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Chargers, Raiders have interest in Jim Harbaugh; Maxx Crosby in full support of Antonio Pierce

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After months of speculation, things are about to ramp up on Jim Harbaugh's potential return to the NFL.

Sources say it's believed the Chargers will speak next week with Harbaugh, who has indicated to associates there's a real possibility he could leave the University of Michigan to become Los Angeles' head coach.

The Las Vegas Raiders also continue to weigh a potential pursuit of Harbaugh, who led his alma mater to its first national championship in the College Football Playoff era on Monday night. However, sources say there remains support among many in the extended Raiders family for interim coach Antonio Pierce -- including in the locker room, with All-Pro edge rusher Maxx Crosby expressing he will explore a trade request if Pierce isn't retained, according to sources.

Meanwhile, sources say negotiations are ongoing with Michigan as the school makes an effort to sign Harbaugh to a contract extension, particularly in light of other recent movement within college football.

As the NFL hiring cycle picks up, Harbaugh remains a big chess piece on a board full of them, with Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and Mike Vrabel all becoming available in recent days, in addition to the likes of Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Others receiving multiple interview requests include: Ravens DC Mike Macdonald, OC Todd Monken and assistant head coach/defensive line coach Anthony Weaver; Bengals OC Brian Callahan; Lions DC Aaron Glenn; Rams DC Raheem Morris; Texans OC Bobby Slowik; and 49ers DC Steve Wilks.

Few candidates are as intriguing as Harbaugh, who has interviewed for NFL jobs the past two offseasons with the Vikings and Broncos, respectively. He has won everywhere he's coached -- including in four seasons with the 49ers, whom he led to victory in nearly 70% of his games (44-19-1) and went to three consecutive NFC Championship Games with, winning one to advance to Super Bowl XLVII (a 34-31 loss to his brother John's Ravens).

Jim Harbaugh, 60, has spent the days since Monday night's 34-13 win over Washington decompressing and making a school-sponsored victory tour, including a Saturday night celebration at the school's basketball arena. Michigan, which has had a contract offer on the table that would make Harbaugh one of college football's highest-paid coaches, likely won't give him up without a fight.

But Harbaugh also has spent time updating staff lists and examining potential NFL openings. Unlike current NFL assistants, who have to wait until Jan. 22 to interview in person, Harbaugh can interview for head-coaching jobs immediately.

The Chargers, who fired Brandon Staley and Tom Telesco on Dec. 15, have been running expansive, parallel searches for their next head coach and general manager. Harbaugh is certainly a candidate of interest, but sources say the sides have not yet spoken. That should change next week, and if all goes well, things could ramp up quickly.

Sources say Harbaugh will not require the team he joins to allow him to hire his own GM, understanding that the structure of NFL buildings has changed and evolved since he last worked in the league. Still, teams such as the Chargers would likely hire a GM who is familiar with Harbaugh and can work in concert with him.

The Raiders, who fired Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler on Oct. 31, are scheduled to wrap up their initial round of GM interviews Saturday with their interim GM Champ Kelly. But they haven't interviewed head-coaching candidates yet. Sources say they are strongly considering keeping Pierce, who went 5-4 as interim coach and has the public backing of players.

Pierce is scheduled to interview this weekend for the Titans job, as well. Shortly after news of the Tennessee interview broke on social media, Crosby tweeted: "#HireAP."

Inside the Raiders' extended family -- including fans and ex-players -- sources say there have emerged a Harbaugh camp and a Pierce camp, with the locker room publicly united behind its interim coach. Crosby, one of the respected leaders and sounding boards for Mark Davis, has been through rebuilds in the past, doesn't want to go through another one again and believes Pierce has earned the right to continue building upon the culture and energy he built in Las Vegas this season. (Crosby, who is under contract through 2026, will likely address the issue soon on his podcast, The Rush with Maxx Crosby.)

Harbaugh recently retained agent Don Yee, who also represents NFL legend, Michigan alumnus and pending Raiders minority owner Tom Brady -- another sign Harbaugh is serious about returning to pro football.

Sources told last month that Harbaugh, who is under contract with Michigan through 2026, received a 10-year, $125 million contract offer from the school that would make him one of college football's highest-paid coaches, but also would require him not to accept an NFL job for the 2024 season. If he does leave for the NFL, Harbaugh wouldn't come cheap, with salaries for some top coaches now exceeding $17 million per year.

It also remains to be seen whether Harbaugh will be on the sidelines for the start of the 2024 season, regardless of what level. Harbaugh served a school-imposed three-game suspension this season for alleged recruiting violations during the COVID-19 dead period and not cooperating with investigators. He could still be further disciplined by the NCAA in that case, as well as for allegations against the program for an alleged elaborate sign-stealing operation. Sources told in October that the NFL is unlikely to be a safe harbor for Harbaugh and could enforce some or all of any discipline imposed by the NCAA. At this point, however, the NCAA has not ruled in either case and generally moves at a glacial pace in such matters.

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