No, The Chargers Did Not Settle For Brandon Staley

SoFi Stadium. Photo Credit: @SoFiStadium Twitter
SoFi Stadium. Photo Credit: @SoFiStadium Twitter

Shortly after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wrapped up their NFC Divisional Round victory over the New Orleans Saints, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport broke the news that will have major ramifications on the Los Angeles Chargers franchise for years to come: they were hiring former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley to be their next head coach.

Staley of course is amidst the type of meteoric rise in the coaching ranks that might not ever happen again. When the Chargers hired Anthony Lynn five years ago, Staley was still coaching Division III football at John Carroll University. Think about that for a second, the Chargers have been in Los Angeles longer than Staley has been coaching in the NFL. 

Over the last four seasons, Staley has worked with some of this league’s best defensive players in Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Khalil Mack, and Von Miller. He’s also worked under some of the league’s brightest minds in Vic Fangio, Matt Nagy, and Sean McVay. Those experiences and relationships will be a tremendous help as he shifts from first-year defensive coordinator to first-time head coach. 

Staley was one of the most surprising names to be added to the potential head coaching candidates list of the cycle. He’s made a name for himself as a former disciple of Fangio’s defense. It is one that relies upon scheme versatility and in-game adjustments. Something that paid huge dividends for the Rams in 2020. Yes, they have Donald and Ramsey, but the supporting cast around them was mostly made up of castoffs and unknowns. Leonard Floyd, Morgan Fox, Darious Williams, and Troy Hill all contributed in huge ways under Staley’s watch. (All four of those players, as well as John Johnson, are free agents, and I would expect at least two of them to be on the Chargers next season.) Staley took all of that and created a foundation upon which the Rams built the best defense in football. Yes, they lost to the Packers this past weekend but it’s always important to look at the whole body of work, and not just react to one specific game.

The rapid rise and his background as a former college quarterback at the University of Dayton made Staley an incredibly unique head coaching candidate. No one ever thought we’d see a faster rise than that of McVay. The Rams hired McVay as the youngest coach in NFL history back in 2017, but he had been coaching in the league for eight years and was the offensive coordinator in Washington for three seasons. We’ve also seen former skill players make the jump to coaching on the opposite sides of where they played, like former Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris, who played safety but got his coaching start in the NFL by coaching wide receivers. The way Staley rose through the ranks is unparalleled, and a former quarterback becoming a defensive guru is basically unheard of. 

Of course with all the excitement surrounding this hiring, there is also some concern that comes with it. Staley has only been coaching in the NFL for a very short time. He was only the Rams defensive coordinator for one season, so he is definitely inexperienced. But sometimes the best moves are the ones that are proactive, instead of reactive. It’s possible the Chargers are hiring someone a year earlier than most other teams would, the Rams did the same thing with McVay and I’d say that move has worked out rather well for them.

This is a move that shocked a lot of people. All signs seemed to point to the Chargers hiring an offensive-minded head coach. Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was long considered the favorite for the job due to the results he’s produced with Josh Allen, and his built-in connections to Chargers general manager Tom Telesco. The newly dubbed Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith and Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy were also in the mix. Because of that, there was a notion on social media that maybe the Chargers were settling for Staley because of the Bills’ and Chiefs’ respective playoff runs. That could not be further from the truth. Staley is a great coach in his own right and is highly qualified for this position.

Firstly, while the media had painted a nice picture of the Telesco-Daboll connection, the Chargers’ actions pointed towards the hiring of a defensive head coach. It started with Telesco’s end of season press conference, where he made a special effort to point out that there have been several non-offensive minded head coaches who have effectively been in charge of building teams around the development of young quarterbacks. Sean McDermott and John Harbaugh seem to be doing just fine with Allen and Lamar Jackson

Second, while the Chargers did conduct initial interviews with five offensive-minded coaches, they only requested a second interview with two candidates: Robert Saleh, and Staley. Saleh of course didn’t make it to that interview as he was hired by the New York Jets, and Staley was ultimately hired by the Chargers. 

Finally, if you look at the recent draft history under Telesco, he’s placed an extra emphasis on the defensive side of the ball. In the past three drafts, he’s selected Kenneth Murray, Jerry Tillery, Nasir Adderley, Uchenna Nwosu, and Justin Jones – all of whom have been key contributors for this team. The Murray selection, in particular, was lauded by the national pundits because it seemed like the Chargers were taking a different approach than the rest of the league and focusing on the defense. It seemed like they were zagging, while the rest of the league was zigging, and the hiring of Staley is yet another example of that approach. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported early on Saturday morning that Daboll was considered the favorite. However, Rapoport and NBC’s Mike Florio are both reporting today that the job was always Staley’s to lose. Florio added: “Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Staley was always the guy. The source added that the reporting regarding Daboll as a surprise, not because Daboll wasn’t a top candidate but because the job would always be Staley’s if/when the parties could strike an agreement at the appropriate time.” The Chargers really did get their guy, which they so hilariously announced after the news broke. 

Dean Spanos said in his initial press release that they were going to search for a head coach who could bring innovation to their franchise who will ultimately bring home their first Lombardi Trophy. Hiring the next defensive genius who is extremely detail-oriented would certainly qualify as innovation for the Chargers, who have spent the better part of the last two decades being coached by offensive-minded head coaches.

Staley will have a lot of pressure on him due to the added attention brought from Justin Herbert‘s historic rookie season. Everyone knows he will bring great things to the Chargers defense, but the next step is filling out a high-quality staff around him. I have no doubt he will do just that. 

SoFi Stadium. Photo Credit: @SoFiStadium Twitter

SoFi Stadium. Photo Credit: @SoFiStadium Twitter