Brandon Staley has only been coaching in the NFL for four seasons. And yet the energetic defensive guru now finds himself in the primetime spot of landing perhaps the most coveted head coaching gigs in the league. The Los Angeles Chargers officially introduced Staley as the team’s new head coach during a virtual press conference on Thursday, Jan. 21.
This is so exciting,” Staley said during his nearly two-hour presser. “I really appreciate everyone being here. This is what the NFL so amazing, is all the people that are interested in it and do it for a living. I’m just so excited to be here. It’s an exciting day, as John said. It’s an exciting day, it’s a special day. For me and my family, it’s a dream come true. For dreams to come true, there are so many people to thank. There are so many people whose love, support and unwavering belief have helped us earn an opportunity as special as this one.”
Staley is somewhat of a newbie in the NFL coaching ranks compared to other individuals who have more experience than the former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator. And with the outcry of the lack of African Americans and other people of color in the head coaching fraternity, Staley landing the Chargers job could be conceived as a slap in the face to other probable candidates.
However, the Chargers are coming off a four-year run with Anthony Lynn, the franchise’s first Black head coach. In those four years, the Chargers made the playoffs once. In his first two seasons, Lynn directed the Chargers to 9-7 (2017) and 12-4 (2018) marks. The last two seasons turned out to be Lynn’s undoing as the Chargers registered 5-11 (2019) and 7-9 (2020) records, leading to his departure from the team.
Chargers President of Football Operations John Spanos said the organization was simply looking for the best candidate possible they could find to lead the team at this moment.
“It was really important to us to find the best head coach for this team,” Spanos said. “We weren’t out to find the best coordinator. We wanted someone that really had a clear vision for all three phases of the game — someone that could implement a true vertical alignment in all three phases of the game. It was a really thorough process. We cast a really wide net. We considered all different types of resumes and backgrounds for this job — the offensive side, defensive side, pro coaches, college coaches, retired coaches, coordinators, position coaches.
“We really wanted to come into this thing with an open mind.,” Spanos continued. “We had no bias going in. There were no favorites going in. Everyone started off on an equal playing field. It was a very strong list of candidates. I just want to take a second and thank everyone that took the time to interview with us because it was a really impressive group and it was hard to even come up with a shortlist. Once we did come up with a shortlist, our shortlist was longer than it had ever been.”
Once the Chargers did get to their shortlist, it was clear-cut that Staley was their man.
“We began the interview process and once we started talking with Coach Staley, it became really clear really quickly that he possesses all of the traits that we’re looking for,” Spanos said. “He really blew us away in the interview. Beyond the interview, another important part of the process for us was the reference work that we did and talking with people that have been with Coach Staley in the building — hearing what former players had to say about him.
“I think there were some really strong reoccurring themes that kept coming up when people would talk about Coach Staley,” Spanos added. “One was intelligence and the other one — probably most importantly — was connection and his ability to connect with people, his ability to connect with players. We feel those traits are just paramount for this job.”
In his first two years in the league, Staley worked as outside linebacker coach for the Chicago Bears. He then took on the same line of employment for the Denver Broncos during the 2019 season. Last year, Staley made a big splash as the head of the Rams defensive unit. All he did in his one season with Los Angeles was turn the Rams into the top-ranked defense in the entire NFL.
For good measure, the Rams were No. 1 in pass defense and the best team in holding opponents down in points per game. Staley, who coached at John Carroll University and at James Madison prior to his leap to the NFL, admitted that his meteoric rise in the coaching ranks probably has some people scratching their heads.
“It doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, I know that, but every day that I was coaching at John Carroll, James Madison, Hutchinson [Community College], all of those experiences, I was envisioning going against [Buccaneers QB] Tom Brady, [Packers QB] Aaron Rodgers or [Seahawks QB] Russell Wilson,” Staley said. “I was preparing. I felt like I had a double education going.
“Yeah, we were competing in college to win every single game, but in my heart and after I was done preparing for a college game, I was studying the NFL and trying to become as good as I could be to compete in this league because that was always the dream of mine,” Staley added. “I think that those experiences have uniquely shaped me. Again, it doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, but I think they uniquely prepared me for this opportunity. I think that back then, if you talked to the people that were with me that I worked with, coached with or coached against, I would hope they would say that they thought this was possible.”
The opportunities that Staley has had have made this moment possible for him, something rarely afforded to minority coaching candidates. Staley is aware of this and the need for the league to be even more cognizant of this issue.
“We have such a unique opportunity in front of us. I think the awareness and overall mission statement of the NFL has changed significantly, I would say, in the last year or so. I can speak individually on where I just came from, the guys that I was directly with on my defensive staff,” Staley said. “I had four African-American coaches on my staff that are all superstars — [Rams Defensive Line Coach] Eric Henderson, [Rams Safeties Coach] Ejiro Evero, [Rams Cornerbacks Coach] Aubrey Pleasant, [Rams Defensive Quality Control Coach] Jonathan Cooley. Those guys are special.
“I’ve worked with so many others in the past that I could name,” Staley stated. “I think the biggest thing that needs to happen is that people need to have a platform for these guys to be able to express themselves to the world and the NFL. There has been a movement to make that happen, but all you can do is live the mission. For someone like myself that is so fortunate to be here, all I can do moving forward is do my best to make sure that everybody on this call, everybody that’s in the National Football League knows that’s a big part of our mission statement. The NFL, the only way it’s going to be as good as it can be is if we really make progress on this issue. I think that you’ll be able to see that within our coaching staff moving forward.”
As he moves forward with stacking people on his coaching staff, Staley is inheriting a Chargers team loaded with superstar talent on both sides of the football. Edge rusher Joey Bosa, linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. and secondary stalwarts Derwin James, Nassir Adderley, and Casey Hayward Jr. front the team’s defensive unit.
Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, the franchise’s next great quarterback, has the luxury of tossing passes to Keenan Allen and a host of young wide receivers, including Jalen Guyton. On his previous stops, Staley had the fortune of coaching up Khalil Mack, Von Miller and Aaron Donald. Now, he will be tasked to upgrade the play of Herbert, the probable Rookie of the Year selection, and getting the most out of the rest of the personnel on his roster.
“I think that player development really has been a core strength of the places I’ve been,” said Staley. “There are obviously some talented guys that just crush it right away, but I think this is a player developmental game. We’ve talked a lot about the teaching element. I think a hallmark of where we’ve been is that we’ve been able to take players and help their game really express itself to the league.”