The Chargers Announce The Hirings Of Their Three New Coordinators

Steven Haglund
SoFi Stadium Home Of The Chargers. Photo Credit: Gilbert Manzano | OC Register
SoFi Stadium Home Of The Chargers. Photo Credit: Gilbert Manzano | OC Register

The Los Angeles Chargers hired Brandon Staley just over a week ago, and he promised that he would get to work right away. They spent last week conducting interviews for his three coordinator spots, and now they have announced which coaches will be filling them. 

Joe Lombardi is leaving his role as the quarterbacks coach in New Orleans to fill in the role of offensive coordinator for the Chargers. Renaldo Hill is leaving his role as secondary coach in Denver to become Staley’s defensive coordinator, although Staley confirmed that he will continue calling plays on defense. Finally, Derius Swinton II will get his second crack at special teams coordinator after serving as a special teams assistant in Arizona this past season. 

Staley has previous working relationships with all three, which is pretty common for new head coaches. Staley’s relationship with Lombardi goes all the way back to the early 2000s after Staley spent his last season of eligibility as a college quarterback at Mercyhurst college – where Lombardi was his offensive coordinator. Swinton II and Staley spent one season together on John Fox’s staff in Chicago in 2017. Staley of course followed Vic Fangio to Denver, who hired Hill to work with his secondary. 

These three individuals each bring different levels of experience to their new roles and are well deserving of the promotions. Staley promised in his press conference that the foundation of the Chargers program would be built upon relationships, which would help with his “vertical alignment” plans. This approach is obviously different than the one the Chargers had with Anthony Lynn, who was essentially forced to keep Ken Wisenhunt on his staff due to his relationship with Philip Rivers. Lynn also hired Gus Bradley as his defensive coordinator and the two of them did not have a previous relationship together, but their overall philosophies did seem to match up. 

It was rumored that the Chargers wanted to keep the previous offensive staff in place for whoever they hired, but that has now been proven to be false as Shane Steichen is now the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, James Campen has been released, and all of the other position coaches no longer appear on the Chargers website – including Pep Hamilton. These are the risks you take in hiring a new head coach, as it appears Staley appears to be cleaning house. That is his right of course. We wish all the former Chargers coaches nothing but the best in their future endeavors.

There have been other rumblings of who else is going to fill in on his staff, but nothing has been made official yet. That should change now that they have hired his three coordinators. 

Now, let’s get to some analysis of these three coaches.

What Can We Expect Joe Lombardi To Bring To The Table?

Let’s start with the big one, shall we? Twitter was all abuzz when it was announced that the Chargers would be hiring Lombardi as their offensive coordinator. He was once viewed as a rising star in the coaching ranks due to his work in New Orleans. He built a great relationship with Drew Brees and Sean Payton, which ultimately led to him landing his first offensive coordinator job in Detroit. 

In their official statement, the Chargers wrote that: “Lombardi has been one of the premier quarterbacks gurus in the NFL, coaching the position for 10 seasons over two stints with the Saints.” Staley also highlighted that experience: “The wealth of knowledge and experience he possesses, having operated within one of the premier offensive systems in the NFL for over a decade. You think about the relationship he has with Drew Brees – one of the all-time great quarterbacks to ever play the game – and having a front-row seat to that relationship. It’s huge. And then obviously partnering up with Sean Payton – one of the best offensive coaches in the NFL, really one of the best coaches period – that experience is invaluable.” It is notable that Staley hired someone who has a plethora of experience in the NFL as his offensive coordinator, especially one who is so well regarded for his knowledge of the quarterback position.

Many fans will naturally be concerned about his failure in Detroit, but who hasn’t failed in Detroit? If the NFL never gave coaches second chances, we’d never see Andy Reid get his first Super Bowl in Kansas City, or Brian Daboll do amazing work with Josh Allen in Buffalo, or Ron Rivera overcoming cancer and leading Washington to a division title. 

Brees has said repeatedly that he leans heavily on Lombardi for his weekly preparation, even saying that he missed Lombardi while he was in Detroit. It stands to reason that Lombardi has learned a lot in the last four years in New Orleans and should be an improved play-caller in Los Angeles. As long as the line of communication between Staley and Lombardi is better than what it was with Steichen and Lynn, the Chargers offense should be improved.

As for the system that he will be calling, this is where we have to hearken back to Staley’s comments about his vision and plan that includes a “vertical alignment” for the Chargers franchise. In his press conference, he stated that he does not want to impose any one system on Justin Herbert, but rather build one around him. So what they run will likely be a mix of a lot of things – including some of what the Chargers did last year that led to Herbert having the greatest rookie season in NFL history. 

It is clear that the offense is going to be heavily influenced by the system that Payton has built in New Orleans. Obviously, Lombardi has worked under him for 10 years, and when he was asked about his undoing in Detroit he stated that he wanted to run more of what the Saints were doing in New Orleans, but Jim Caldwell wanted to stick to what he knew. They were not vertically aligned.

Staley also has roots in the Saints offense. He spent the summer of 2009 working with them as Lombardi’s guest. He spoke glowingly about that experience, and it clearly helped shape him as a coach. 

Also noteworthy here, the Chargers have not made it official yet, but they reportedly will be hiring Frank Smith away from the Raiders staff to serve as their run game coordinator. Smith also served on the Saints staff, with Lombardi, as an offensive line assistant from 2010 to 2013. 

Obviously, their offense has changed quite a bit as they’ve adapted to Brees’ declining arm strength in recent years, so it will be very interesting to see just how different that system will look in Los Angeles. Ultimately the success of this hiring will all depend on how the relationship between Lombardi and Herbert develops, and how Lombardi installs Staley’s vision.

Renaldo Hill’s Track Record For Player Development Stands Out

Hill and Staley have very similar levels of experience, although Hill does also have a decade’s worth of playing experience in the NFL. Both have spent more time working in college than the NFL and both have been in the NFL for less than five years. I mentioned earlier that Staley had previous working relationships with all three coordinators, but he appears to be closest with Hill – who he said he has a “great personal relationship with”. Hill and Staley of course were both position coaches for Fangio in Denver. 

His experience, both as a player and as a coach, in the Fangio scheme will be invaluable for Staley and the Chargers. He played the safety position in the NFL and has done great work working with some of the league’s best safeties during his short time in the league. He’s helped develop Justin Simmons in Denver and Minkah Fitzpatrick in Miami. Perhaps most importantly, he kept afloat a secondary in Denver that had a revolving door at corner last season. Now he gets to work with former All-Pro safety Derwin James and will be tasked with developing Nasir Adderley, and Alohi Gilman.

Staley will call plays on defense, but I would imagine that Hill will be heavily involved in the process as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if this eventually turns into the defensive equivalent of the Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy dynamic, especially as Hill earns more of Staley’s trust over time.

Derius Swinton II Tasked With Fixing The Chargers Special Teams Unit

Arguably the most important hiring for Staley’s staff is Swinton II. The Chargers have spent basically the entire last decade having a bottom tier special teams unit. In the one season where it was even close to average, they went 12-4 and won a playoff game. The unit of course hit rock bottom in 2020, and that might be putting it lightly. They were easily the worst unit in the league from top to bottom. Ty Long being an average punter was the best part about it. It was such a mess that Lynn essentially had to fire two coordinators before taking over himself, and to his credit, they were not as terrible down the final stretch of the season. 

Michael Badgley’s poor play stole a lot of the headlines, but the coverage units were equally as bad, and until Adderley took over as kick returner, so was the return unit. The amount of ineptitude that wreaked from the special teams unit last year for the Chargers cannot be overstated. It was an all-time terrible unit.

The exciting part about Swinton’s resume is that he appears to be a bit of a short term fix wizard. He has yet to stick around in any one place for very long, something that hopefully changes with the Chargers, but he has made palpable progress in all of the places he’s been. He worked as the special teams coordinator for the 49ers in 2016 and helped improve their kickoff return average by six full yards. During his time in Chicago, the Bears were one of the best punting units in the league. Even going back to his first few years in the league he helped Dustin Colquitt and Matt Prater (who is a free agent by the way) to career seasons. 

Tom Telesco has promised that they will be mixing up the kicking game in 2021, I would assume that means there will be competition at both spots, and that they will put a greater emphasis on the core of the special teams unit. Telesco of course, let all of his core players go after the 2019 season, and that poorly affected the team. It will be Swinton’s task to make sure that the Chargers do not have a repeat performance of the 2020 season, and it seems reasonable to expect improvement. 

The other thing that will work in Swinton’s favor is that he has experience in the game management department, as pointed out in Staley’s statement: “Also, situationally, he’s been instrumental in helping the Cardinals with game management; it’s something that I’m really excited for him to bring to the Chargers.” How big that role was exactly is unknown, but given Staley’s high esteem for analytics, I would think that could be another potential role for Swinton. The Chargers analytical department wasn’t really involved in the day to day process under Lynn, so theoretically having a key coach like Swinton also be well versed in that world will be a huge help for Staley on a game to game basis. 

We really won’t know just how good this staff is until the Chargers get onto a field again, but overall, this seems like a strong group for Staley. We will have to wait and see how the rest of the staff fills out, but Staley is off to a good start.