When the organization decided they needed a new voice leading their locker room, many candidates were interviewed. Sometimes change is required after four seasons and the last resulting in more losses than wins. The candidate that stood out to Dean Spanos, his family, and general manager Tom Telesco was Brandon Staley.
He was with the L.A. Rams for one season as a defensive coordinator. He coached cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive tackle Aaron Donald while helping guys emerge like safety John Johnson and cornerback Troy Hill.
It is well known that Ramsey doesn't hand out compliments, but with Staley, it is different.
"He's the best defensive coordinator that I've had for sure in the NFL," Ramsey said at the end of last season.
As he said, it was not meant as a knock on anyone, but rather that is just how good Staley is as a defensive mind.
"He knows how to use his players and works well to put his players in position to make plays or have an impact on the game," said Ramsey. "He knows how to get the best out of people. He knows how to calm people down and keep us going throughout the games. I just think he's great. There's literally nothing negative I can say about him. I think he would be an amazing head coach."
Staley now has his opportunity with the Chargers.
After getting the job and calling his wife, he decided to call quarterback Justin Herbert to introduce himself. He lasted a while on the phone with the Rookie of the Year. He also called every player on the team in the following weeks.
That is what Ramsey was talking about, Staley wants to connect on a deeper level with his players.
"Coach Staley has done a great job of building relationships," said Herbert. "That's one of the things that he really wanted to establish early on. He wanted everyone to work together to communicate and play as one. All three phases of the game need to compete as one. As an offense, as a defense, as a special teams, to take care of each other in practice. Help each other up when we get knocked down. Ultimately, it's to hold everyone accountable."
He has been in charge for about seven months now, and things have changed within the Chargers organization. During his opening press conference, Staley mentioned that he had a plan for the team.
He found his coaching staff by reaching in both the NFL and six being from college football. The offensive system the Chargers are going to run will be a mixture of some of the most successful offenses in the NFL.
Staley has quickly ascended the ranks in the NFL. Five years ago, he was at John Carroll University as their defensive coordinator, and now he is a head coach in the NFL.
He was asked last week about how he was able to teach a complicated NFL defensive system at John Carroll and the players being able it pick it up. The former college quarterback said they adjusted to teach so his players would understand the same way he is doing with the Chargers.
"We are just better at it because we are always thinking about the best way to do it," said Staley. "As I said, I am not promising that it's going to be perfect, but I know that the process and our intentions are where it needs to be. You have to be like that in order to be as good as you can be. More importantly, your players have to know that. They need to know when you walk into a meeting that you're trying your best for them."
The offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL last year. They added Corey Linsley, Oday Aboushi, Matt Feiler to give quarterback Justin Herbert some time to throw. They drafted left tackle Rashawn Slater with the 13th overall pick.
He is changing the culture in the building while shaping the team in his and his coach's image.
"If I give you a piece of paper and I tell you what to do, it will never mean as much as if I were to show you how to do it first and why we're doing it," explained Staley. "What I like to do is give life to what's on paper or what's on the screen so that I can create the buy-in, I can create the investment from the player, the coach, whomever — I want to show them exactly what we're doing, why we're doing it and when we're doing it and, draw from a lot of inventory to paint a picture for somebody."
It was evident that Staley paid attention. During OTA's and minicamp, he told the players to show up in shorts and jerseys with no helmets. He also made any 11-on-11 work be a walk-through to avoid any potential disaster.
"Coach [Brandon Staley] is trying his best to take care of us," said receiver Mike Williams. "Injuries [were an issue] in the past, so he's taking care of us. We're having fun. We're making the best of every opportunity and every rep in practice."
There have been injuries in the past by the time week one rolls around. In the last two seasons, the team had lost safety and team captain Derwin James before week one. By this point three years ago they had lost defensive end Joey Bosa at this point.
Staley was looking to change that, especially during training camp.
He came in with a plan. He let veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga rest numerous times. He didn't risk multiple players during preseason games like Herbert, Bosa, James, and other critical players.
"Coach Staley has done a good job at managing us and managing our bodies," said Bosa. "I mean, it is a lot, defense checks this and that. There's a lot going on. It's a lot to learn for all of us. Go back a month, and you can see we that have come a long way. With a few more weeks, we will be more prepared and ready to go."
The rookie head coach stated numerous times that the players would get more out of their practices than they would in a preseason game.
During camp, he has walked around to each section of the field, making sure he sees everything that is going on with his team. He has opinions about the offense, defense, and even with special teams. He puts his spoon in each bowl of soup.
"You want a head coach who will always be involved in all aspects of the game; offense, defense, and special teams," said cornerback Michael Davis. "He is that coach. That's what you want."
Obviously, Staley will be more focused on the defense because he will be calling the plays during the season while defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill will watch from the booth.
There are some new wrinkles in the defense. There have been some examples of it during camp, but it will be on full display Sunday against the Washington Football Team.
The defense will feature some different twists, like James being all over the field at different spots. It could mean Chris Harris Jr. is at safety. It could be a heavy dose of multiple defensive backs on the field. It will be different.
"He gives us different opportunities to win as a whole team," explained edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu. "With the different looks, you know it questions the offense. You have to think a little more. We are not just going to line up and go, so it gives us an advantage of being one step ahead of our opponent."
The offense will feature different schematic things from numerous other offenses like the New Orleans Saints with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi coming from the Saints. It could be a more explosive offense if the offensive line stays healthy.
"I'm excited to see what's to come," said defensive tackle Justin Jones. "What we're doing on defense and offense is going to be scary for a lot of other guys in the league. They haven't seen anything like this. They haven't seen the speed we have in our defense."
What makes Staley unique is the way he is able to reach out to his players. He tries to see the game through his player's eyes while also allowing them to teach. He will let Harris teach other cornerbacks in the film room about what he sees on the field.
“At first, you’re painting the picture,” explained Staley. “But as they learn more, that’s where the ownership comes in. So, ‘hey guys, we could do this two ways this week. We could treat this bunch two ways this week. What ways do you like? Hey, [CB] Chris [Harris Jr.], you’re the one that’s going to be in there in the fire. Hey, there’s two options here. I like them both, what works better for you? Hey, we’re on third down, we have a couple good rush plans. Let’s say we have five-man rush plans that we like. Alright, [LB]Joey [Bosa], talk to me. Which ones do you really like this week? Let’s rank them.’”
Players are on the field while coaches are on the sideline. Both coaches and players can benefit from the different perspectives.
This team is about holding each other accountable that even means the head coach has to look in the mirror sometimes.
"We just had something down there today that I learned from last year, that I didn't coach well enough with the [Los Angeles] Rams," explained Staley. "I didn't coach it well enough, and I showed them, 'Guys, this is what I jacked up on last year, and this is how we are going to fix it moving forward.' That's what players want. They just want to be able to see, 'Yeah, alright, you are right, coach, you jacked that up.' This is going to help us moving forward. It's having a breakthrough like that with them."
He is a younger coach that can connect easier with players.
"Motivated would be a good word," said edge rusher Kyler Fackrell. "There are a lot of guys who are relatively young with a lot of talent. We are out to prove ourselves as individuals and as a defense. What I love most about Coach Staley is you can tell by the way that he talks and coaches that he loves football. He's never dragging when he comes into the building. He's about it all the time."
It is unknown yet if "activation" or gaining a relationship will translate to wins. Staley has been successful as a coordinator and positional coach. Next Sunday will be his first test.
He has done everything the right way so far, and the Chargers seem to be the healthiest they have been going into the season in recent memory.
"I mean, to be honest with you, he's probably one of the best coaches I've had in 12 years," said defensive tackle Linval Joseph.