kaepernick’s standout performance created a quarterback controversy for Harbaugh and the 49ers, who ultimately rested Smith for longer to make sure he would be fully healthy. 

Smith, though cleared to return, sat against the Saints in Week 12. Kaepernick started, again delivering a solid game with a passing touchdown, a rushing touchdown and 231 passing yards. Harbaugh announced Kaepernick would be the team’s starter moving forward. Smith appeared for just six snaps the rest of the 2012 regular season and would later be traded to the Chiefs in the offseason.

Kaepernick thrived in the role as a starter, and with him, the team soared. He finished the campaign with a 62.4 completion percentage, 1,814 passing yards, 10 passing touchdowns and only three interceptions, while rushing 63 times for 415 yards and five more scores. The 49ers finished the year 11-4-1, winning the NFC West for the second straight year and earning the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. San Francisco again ranked second in defense, averaging just 17.1 points allowed per game.

MORE: Why Jim Harbaugh left Michigan, signed with the Chargers

The playoffs began in the same fashion as the regular season did: by beating the preseason favorites. San Francisco dismantled the Packers behind standout performances from Kaepernick, Gore and Michael Crabtree in a 45-31 beatdown. Kaepernick had 263 passing and 181 rushing yards, while Gore had 119 yards on the ground and Crabtree had 119 through the air.

Heading on the road to play the Falcons, San Francisco trailed at one point 17-0 and went into the second half down 24-14 to the No. 1-seeded Falcons. But Atlanta blew the lead, giving up third- and fourth-quarter touchdowns to Gore while being shut out in the second half to fall 28-24 and send San Francisco to the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl 47

It didn’t take much to hype up the Super Bowl. The narrative was there: Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers against John Harbaugh in the Ravens. The first pair of brothers to ever be head coaches in the NFL would now also be the first pair of brothers to meet in the Super Bowl as head coaches.

The 2012 Ravens won the AFC North and went to the postseason as the No. 4 seed with a balanced roster that ranked 10th in offense and 12th in defense. But Baltimore hadn’t exactly been its sharpest down the stretch. The Ravens began the 2012 season 9-2, only to go 1-4 over the rest of the regular season.

That changed in the playoffs when the Ravens lit up the Colts 24-9 before out-lasting Peyton Manning and the Broncos 38-35 in the divisional round in Denver, and then bludgeoning the Tom Brady-led Patriots in Foxborough 28-13 to arrive at the Super Bowl.

And much like the regular season, the game began with Baltimore getting hot. The 49ers went three-and-out, and the Ravens took the ball and proceeded to drive 51 yards in 2:29 to open the game with a touchdown. San Francisco responded with a field goal, but a lost 49ers fumble on the team’s next drive set up a second Raven touchdown. Before the end of the first half, the Ravens added another touchdown, while the 49ers kicked a field goal at the buzzer to make it a 21-6 deficit.

The third quarter began with the Ravens returning a kickoff for a touchdown. A power outage — which delayed the game for 34 minutes — halted the show. When the lights returned, Baltimore appeared to lose momentum. The rest of the half belonged to San Francisco. The 49ers scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives, then kicked a field goal midway toward the end of the third quarter to bring the score to 28-23. Despite its struggles, Baltimore held a narrow lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Baltimore settled for a field goal early in the fourth after getting stopped at the San Francisco 1-yard line, but Kaepernick answered with a 15-yard rushing touchdown that made the game a two-point contest. The team tried for a 2-point conversion, but Kaepernick’s pass fell incomplete to Randy Moss. The Ravens then took over five minutes off the clock and kicked a 38-yard field goal to push the lead to 34-29.

San Francisco mounted a drive that appeared destined for the end zone. But at the Ravens’ 5-yard line, Kaepernick missed on three straight pass attempts to Crabtree. The Ravens ran the clock down to 12 seconds and took an intentional safety that made the score 34-31, but left the 49ers with no time on the clock after the ensuing kickoff.

2013 season

A new era was truly underway in San Francisco. The 49ers traded Smith to the Chiefs, and coming off back-to-back NFC championship appearances, optimism was high among the team and fanbase. 

The season got off to a mixed start, however. The 49ers again toppled the Packers, this time in San Francisco, highlighted by 412 passing yards by Kaepernick. The team then scored just 10 points combined in losses to the Seahawks and Colts. From there, they went on a five-game winning streak, with each victory coming by multiple scores. San Francisco fell to the Panthers and Saints, but then won all six remaining games, only two of which were settled by less than 10 points.

This time, San Francisco finished second in the NFC West at 12-4, a game behind the 13-3 Seahawks. For the first time as the head coach, Harbaugh would have to send his team on the road to play a postseason game.

It didn’t matter. It was another year opening the playoffs with the Packers, and another year of eliminating the Packers, winning 23-20 in Green Bay. San Francisco went from the NFC North champ to the NFC South champ in the Panthers and the defense stifled Cam Newton, picking him off twice and sacking him five times in a 23-10 victory.

The victory set up an all-NFC West showdown, with San Francisco traveling to Seattle to play the Seahawks. Kaepernick struggled with a pair of interceptions and a pair of fumbles, one of which he lost. All three turnovers came in the fourth quarter, as the 49ers tried to get back into the game. The 49ers ultimately fell short, losing 23-17.

2014 season

Harbaugh made history as the first head coach in NFL history to reach a conference championship three straight years to begin an NFL coaching career. However, that didn’t mean all was well in San Francisco. 

San Francisco got off to a decent start in 2014, going 7-4 over the first 12 weeks of the season. But the arrival of late November and December ushered in difficulties. the 49ers lost four straight games between Weeks 13 and 17, falling to 7-8, the first time in Harbaugh’s NFL career his team was under .500 at any point after the first four weeks of the season. 

The season will be remembered less for its final 8-8 record than for the drama that surrounded the head coach and franchise the entire season. It was reported the year before there was “competitive tension” between Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke. 

Midway through the 2014 season, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported Harbaugh would not return to the 49ers in 2015. Reports also suggested players in the locker room were losing support for Harbaugh. In early December, it was reported Harbaugh and Baalke had an incident that was described as having “irreparably tore at the trust that must exist between a coach and general manager.”

On the day of the final game of the season, Harbaugh and the 49ers officially announced the two sides came to a mutual decision to separate. The decision, it was later reported, had been made two weeks before the final game of the year. It took only two days before Harbaugh was announced as Michigan’s head coach.

Jim Harbaugh record vs. John Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh might be the older brother, but it was the little bro who has the edge in their brief history of matchups.

On Nov. 24, 2011, the 9-1 49ers faced off against the 8-2 Ravens. The matchup was a clash of stifling defenses, with the teams exchanging field goals to head to the fourth quarter in a 6-6 game. But the Ravens scored the first — and only — touchdown of the game with 14:56 to play when Flacco connected with Dennis Pitta for an 8-yard touchdown. Billy Cundiff added another field goal late for the Ravens to seal the 16-6 victory.

The only other time the two faced off came in Super Bowl 47, when the Ravens topped San Francisco in a wild 34-31 contest.

With Jim taking the Chargers head coaching job, the two brothers are set to go head-to-head for the first time in over a decade during the 2024 NFL season when Los Angeles hosts Baltimore at SoFi Stadium.

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