The Los Angeles Chargers ended their season ceding a 27-0 lead to the Jaguars. The offense couldn’t move the ball and the defense allowed Jacksonville to score on five straight drives consisting of four touchdowns, and the game-winning field goal.
Was this the first time the Chargers coaching staff was questioned? No. But the result was the firing of Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi. Questions about whether or not Brandon Staley should be cut loose are also swirling. But as of now, Lombardi and the stagnant offense are the scapegoats and the search for a new Chargers offensive coordinator is well underway.
There are a few things the Chargers will be taking into consideration when hiring the new offensive play caller.
- Justin Herbert: The Chargers have one of the best young quarterbacks in the game and 2023 will be the last season on his rookie contract. The Chargers need to make sure they maximize his ability and build around him before he becomes a larger cap hit.
- Play-Calling Experience: Joe Lombardi called plays in Detroit in his first stint as OC under Jim Caldwell. He was fired during his second season and was replaced by Jim Bob Cooter, who just so happens to currently be the Jag’s passing game coordinator. Those Lions offenses underperformed considering they had Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. They ranked in the mid-to-low end of league offenses, much like his 2022 season with LA. Not only that, but Caldwell was an offensive-minded coach. Staley is not. He needs someone that can own that side of the game plan.
- Match Staley’s Forward Thinking: Lombardi’s offense dropped from fourth by DVOA in 2021 to 19th this season. The biggest decrease was in part Staley’s fault. The proliferation of his two-high shell/ light-box defense across the league stifled many explosive plays and the Chargers were no exception. Herbert attempted nine more passes of 20 air yards or more this season than last, but his completion percentage dropped 14.2 percent. This means Lombardi was still dialing those big plays up, but they weren’t working and worst of all he didn’t adjust. The answer was often to check the ball down to Austin Ekeler. He was targeted in the passing game more than any other running back in the league, despite logging a rather pedestrian 6.6 yards per reception.
All that is to say, the Chargers need someone that knows how to target the soft under-belly of the Staley defenses through getting receivers into the open spaces, but also through a well-designed run game. Lombardi’s offense completely lacked that all season, rushing for the third-fewest yards per game all season.
First I wanted to take three names off the list.
Frank Reich is a great candidate for the job, but he is getting enough interest as a head coach. It’s hard to imagine he would take any job but.
Kliff Kingsbury is either on a Thai beach or becoming a Buddhist monk. Either way, he ain’t coaching anywhere anytime soon.
Nathaniel Hackett: The polite thing to say is more proof is needed. His entire time as head coach in Denver was terrible and they got better once he left. While offensively Green Bay regressed without him, they did improve by the end of the season. They were ranked as the 22nd offense by EPA/play in the first 11 weeks to the 8th best in the last six weeks.
Chargers Offensive Coordinator Candidates
Zac Robinson is the Chargers first known candidate they have requested an interview with. This obviously bodes well for his chances.
Robinson cut his teeth playing quarterback in Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State explosive offense in 2006.
After a short stint on a few NFL rosters, he took up coaching and climbed the ranks. He started as the Rams assistant quarterbacks coach in 2019 and has worked his way up to pass game coordinator/quarterbacks coach this last season. This position has been held by current Bengals head coach and fellow Zac, Zac Taylor as well as Vikings head coach, Kevin O’Connell, and Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. One thing those teams have in common is that they all made the playoffs. So there is a lineage to the position that brings with it proof of concept. Work under Sean McVay, Learn From McVay, Get hired, and Succeed.
Robinson has no experience as an OC and hasn’t called plays, so there are certainly questions there. The Rams offense issues were myriad in 2022. One big issue was that the passing game was disjointed. Cooper Kupp was the only offensive weapon and the Rams could certainly not move the ball on the Staley-Esque defenses they faced. He had at least some responsibility in building that ineffective passing game.
That said, Staley got a close-up look at Robinson in his year with the Rams and something obviously made him take note. Let’s hope he recognized something more than what was manifest on the Rams field last season
The bet teams are making on Mike LaFleur is that he can bring that San Francisco offensive mojo to their team. If you are looking for a system to beat these new-style defenses, that’s the one. Kyle Shanahan builds effective running games and gets the ball to receivers in underneath spots. Mike McDaniel is proving it works in Miami and that’s what Robert Saleh thought LaFleur would do for the Jets offense. And it did not happen. A lot of that can be chalked up to drafting a quarterback that seems to be on the fast track out of the league and an overall lack of weapons, other than the likely great Garrett Wilson.
Despite the fallout, LaFleur’s reputation remains intact. He seems to be the front-runner to be hired as the Rams offensive coordinator. With the Rams, he would take on less of a role, as McVay will retain play-calling in 2023. With the Chargers, he could retain play-calling duties and get another shot at proving he can do it.
The Chargers would also offer a softer landing spot. They are already a playoff team with a young star quarterback, a bonafide two-way running back, and (hopefully) two great receivers. That’s already much better than the Jets and the Rams face a large-scale renovation this offseason.
The Chargers could just jump the gun on the next big name coming out of the 49ers building though. Bobby Slowik has worked with Shanahan going back to his time with Washington. He actually started coaching on the defensive side of the ball as a defensive assistant but made the jump to the offense starting in 2019. He is now in the position that was held by Mike LaFleur and Mike McDaniel.
As the 49ers passing game coordinator, he has coached three different quarterbacks and the 49ers haven’t seen a drop-off, even with their third-string QB in as the starter. There is a lot to be considered having spent as much time as he has with Shanahan and worked his way up to where he is now and how well the offense is playing despite multiple challenges.
It seems that the Carolina Panthers problem wasn’t Joe Brady, but he was the one fired regardless. Brady has since rehabilitated his career as the Bills quarterbacks coach. This means that Brady has coached Josh Allen to a potential MVP season and coached Joe Burrow to a Heisman Trophy and to the number one overall pick in the draft. So in terms of giving Herbert his best chance, this might be the guy.
He has also spent the last year working with one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Brady started his NFL career working as an offensive assistant to Sean Payton. He likely picked up a few things there. While his time in Carolina was objectively bad, an experience like that is hard to come by, especially at Brady’s age. He won’t turn 34 until after the 2023 season starts.