Column: Chargers bolting into the unknown quite a bit with Brandon Staley

New Chargers coach Brandon Staley answers questions during his introductory news conference on Thursday.
(Mike Nowak / Los Angeles Chargers)

Brandon Staley said plenty of words, but didn’t say much.

The Chargers’ new coach certainly didn’t do what Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions did earlier in the day, which was to promise his team would kick opponents in their teeth and bite off their kneecaps.

Staley is a Football Guy, but he isn’t the kind of Football Guy that Campbell is.

Staley, 38, is a Modern Football Coach.

He said during his introductory news conference Thursday that he started dreaming of this moment when he was drinking coffee and reading the sports page as a 7-year-old.


Chargers coach Brandon Staley says he has been preparing for this job since he was a kid, always thinking about the day he and the NFL would meet.

Jan. 21, 2021

And that’s what he sounded like, as if he devoted a lifetime to not only learning the game but also refining a public persona required to deal with the heightened media demands that are part of the profession.

Staley smiled a lot. He was a polished speaker. He was as warm as could be over a videoconference, calling reporters he didn’t know by their first names and complimenting them on the questions they asked. He mentioned how he worked in the sports department of a suburban newspaper in Northeast Ohio.

“I’ve been a clerk late at night putting some agate together,” he said, his use of industry jargon drawing laughs from reporters on the call.

Asked about beating cancer in his 20s, Staley graciously pointed to a reporter on the call who endured her own well-publicized battle with the disease.

The intimate touches were offset by the distance he created with his lack of specificity about his plans.


Listening to Staley was like listening to Rams coach Sean McVay or Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations. He was likable, sometimes even funny, just not particularly revealing. He spoke in generalities.

People like that don’t make over-the-top declarations the way Campbell did. They also don’t have to apologize for homophobic remarks they made in college, which was something else Campbell did.

But the Lions and their fans know what they have in Campbell. He’s a meathead. He’ll coach like a meathead.

Brandon Staley smiles as he signs on to become the Chargers' 17th head coach.
(Ty Nowell / Los Angeles Chargers)

Who knows what Staley is?

The uncertainty is unsettling, considering how much the Chargers are wagering on him.

“We weren’t out to find the best coordinator,” said John Spanos, the team’s president of football operations. “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.”

Staley was the Rams’ defensive coordinator for one season. Beyond that, his NFL experience is limited to three seasons as an outside linebackers coach, two with the Chicago Bears and one with the Denver Broncos. He’s never been a head coach at any level.


Now, he’ll be establishing the guiding principles of not only the Chargers’ defense, but also the team’s offense and special teams. He’ll be responsible for Justin Herbert’s development.

“The things that are going to make this offense here successful — the philosophies, the strategies, the components — they’re going to come from Brandon,” said Spanos, who pointed out that Staley was a college quarterback at Dayton.

Spanos sounded as he was certain this would work, raising the possibility of their offensive coordinators — not one, but multiple coordinators — leaving to become head coaches elsewhere.

“But those components that I talked about, it’s impossible for them to leave when they’re coming from the head coach,” Spanos said. “That’s why the vertical alignment is so important.”

At this point, the team’s fan base will have no choice but to take the words of Spanos and general manager Tom Telesco, who raved about how well Staley interviewed.

“He was very clear and concise with the plan he had for us,” Telesco said. “There were no buzzwords, no platitudes, it was just very to the point. A lot of substance to his answers, so that really stood out.”


Joe Barry, the Rams linebackers coach and assistant head coach, is joining the Chargers as linebackers coach and defensive passing game coordinator.

Jan. 21, 2021

Staley described his precocity as product of the times. Asked about how some young coaches have received chances to become head coaches in recent years, he said, “I think that access to information can explain a lot of it. Younger people now have more access to information than ever before. Ten years seems like 20 years now, just because of the amount of information that you have in the palm of your hand. It’s almost like when we look at our phones, it’s not what is in the palm of your hand, it’s what you make of it. You can push this thing and take it a long way if you’re willing to invest in your game.”

Staley, who said he was inspired by the book “Moneyball” and has watched video streams of MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conferences, is also a major proponent of analytics.

“It’s just a fancier term for information, for data,” he said. “People have been working through tendencies and personnel reports as long as the NFL has been in existence, but what’s been able to happen more is there has been more resources devoted to getting information quicker and you have more access to different types of information.

“You just know that it can help you make better decisions and it can help your players improve.”

In theory, this sounds promising. But the key is in the details, which remain a mystery for now.