Column: Well versed on Chargers curse, Brandon Staley might be the coach to end it
A well-regarded sports executive once told me that only an idiot would judge a coach based on what he says at his introductory news conference.
Almost eight months after Brandon Staley was hired by the Chargers, every time the rookie head coach speaks publicly is basically an extension of that news conference. His team has yet to play a real game; most of what the former Rams defensive coordinator says is theoretical. Until he wins a game, his words are just words.
Nonetheless, as Staley spoke recently under a giant tent next to the Chargers’ practice field, he made a convincing case for why he’ll be the man who removes the longstanding curse afflicting the team.
The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging there is one — and Staley is acknowledging their wretched history.
“I think what people don’t do a good enough job of is admitting what’s out there,” Staley said. “What I’ve tried to do is confront the truth head on with these guys. Like, hey, people do think that you’re cursed.”
Wait, he has addressed this with his team?
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“Oh yeah,” Staley said.
Curses don’t exist. Staley knows that. But he also knows how a franchise’s past can affect the mood of a fan base in times of crisis, how a sense of fatalism in the stands can gradually seep onto the field until the negativity becomes inescapable.
“I’m a former cancer patient,” Staley said. “So are both of my parents. There is no such thing as a person with bad luck. It’s just life. It’s what you make of it. We’ll write our story, based off the people that are here and how we do things.”
Makes sense. Much of what Staley says does.
The 38-year-old Staley, who was the defensive coordinator at John Carroll University just five years ago, is an engaging communicator. He speaks in grammatically-correct sentences, which doesn’t seem like a big deal until you consider how few people do.
His players rave about how smart he is. So do the reporters who cover him every day.
“I love the way he talks,” receiver Keenan Allen said. “He talks with passion, energy and confidence.”
Staley also has a potential generational quarterback in Justin Herbert.
“Quarterback helps a lot,” Staley said. “Your odds of playing in the Super Bowl aren’t very good if you don’t have a premium quarterback. If you don’t, you have to be loaded everywhere else. It’s just hard to do.”
Herbert passed for 4,336 yards and a rookie-record 31 touchdowns last year after being a first-round pick.
“Normally, when you see someone that is as talented as Justin, they will tell you size, arm strength,” Staley said. “But that’s not what people talk about. What they talk about first is intangibles, how sharp he is, what a hard worker he is, how humble he is. And that’s how I know he’ll be a special guy because he has the tangibles on top of premium talent.”
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley says his defense is better after adding familiar faces of corner Trey Marshall and lineman Eric Banks.
Staley especially likes how hard Herbert is on himself.
“That’s what great competitors have, that perfectionist [mentality],” Staley said. “An artist can spot his own flaw before anyone else can. But not only can he identify it, then what he does is he goes out and takes care of it every day. He’s the last one on this practice field every day. He’s the last one every day. He’s the first one in our building every day and he has that competitive stamina to bring his game to life.”
Herbert was upbeat about how he prepared for his second season by facing a Staley-designed defense in training camp.
“He’ll talk about their defense and explain, ‘This is why we play it, this is how the safeties will play it,’ and how to beat it,” Herbert said. “Those are great conversations because I’m new to this league. To learn whatever I can and be around that, he’s a guy that knows so much, so that’s super helpful.”
The Chargers are hoping Staley will be a defensive version of his previous boss, Rams coach Sean McVay. In his lone season with the Rams, Staley coached a defense that gave up the fewest points and yards in the league.
Staley will have players to work with on the Chargers’ defense, so long as the group remains healthy.
All-Pro safety Derwin James was sidelined last season recovering from a knee operation. Defensive end Joey Bosa sat out four games because of two separate concussions.
“They hold their disguise so well and they’re always showing [coverage] shell,” Herbert said. “It puts the offense in a tough position because everything looks the same and you’re not really able to pick up where the pressure is coming from, where to slide to and who to point. Just seeing all of that, it doesn’t get much more complicated than that, so I have really appreciated that.”
How Staley deploys Bosa could be critical, as Melvin Ingram’s departure to the Pittsburgh Steelers will allow blockers to focus more on him.
The Chargers have the golden arm of Justin Herbert to ignite their offense, but rookie coach Brandon Staley needs many others to step their games to qualify for the playoffs.
Bosa said he liked the culture Staley was creating, something that will be critical when hardships strike.
“He’s a genuine guy and he really wants that out of his players,” Bosa said. “I don’t think that there’s any surprises — when we hit some adversity, we’ll see what we’re all made of together — but, right now, I like his energy. I don’t see it as a fake or forced thing. I think he’s learned from some of the best coaches in the league, so he likes to emulate that kind of stuff. I think he’s really genuine. Personally, I really appreciate that.”
Staley has said all the right things so far. The question is how that will translate on to the field.
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