By Rory Carroll
LOS ANGELES, Jan 24 (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Chargers have hired Jim Harbaugh as their next head coach, the team announced on Wednesday, marking his return to the NFL ranks after spending the last nine years with Michigan.
Harbaugh led the 15-0 Wolverines to a national title this past season, ending his alma mater's 26-year championship drought.
He will now take the helm of a Chargers club he used to play for that finished an abysmal 5-12 last season.
"Jim Harbaugh is football personified, and I can think of no one better to lead the Chargers forward," team owner Dean Spanos said in a statement.
"Jim has led hundreds of men to success everywhere he's been — as their coach. And today, Jim Harbaugh returns to the Chargers, this time as our coach. Who has it better than us?"
Harbaugh said he would "always be a loyal Wolverine" and despite the university reportedly offering to pay him a record salary to return, he chose instead to join the Chargers, a team he played quarterback for during the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
"When I played for the Chargers, the Spanos family could not have been more gracious or more welcoming," Harbaugh said.
"Being back here feels like home, and it's great to see that those things haven't changed... My priorities are faith, family and football, and we are going to attack each with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind."
The Chargers finished last in the AFC West last season despite having quarterback Justin Herbert, one of the league's brightest young stars.
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley was fired on Dec. 15 after Las Vegas Raiders crushed the visitors 63-21 in a Week 15 humiliation.
The 60-year-old Harbaugh led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, where the team fell to the Baltimore Ravens, who are coached by his older brother John.
Harbaugh posting a 144-52 record as a collegiate head coach and a 49-22-1 record as an NFL head coach.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Michael Perry)
((Rory.Carroll@thomsonreuters.com Follow me on Twitter @rorydcarroll; 503-830-8017;))