Brandon Staley asked Steve Kerr for help after Chargers’ playoff collapse

Coach Brandon Staley stands outside the locker room after his Chargers blew a 27-point playoff game lead to the Jaguars.
Coach Brandon Staley stands in stunned silence outside the locker room after his Chargers blew a 27-point AFC wild-card playoff game lead to the Jaguars.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

He has been an All-Pro and a Pro Bowl selection — three times, in fact — and remains the NFL’s highest-paid safety.

All of which today rings decidedly hollow for one of the most abundantly optimistic and affable Chargers.

“The time is now,” Derwin James Jr. said. “We’re not still trying to get settled in L.A. or any of that. That stuff’s over. We know we have the guys to win right now. We just gotta go do it. I’m tired of hearing about what we can do.”

As training camps opened around the league this week, the Chargers reconvened again as a widely forecast playoff contender, a team stuffed with exceptional talent but coming off elite disappointment.


When last seen, they were blowing a 27-0 first-half lead and tumbling 31-30 at Jacksonville in the AFC wild-card playoffs, a defeat that was historic in nature and horrific in reflection.

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Picking through the rubble, changes were made at offensive coordinator (Kellen Moore replaced Joe Lombardi) and defensive coordinator (Derrick Ansley in, Renaldo Hill out).

The Chargers signed veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks to take over for Drue Tranquill, who was allowed to depart via free agency. They’ll also have a new starting safety and cornerback, the team listing JT Woods as a backup safety on their website depth chart and no one listed for one of the corner slots.

Otherwise, the roster remained largely intact as the franchise attempts to qualify for the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since a four-year run that ended in 2009.

Defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day likened his feeling of the loss in Jacksonville to his experience with the 2021 Rams, who rebounded from a playoff defeat the year before to become Super Bowl champions.

“If you don’t learn from it … I mean, how do you not learn from something like that?” he said. “But it’s just a distant memory now. You move on, yeah, you don’t forget, though.”


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So unfamiliar was Brandon Staley in dealing with such a troubling defeat — the collapse was the third-worst in NFL postseason history — that the coach sought counsel not just outside the team but also the sport.

Having met Steve Kerr through a mutual friend in 2021, Staley spent two days with the Golden State Warriors in April during their first-round playoff series against Sacramento.

He noted that Kerr has significant experience with championship coaches such as Lute Olson, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich and title-winning players such as Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan and Stephen Curry.

Staley also knew Kerr was coaching the Warriors when they lost a 3-1 lead to Cleveland in the 2016 NBA Finals and then came back the next season to win the whole thing.

“His perspective was really big for me because I hadn’t been through anything like that before,” Staley said. “I’ve always been attracted to how he thinks, how he leads. You gotta choose people you’re going to try to line up with.

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr watches play as he stands on the sideline.
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr shared words of wisdom with Chargers coach Brandon Staley.
(Darren Yamashita / Associated Press)

“I wanted to make sure that I tried to engage as many people as possible who had been through something similar so that I could draw off their experience and apply it to our situation here. It was very helpful.”

Staley described the aftermath of the Jacksonville collapse as “a feeling of complete responsibility.” He said the weight included the disappointment being felt by everyone from the team’s ownership to lifelong fans.

This is still a franchise that, in 64 seasons, has reached only one Super Bowl, where the 1994 Chargers became kindling for the legend of Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young.

Now, here’s another group of Chargers trying to climb from a hole they didn’t dig but one that swallowed them nonetheless — simply because of the lightning bolts they wear.

“I can’t even believe any of us are lumped in with it because none of us are built like that,” Staley said. “None of us come from even remotely that type of background. It’s part of this team, and I understand that.

“It’s also part of sports. There have been plenty of teams in the NFL, the NBA, whatever, that have gone through the same thing we have and then you have this breakthrough and you don’t look back.


“I know that’s part of building, that you’re going to go through some things like this. Listen, what’s on the outside is on the outside. It’s our responsibility to get the results.”

Any belief that the Chargers are somehow jinxed has been only bolstered the last two seasons, both of which ended with the opposition kicking a deciding field goal on the game’s final play.

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Still, this team did step forward in 2022, winning one more game than the previous season and reaching the playoffs, something the franchise hadn’t done in four years.

“If you look at it from 100 feet up, yeah, it looks bad,” center Corey Linsley said. “But if look at it from 10,000 feet up, we’ve improved. We’ve improved our record and how far we went. That tells us the method of what we’re doing is working.”

The ’22 Chargers improved despite injuries to stars Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Rashawn Slater, Joey Bosa and J.C. Jackson. Better health alone this season could have a profound impact.

And, since Staley’s hiring in January of 2021, there is evidence that the Chargers can compete with the NFL’s best. They won at Kansas City, Cincinnati and Philadelphia in his first season and won four straight late last season to clinch a playoff spot.


“We saw what we can do when we were decimated by injuries,” Linsley said. “So I think it’s more of setting the bar pretty high despite all that and now finding out what we can do if we can stay healthy.”

The bar never has been higher for Herbert, who is entering his fourth season but first with Moore calling plays. In four years with Dallas, Moore’s offenses finished among the top six in points three times.

Chargers wide receiver Quentin Johnston (1) runs a drill during  rookie minicamp.
Chargers are hoping wide receiver Quentin Johnston, their top draft pick, will improve the offense’s big-play abilities.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The Chargers used their first-round pick in April on another target — wide receiver Quentin Johnston — for Herbert. More explosiveness and production is now expected as Herbert has become a popular flier pick for NFL MVP.

“You know you can rely on him, on that side of the ball,” defensive lineman Morgan Fox said. “You love knowing that you have a guy on offense who really is that dude.”

With the start of camp, the Chargers finally and officially can put space between themselves and the graphic, punchline-fodder failure that ended their 2022 season.


They’ve had more than six months to process the loss, to accept their various slices of responsibility, to remember whatever can help them now and forget everything else.

“It was like that first heartbreak,” James said. “It don’t feel good. It stings. It hurts even more when you know you were prepared and ready for it. But I’m off of last year, and so is everybody else. We’ve moved on, and now we’re ready to go.”