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Chargers' Joe Hortiz expects 'Batman and Robin' relationship with Jim Harbaugh: 'That's the way we're going to operate'

Whoever eventually delivers the Chargers their first-ever Super Bowl might well be hailed a hero.

Joe Hortiz, the new general manager of the Chargers, has exactly that planned as he embarks on a partnership with head coach Jim Harbaugh.

"Jim has been on my list," Hortiz said Tuesday during his introductory news conference, per the team transcript. "I've had a couple of chances elsewhere, he's always been at the top of my list as a guy I wanted to work with. We've talked about that. Before I got the interview here, we talked about Batman and Robin. Certainly, that's the way we're going to operate. The only thing is, I'm not wearing tights. I may put a cape on, but I'm not wearing tights.

"That's what it's going to be -- it's going to be a partnership. There's a time for the GM to lead and then, certainly, when we kick it off, that's when the head coach leads and I'm going to do everything that I can to support him and give him everything he needs to win."

Even before taking Los Angeles' GM job, Hortiz was deeply entrenched in Harbaugh football.

He began honing his craft as a personnel assistant for the Ravens in 1998, which happened to be Harbaugh's lone season as a quarterback with the Ravens, who he went 5-7 for in 12 starts.

Then Harbaugh moved on to the Chargers, at the time in San Diego, for his final two years as a player, while Hortiz remained in Baltimore.

A decade later, he would work under Jim's brother, John, when he became the head coach going on 16 years now. In that time, Hortiz climbed the ladder through the scouting department to the director of player personnel, finally making the GM leap with a move across the country and a reunion with Jim.

"I've known [Jim]. I knew him then, loved watching him play," Hortiz said. "I saw his fiery nature then -- his competitiveness, his desire to win. Then, when John came to Baltimore, that's when we really got to cross paths again. Certainly, going into Stanford, and then Michigan, having conversations with Jim and his whole family -- Jack and Jackie [Harbaugh], I know. I've had so many conversations with Jack. Again, it's family, and it's great that I'm really going from brother to brother. It's a really unique and rare gift that's been given to me and my family."

Beyond the draw of another Harbaugh, though, Hortiz singled out the ownership and a star at the league's most important position -- Justin Herbert -- as the reasons for journeying to L.A.

"Listen, in personnel, if you ask any scout what are the three things you want? You want great ownership. Check," he said. "You want a great head coach. Check. You want a great quarterback. Check. Any scout that walks into a GM role, if you say I have those three things, you have a chance. You have a chance to be really good. We have a chance, here, to be really good. Having that, it's awesome. This is a dream job. If you heard the friends of mine out there on the road and in the profession, the excitement they have for what we're going to create here and do here, it's awesome."

Although he hasn't found the results, Herbert certainly fits the bill of a great QB. Through just four seasons, the big-armed talent has already thrown for 17,223 yards, 114 touchdowns and 42 interceptions. 

But he enters Year 5 a lone game above .500 at 25-24 -- which falls to the .500 mark if you include his 0-1 postseason record.

Regardless, few would be so brazen as to call Herbert the problem. Los Angeles' roster has notoriously underperformed, with no better example than the team's 21st ranking in points and 24th-place finish in defensive scoring during an arduous 5-12 campaign in 2023.

Complicating that is the salary cap situation Hortiz inherits. 

The Chargers are currently $45.8 million over the 2024 cap, with Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams all costing over $32 million on the cap. 

Those are four huge names, with three of them entering their age-30 season or older, and there are plenty of other contract decisions to make up and down the rest of the roster.

Hortiz was candid about the different factors that go into solving such a cap conundrum.

"You don't want to hold on to players, ever, as a personnel guy, that are on a decline or have passed the point of decline, but I think that the players that we have had those discussions about, what's the current value that they bring to the organization and their future value and you discuss it," he said. "You weigh those things. That's the reality of this business, you have to weigh the value that they have, the value that they are going to bring and the cost associated with it. That's the nature of it. It's not a fun part."

And he was adamant that there's no intention of falling out of contention, immediate or otherwise: "Our goal is to build a winner every year. We want to compete to win a championship every year, OK? That's going to be starting now. That's not going to be, 'Let's gut it and start over.' Those are the decisions. What balance of players give us the best opportunity to go out there and compete this year? I know who we're trying to be, we know who we're trying to be, and we're gunning, we're going that direction. We're not mailing in a season, no way."

Whatever moves Hortiz and Harbaugh make in the coming offseason will play an integral role in whether or not they become the heroes Los Angeles needs. 

Given both of their track records, it'd be foolish to count against them.

Harbaugh has churned out winners with haste wherever he's gone, from Stanford to San Francisco and back to his alma mater, Michigan, which just this year won its first undisputed national championship in football since 1948. 

Hortiz hasn't jumped around in such a way, but his quarter of a century in Baltimore netted him two Super Bowl rings.

He's well aware of his track record, and he's hoping to add to it from the GM chair.

"We're going to build a consistent winner here," Hortiz declared. "You have the right leader, you have the right players on the field. We're going to do it together. As Jim mentioned, it's team, team, team. I believe in that philosophy.

"I've lived that for 16 years in Baltimore. That's what we're going to do here. We're going to get those multiple championships. We're going to do that. We're going to bring you a trophy, (Chargers owner) Dean (Spanos). We're going to get it done. I have four boys that have two rings. We're getting the other two, at least, and we're going to keep trying to go."

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