In his first appearance with the media, the Chargers’ new head coach Brandon Staley was as prepared as you would expect from a guy who has shot his way to the top of an NFL franchise just four years removed from being the defensive coordinator for a Division III team.
He spared no words and did it all with a giant smile on his face.
Below I highlighted my takeaways from the introductory press conference and the overall lasting impressions I got from Staley’s first presser with the media.
First Impression: Brandon Staley is extremely smart and incredibly genuine
From the first few words spoken by the new Chargers head coach all the way until the final question was asked, Staley was impressive the whole way through. He exuded excitement and you could feel the itch he had to get started working on his plan for this football team.
There was an extremely refreshing lack of what you would consider “coach speak” in his 90-minute long conversation with the media. In that lengthy amount of time, you would normally expect to hear at least one regurgitated cliche at some point but I can’t recall a single phrase off the top of my head. He wasn’t just speaking to speak, he was thoughtful in his words and wanted to make sure his words were coming out the way he intended.
His meteoric rise through the coaching ranks has been justified by many with the notion that Staley is a young “genius” who’s on his way to be the next great coach in the NFL. The more he spoke, the more it made sense why he is where he is at this point in his career.
About two-thirds through the press conference, I asked Staley what it’s been like to coach some of the best players in the NFL through just his first four years in the pros. After all, the cumulative talent of Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey is immense. The amount of All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors that his players have earned is so large that a number of coaches, many years his elder, may never experience the same in their careers.
What really stood out about his answer to my question was simply how much thought he was putting into it. He paused quite a few times to decide what to exactly highlight, but in the end, he simply said that “I learned more from Khalil Mack than he ever did from me.” You don’t hear a statement like that all that often because most coaches are stuck in the traditional coach-player relationship where only one side learns from the other. Staley made it known he’s a huge advocate for being a good listener and sometimes that means opening your ears to your own players.
One thing HC Brandon Staley has emphasized today is has the importance of listening and collaborating which are keys to being an effective communicator. #Chargers— NICK HAMILTON (@NickHamiltonLA) January 21, 2021
Something I was happy to learn: Staley is big on relationships
Towards the beginning of his press conference, Staley was asked what are some traits that will be indicative of his team going forward. One of those things was relationships and he went on to express how important he believes relationships are in the potential success of a football team. Prior to Thursday’s media availability, Staley said he had already reached out to numerous current and former players from the Chargers franchise, including Derwin James, Justin Herbert, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Shawne Merriman.
When you pair this focus on relationships with his own high-regard for being a good listener, it paints a picture of a football team that will be excellent communicators. I liked this a lot because with great communication comes a great reduction in mistakes. I’ve always believed that the majority of frustration in this world, in any situation, could be solved by better communication. It erases any potential doubt and misunderstanding and you can’t ever have any of those things if you want your football team to be at its’ best. When you watch Staley’s defense this past season, you’re seeing some of the best communication in the league, especially in the secondary. You don’t become the top unit in the NFL by not knowing your responsibilities play-in and play-out.
This fan base has seen their defense — filled with all kinds of talent in recent years — constantly fail to live up to their lofty expectations. Under Staley, I can’t see that being a problem for this franchise any longer.
My favorite moment: Staley acknowledging ESPN’s Shelley Smith as a fellow cancer survivor
There was a lot to love during Staley’s time at the microphone but it’s hard to think anything regarding football or Xs-and-Os talk was more impactful on the media or the listeners than Staley’s history of being part of a “cancer family” as he called it, and the acknowledgment to ESPN’s Chargers beat writer Shelley Smith, who is also a cancer survivor in her own right.
When ask about his bout with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Staley — unprompted — gave a special shoutout and blew a kiss to Smith who sat quietly in the corner of my Zoom screen for the majority of the call. The two haven’t met in person yet, but the unspoken connection between them built through their own adversity with the horrible disease was very apparent. Staley’s mother passed away when he was still in college and he spoke at length about her and what kind of lasting impact she had on him. When Smith finally spoke, she made sure to let him know that she was sure she would have loved his mother and the new head coach echoed the sentiment.
Football is just a game in the end but it was a really humbling and emotional moment to take a step back and acknowledge the work and effort these people have put in to be where they are today despite taking one of the most difficult paths to get there.
By the end of the call, you would have been hard-pressed to find many dry eyes in the house.
Concluding thoughts: I think the Chargers got the right guy
Obviously, no one can see into the future. So when I say that I think the Chargers hired the right man to coach this team in 2021 and beyond, my level of confidence is only based off what I feel inside. Yes, it’s just one measly press conference and anything can happen from this point on, but it’s tough to listen to what we all heard in those 90 minutes and feel any other way about it. Staley showed no signs of being unprepared or lacking in proper experience.
When I asked his thoughts on the recent youth movement in the NFL regarding the growing number of head coaches under the age of 40, Staley said it’s much easier nowadays to educate yourself and learn due to the accessibility of information, mentioning that we’ve got all of it in the palm of our hands if we want it.
At 38 years old, he is now the third-youngest head coach in the NFL, behind his former head coach Sean McVay (34) and Cincy’s Zac Taylor (37), another member who earned a Head coaching gig after spending time on McVay’s staff.
Staley brings an extremely fresh perspective on the game of football and is more prepared to lead a professional franchise than you’d expect at his age. Head coaches need to have equal knowledge and plans regarding all three phases of the game and the Chargers believe Staley has all of that. Early in the press conference, general manager Tom Telesco mentioned that at one point during their interview he forgot entirely that Staley was a defensive coordinator because of how fleshed-out his plan was for Justin Herbert and the offensive side of the ball.
It’s only been a matter of days since he was hired, but as far as I can tell, Staley has checked off just about every box you would want in a head coach.
I’m excited about the future of this team. You should be excited, as well.