‘He never flinched’: How coach Brandon Staley guided Chargers to playoffs
His coaching seat has gone from sizzling to soothing to who knows what’s next, Brandon Staley experiencing a coach’s lifetime in the span of barely a month.
From 6-6 to the AFC’s top wild-card spot, Staley has steered the Chargers into the postseason by avoiding an on-field calamity and ignoring an off-field cacophony.
“A lot of people outside the building have opinions about what should happen inside the building,” defensive lineman Morgan Fox said. “But they don’t know what goes on inside the building. You have to give all the credit for this to Coach Staley and his staff.”
Behind a steadiness and an authenticity cited by several of his players, Staley has this franchise in the playoffs for the first time since the 2018 season. The Chargers travel to Jacksonville for a wild-card game Saturday night against the AFC South champion Jaguars.
In two years, he is 19-15 overall, his first team eliminated from playoff contention on the final snap of the season.
Staley has coached 36 regular-season weeks. The Chargers’ record has been .500 or better at the end of 35 of those weeks.
Chargers Mike Williams, Joey Bosa and Kenneth Murray Jr. all had to leave the Denver game because of injuries, but should be OK to face Jacksonville.
Still, the notion persists — at least among the public — that a loss to the Jaguars could trigger change, perhaps throughout the organization.
“All that stuff’s crazy,” Fox said. “You have to give him credit. No one in this building flinched. He never flinched. He never wavered. He not only kept us together, but he held us to a high standard.”
Said wide receiver Mike Williams: “That’s just outside noise. People need stuff to talk about, so they talk about things that are going to cause more conversation. In this locker room, that isn’t being talked about.”
The Chargers advanced despite significant injuries to significant contributors. They won four games in a row starting in mid-December, a time when all the contenders around them stumbled.
“Coach Staley’s done a hell of job all year,” wide receiver DeAndre Carter said. “Everything we’ve been through injury-wise, keeping us together, keeping us on the same mission. I think it’s just a testament to him as a coach, as a leader.”
Staley is about to make his postseason debut as a head coach against a man who coached his first playoff team to a Super Bowl title — Doug Pederson won with the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles.
This will be Pederson’s seventh playoff game. He won his first four and has lost his last two.
Chargers: First look at AFC wild-card opponent Jacksonville Jaguars, who won a regular-season matchup in Los Angeles between the teams in Week 3, 38-10.
Staley was an assistant with the 2018 Chicago Bears, who lost a wild-card game. He was the defensive coordinator of the 2020 Rams, who won on wild-card weekend before losing in the divisional round.
“That was always my dream, as a young kid, to be able to compete at the highest level in sports and to be on this type of stage where the best of the best are in one tournament,” Staley said. “That’s where you want to be.
“It’s the very best players, the very best teams, the very best coaches, the very best organizations. That’s where you find out a lot about where you are. We’re excited that we’re here.”
Then, using a phrase he often does when describing the careers of young players, Staley added, “It’s just the beginning.”
The Chargers entered this season as a trendy pick to reach the Super Bowl, or at least displace Kansas City from atop the AFC West. The latter didn’t happen, but the former remains a possibility.
What wasn’t expected was the path the Chargers took to reach the second week of January. Mostly because of the injuries, theirs was a twisting journey full of setbacks and struggles.
Through it all, his players say, Staley remained as predictable as the next two-minute warning.
“His steadiness — the mantra never changing — that really helps guys around here,” center Corey Linsley said. “Sometimes, you see coaches get anxious. You feel it in the meetings. You feel it in the practices. Never feeling that here is a big part of why we’ve [gotten to] this point.”
Williams (back) was estimated to be a non-participant had the Chargers practiced Tuesday — they had a walk-through. Staley reiterated that the Chargers expect Williams to practice at some point this week.
Edge rusher Joey Bosa (groin) also appeared on the team’s injury report for the first time since he returned in Week 17. The Chargers estimated that Bosa would have been a full participant. In his second game back after core-muscle surgery that cost him 12 games, Bosa played 23 snaps Sunday at Denver but did not reenter after halftime.
Linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. (neck) also was estimated as a full participant after he was hurt against the Broncos.
Rashawn Slater off IR
Left tackle Rashawn Slater will practice this week as the Chargers activated his 21-day window to return from the injured-reserve list.
Staley said Slater wouldn’t be available to play Saturday, but the Chargers needed to make the move in order to get him back as soon as possible if they advance.
Slater, a Pro Bowl player as a rookie last season suffered a torn biceps in Week 3, missing the final 14 games of the regular season.
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