CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Panthers owner David Tepper has had a conversation with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh about the opening Carolina will have for the head-coaching position once the 2022 season ends, according to a league source.
The conversation was not characterized as an interview, the source said.
Interviews will not begin until after Carolina (6-10) finishes the season under interim coach Steve Wilks on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
Wilks, according to league sources, is considered a strong candidate for the full-time job after replacing Matt Rhule following a 1-4 start and putting Carolina in position to win the NFC South before a Week 17 loss at Tampa Bay.
The conversation between Tepper and Harbaugh, whose team lost to TCU on Saturday in the College Football Playoff semifinals, was first reported by Fox Sports Charlotte, the team’s broadcast partner.
Harbaugh has “sincere interest” in the Carolina job, according to Fox Sports Charlotte.
Tepper indicated after firing Rhule, who had no NFL experience prior to getting the Panthers job in 2020 following stints at Baylor and Temple, that he likely wouldn’t look to the college ranks for his next coach.
Harbaugh is different in that he is a former NFL quarterback and coach. In 2012, he coached the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl, where they lost 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens coached by his brother, John Harbaugh.
The 49ers returned to the NFC Championship Game in the 2013 playoffs under Harbaugh before losing to eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle 23-17.
After an 8-8 record in 2014, Harbaugh left to become the head coach at Michigan, where he was a quarterback from 1982 to ’86 before becoming a first-round pick by the Chicago Bears in 1987.
Harbaugh’s career as an NFL player actually ended with Carolina in 2001. He was signed midseason and dressed for six games, but never played a down for the 1-15 team.
In February, Harbaugh signed a new five-year, $36.7 million contract with Michigan that runs through 2026. That came two weeks after Harbaugh interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings.
According to his contract, Harbaugh has a $3 million buyout until Year 2, which starts Jan. 11.
Harbaugh indicated during a news conference for the Fiesta Bowl that he would return to Michigan, but added “no man knows the future.”
Carolina plans to go through a thorough interview process beginning soon after Sunday’s finale. Even if Tepper decides to hire Wilks, who is Black, he has to interview two other minority candidates outside the organization under the guidelines of the NFL’s Rooney Rule.
Wilks was hired as the coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 but fired after a 3-13 record. He later joined a lawsuit against the NFL and several teams for racial discrimination in its hiring practices.