Column: Whom Brandon Staley hires will be as significant as the Chargers hiring him

Brandon Staley watches a Rams practice in September.
New Chargers coach Brandon Staley, 38, was coaching in college just four years ago.
(Greg Beacham / Associated Press)

The Chargers have hired Brandon Staley to be their next head coach … and who else?

Because this is a case in which the details will be as important as the headline.

Staley is 38.

He was an NFL defensive coordinator for only one season.

While the Chargers played their final season in San Diego, he was a coordinator at a Division III university in Ohio.


Staley could be the genius Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey says he is. He could be the next Bill Belichick. But at this stage of his career, whom he places around him will be as critical as his intellect and charisma.

Brandon Staley, coming off his first season as the Rams’ defensive coordinator, has agreed to become the new head coach of the Chargers.

Jan. 17, 2021

When Sean McVay was hired by the Rams, the then-30-year-old offensive whiz asked veteran coach Wade Phillips to run his defense.

Three of McVay’s assistants have become NFL head coaches: Matt LaFleur with the Green Bay Packers, Zac Taylor with the Cincinnati Bengals and Staley.

To whom will Staley turn to run his offense and further develop quarterback Justin Herbert? To whom will he rely on for experienced counsel?

If Staley’s high-speed ascent up the coaching ranks symbolizes his promise, it’s also a reason for concern.

Staley was an outside linebackers coach with the Chicago Bears for two seasons and Denver Broncos for one. He was the Rams defensive coordinator for one season.

That’s the extent of his NFL experience.

How extensive of a network has he developed in that short time?

Anyone who watched the since-fired Anthony Lynn take over as the Chargers special teams coordinator and spread himself thin this season will tell you that hiring the right staff is half the job.


Presumably, Staley and the Chargers have discussed such matters.

Whatever the case, Staley represents a gamble for the Chargers — a necessary gamble, but a gamble nonetheless.

The Chargers are the second team in this market, third if the Raiders are counted. They had to do something significant here — like hire their own version of McVay.

A year after his unceremonious departure from New England, Tom Brady is one win away from yet another Super Bowl heading into championship Sunday.

Jan. 17, 2021

Clearly, they wanted to be ahead of the curve. The question is whether they were too far ahead.

This wouldn’t be the first time. The Chargers believed they landed the Next Big Thing in 2013 when they hired Mike McCoy, who previously was the offensive coordinator of a Broncos team that won a playoff game with Tim Tebow at quarterback.

McCoy went 27-37 over four seasons with the Chargers.

Staley is the third first-time head coach hired by general manager Tom Telesco.

The Chargers broke from conventional wisdom, which is to make a star quarterback the center of the decision-making process. A team with Joe Montana brings on Bill Walsh.


One of the candidates the Chargers interviewed was Brian Daboll, the offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills who oversaw the improvement of Josh Allen.

It’s fair to ask how much credit Staley deserves for running a Rams defense that included the best player in defensive lineman Aaron Donald and the best cornerback in the league in Ramsey.

However, Staley seems to be able to connect with players, with the endorsement by the hard-to-please Ramsey particularly noteworthy. Defensive lineman Michael Brockers said that when Staley first addressed the team in a Zoom call over the summer, he wanted to put on his helmet right then and there because Staley had him so motivated. The quality should serve Staley well in his capacity as head coach.

With Brandon Staley leaving to become coach of the Chargers, Sean McVay and the Rams are once again looking for a defensive coordinator.

Jan. 18, 2021

Brockers responded with one of his best seasons. He wasn’t the only role player who thrived in Staley’s defense. So did Leonard Floyd, Troy Hill and Darious Williams.

Maximizing the talents of such players will be especially critical with the Chargers, whose defense has lacked depth in recent years. As was the case with the Rams, Staley will continue to have elite players on defense in Joey Bosa and Derwin James, though neither has managed to consistently stay on the field because of injuries.

As much as Staley has proved to be a forward-thinker over his four years in the NFL, as many close relationships with players as he has struck, he remains a relatively unknown commodity. He’s proved he can coach a group of linebackers that includes All-Pro Khalil Mack, and he’s shown he can coach a defense stocked with some of the best players in the league.

What he has to demonstrate now is that he can delegate responsibility, that he has the confidence to not feel threatened by coaches with more experience or who are equally, if not more, inventive.