The Denver Broncos have a new head coach to contend with in the AFC West after the Los Angeles Chargers hired Brandon Staley earlier this week. Staley spent the last season as Sean McVay's defensive coordinator, leading the Los Angeles Rams to finish as the NFL's No. 1 defense.
The brainchild of the Rams' top-ranked scoring and total-yards defense has a unique trajectory to his job as a head coach. Staley's NFL coaching career started in 2017 when then-Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio hired him to coach the outside linebackers.
“We had an opening for an outside linebacker coaching position," Fangio said back in December. "A couple guys on the staff there knew of him. I was looking for a younger coach to fill that position—that’s the position that I've always coached a lot. So, I wanted a young guy that I could groom and teach to handle that position for us, and the first offseason through all the OTAs and training camp and then into about the first half of the season I ran those meetings. He sat in there with me and then I turned it over to him."
When Fangio took the head-coaching job in Denver in 2019, Staley followed as the outside linebackers coach once again. Following Fangio's maiden season in the Mile High City, the football fates intervened as McVay requested an interview with Fangio's OLB protoge to serve as L.A.'s defensive coordinator.
Fangio could have blocked the interview. But he saw an opportunity for Staley to receive a massive swing in upward mobility and acquiesced to McVay's request. The rest is history.
In his one year as an NFL defensive coordinator, Staley's unit underwent a renaissance. The year prior, Wade Phillips' coordinated the Rams' defense to a middle-of-the-pack ranking. Staley didn't take the Rams from last to first but the defense's rapid improvement was so striking, the Chargers couldn't resist the temptation to hire him.
So what sort of coach are the Broncos now going to be facing across the division?
"He's a very, very capable coach, obviously," Fangio said of Staley. "He's got a great vast knowledge of the game, both currently and historical. He stays up on all the latest schematic things and developments in the NFL both offensively and defensively. I just think he's got a great football intelligence and obviously it's helped them do a great job here with the Rams.”
At 38 years old, Staley's rapid rise through the NFL coaching ranks is noteworthy. His old boss, McVay, has him beat in the youth department at 34 years old (35 in less than a week), but McVay coached in the NFL eight years before getting his head-coaching gig with the Rams.
At the time, the Rams' hiring of McVay was viewed as a risk due the fact that he turned 31 days after getting the job. Staley, on the other hand, has only coached in the NFL since 2017. He brings just four years of NFL experience to the table.
But as Fangio said, Staley is a special coach with a unique skill-set and talents. If Staley succeeds with the Chargers, will he be viewed as a product of the Fangio coaching tree or McVay?
Odds are, it'll be viewed as yet another McVay assistant making good in the NFL world at large. In that vein, Staley is now the third McVay assistant to land a head-coaching job, joining Green Bay's Matt LaFleur and Cincinnati's Zac Taylor.
Still, Fangio should at least share in some of the credit since it was he who got Staley's foot in the NFL door in Chicago, at which point, the young coach soaked up everything about Fangio's scheme and coaching/teaching philosophies like a sponge — maybe even built on them in L.A.
"I had a call from a potential head coach for next season—called me and asked me if I have any more Brandon Staley's to come be his defensive coordinator," Fangio said. "Brandon's done well for himself, people notice it, and they're calling me to see if I have another one for them.”
The jury is definitely out on Staley as a head coach. The Chargers have a young offense and the chance to build something special around QB Justin Herbert.
Although some might have doubts that the defensive-minded Staley is the right hire to shepherd Herbert through his development as a young QB, something tells me that it's going to end up being a home-run hire for the Chargers. Time will tell.
UPDATE: Staley interviewed Broncos' secondary coach Renaldo Hill for the Chargers' defensive coordinator position on Wednesday according to Tom Pelissero. Fangio could be losing another pupil but I wouldn't fret too much as Denver's defensive coordinator Ed Donatell is an expert secondary coach.