Chargers coach Brandon Staley looks to connect with Justin Herbert – Press Telegram

Brandon Staley didn’t shy away from his lack of experience as an offensive coach when speaking to reporters for the first time since being hired as the Chargers’ head coach.

“I get to be an offensive coach for the first time, you know, since maybe calling some plays with my brothers in the backyard,” Staley said Thursday during his introductory news conference.

Staley, 38, has been fortunate to coach the NFL’s best defensive players in his quick rise from outside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator to head coach.

He went from calling defensive plays for John Carroll University’s Division III program in 2016 to coaching and learning from the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, the Denver Broncos’ Bradley Chubb and Von Miller and the Chicago Bears’ Khalil Mack.

“I told (Staley) he could coach 20 years and not have two (defensive) guys like that,” Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said last year when Staley was hired as the Rams’ defensive coordinator.

For his first head coaching job at any level, Staley will get to work with Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who is considered a generational talent after a remarkable rookie season that featured several broken records.

Staley was joking when he mentioned his backyard football coaching experience with his brothers in their hometown of Perry, Ohio. He has plenty to offer as an offensive-minded coach who played quarterback for Dayton and Mercyhurst University.

“With Jon Gruden, we were both quarterbacks at Dayton. … I’ll tell you that I was a little better quarterback than he was,” Staley joked about the Raiders coach and now AFC West rival.

Staley is not limited to one side of the football and, listening to him Thursday, it was easy to understand why the Chargers fell for him during the hiring process.

His mother, Linda, was an English and reading teacher before passing away in 2004 because of cancer. His father, Bruce, is a former youth and high school football coach. Brandon and Bruce have also had battles with cancer.

“She’s the most graceful, loving and strongest person I know,” Staley said about his mother.

Rams coach Sean McVay and Broncos coach Vic Fangio have raved about Staley’s ability to communicate and teach as a football coach. But for Staley, it starts with listening before coaching, something he learned from his mother.

The high recommendations from NFL head coaches and former players and the way Staley was raised by his parents are what appealed to the Chargers before talking X’s and O’s.

“There were some things that were really important to us, along those lines, such as your authenticity, honesty, ability to communicate and probably most importantly, a genuine ability to really connect with the players, and really with everybody in the building,” said John Spanos, the Chargers’ president of football operations.

“It became really clear really quickly that (Staley) possesses all the traits we’re looking for. And I mean he really blew us away in the interview.”

Staley is known for making quick connections with people. He became relatable to the sports writers on the Zoom video conference when he mentioned that he was a former sports clerk at The News-Herald, a newspaper in Northeast, Ohio.

Obviously, Staley had a different career path and quickly ascended through the coaching ranks, but despite guiding the top-ranked total defense and scoring defense with the Rams in 2020, his new job with the Chargers came as a surprise to many because of his lack of coaching experience in the NFL.

But Staley said he’s been working toward this opportunity since imitating his father in first grade by drinking coffee and reading the sports section daily.

Staley said he realized he could be a good head coach when he became the defensive coordinator at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas in 2010. He was more convinced when he received his first NFL opportunity in 2017 with the Chicago Bears as an outside linebackers coach.

Staley prepared to be an NFL head coach at night while working by day for Hutchinson Community College, James Madison and John Carroll University.

“I was envisioning going against Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and I was preparing and I felt like I had a double education going,” Staley said. “After I was done preparing for a college game, I was studying the NFL.”

Staley presented a strong résumé and references to help win over the Chargers during two interviews on Zoom and in person. But what sold the Chargers was his plans for the future with Herbert and a defense that features many promising players.

“So now what’s the vision for the Los Angeles Chargers,” Staley said. “I know that’s why a lot of you guys are here. What’s the vision for this team and how are we going to get there.”


Staley said the first call he made after agreeing to be the Chargers’ head coach was to his wife, Amy. The second was to Herbert.

Staley understands Herbert’s development is a priority for the Chargers and his plans for that impressed the Chargers.

Staley’s experiences as a college quarterback helped him become a defensive guru, and now he wants to share his defensive knowledge to expand Herbert’s game.

“I want to share all the knowledge that I have to help Justin to hopefully have a dual education,” Staley said. “There’s other education that I can hopefully give him to shape and complete his game as a player.”

Staley said he learned from McVay that it’s best to create an offensive system around the starting quarterback to utilize their strengths, find a comfort zone and provide solutions for potential obstacles in games.

“The best quarterbacks are great at the end of the games (and) end of half,” Staley said. “I think Justin certainly expressed himself in the NFL in that way and what’s exciting is you know he’s just at the beginning.”

Spanos and General Manager Tom Telesco said they weren’t concerned about possibly hindering Herbert’s development if there’s a revolving door at offensive coordinators with them potentially leaving for future head coaching jobs because Staley will have a strong input in the offensive philosophy.

Staley pointed to the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, former Colts coach Tony Dungy, the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll, former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, the Ravens’ John Harbaugh and the Patriots’ Bill Belichick as successful head coaches who started with a defensive background.


What Staley plans to do for Herbert and the offense is what made him a successful defensive coach. He prefers to utilize players’ strengths instead of making them fit a specific system.

Staley said he plans to be the defensive play-caller during the season. He didn’t say if he’ll keep the 3-4 base defense he ran with the Rams, but he added that he’ll mix up the groupings and often use five defensive backs on the field.

“We want to uniquely shape it around our guys,” Staley said about his defensive philosophy. “That’s probably the hallmark of the way we play is that agility that we have to feature our premium players, and I think the flexibility that we have to match up with the specific offenses that we’re having to face all the time. I think that’s a real hallmark of how we played (with the Rams) and I think it’s sort of expressed itself this year.

“The way that we play on defense is the exact same way we want to play on offense and in the kicking game, and I think that’s what I wanted to express in the interview. We want to put people in conflict. We want to use multiple groupings to take advantage of our players. We want to play with different tempos to put people in a real bind.

“That’s what kinda makes us unique is that we’re not tied to one specific way of playing, but I think what you can count on is that guys like Joey Bosa, guys like Derwin James, guys like Kenneth Murray – all these guys that I can’t wait to talk to and coach – that they’re going to be featured to the best of their abilities and we’re going to collaborate and create with them to make sure that they do what they do best.”


What likely made Staley the ideal candidate for the Chargers is his versatile coaching background.

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