By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com

As team captain and two-year starter at the University of Dayton, first-year Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley enhanced his football knowledge while playing for Mercyhurst College. Staley, a Perry, Ohio native, never wavered from his passion for an NFL head coach. He spent three seasons at John Carroll as defensive coordinator/ secondary coach, with a stint as the defensive coordinator /linebackers at James Madison in 2014.

It was his final year at John Carroll where his innovative coaching style and enhanced knowledge of the game earned him national acclaim. As he was named National Coordinator of the Year for Division III, after leading his unit to rank third in the nation in total defense (218.0 ypg.) and fourth in scoring defense (12.6 ppg). This is where Staley, the former University of Dayton quarterback, zeroed in on the importance and benefits of building productive relationships with his players.  

Staley recognizes how relationships and competition impact players’ development, so he focused on this process as he began to refine his coaching style. Once he had the opportunity to be a position coach in the NFL, his astute knowledge of the game and willingness to empower his players would shine through. His effectiveness as a coach would first show up as the outside linebackers coach with the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos.

Because he was able to get the most from players like the Bears Khalil Mack and the Broncos Von Miller, Staley was offered the defensive coordinator role with the Los Angeles Rams. In his first season with the Rams Staley, coached them up to become the best defense in NFL in 2020. The Rams defensive unit improved by more than four points per game in scoring defense, compared to 2019. They would post the best single-season average allowed by the team in nearly two decades. Additionally, they became the third-best rushing defense while earning a ranked No. 1 in total defense, passing defense, and scoring defense.

Staley’s success did not go unnoticed by the team the Rams share their stadium with, and once the Chargers relieved Anthony Lynn of his duties after a modest 33-31 record, the Chargers brass did not hesitate to make him their new head coach. In short order, Staley contacted the rookie of the year Justin Herbert and former All-Pro Safety Derwin James to let them know how excited he was for this opportunity and establish that all-important relationship with the teams’ star players.

“I think, first off, he gets his guys to play. He is a great leader; you would want to run through a wall for him. On top of that, it’s a chess game for him, he wants to be five or six steps ahead of his opponents, I think he does a great job of that.”Fifth-year Cleveland Browns Safety, John Johnson would say about his time playing for Staley as a member of the Los Angeles Rams last season. 

After meeting his key players, Staley brought the team together to share the motto for this upcoming season and revealed the ‘our way’ motto. When asked about why he choose this motto Staley said, “I really believe in the power of team. I really believe that you do things together. When you talk about Our Way — when I got here, when you’re trying to establish something, you want to establish something that’s meaningful to everybody within the organization, not just players, not just coaches. Our Way, for me, is relationships and competition. What that does is it puts the emphasis, and it puts the focus, on you. It doesn’t put the focus on something else. It puts the focus on everyone within the organization because everybody plays a really important part in becoming the team and the organization that you’re capable of being. No matter who it is, man or woman, no matter their role, they can really identify with that sort of mission statement. When you have things going, when you break down, you want to be known for something as a team, I think that Our Way is something that really brings people together and that people can identify with, that you can get behind.” 

When asked, fifth-year running-back Austin Ekeler would describe what the “our way” motto means to him. “To me what our way means, is look he’s going to give a gameplan. He’s going to give us a roadmap of how we’re going to operate practice this week. This is our we’re going to go through our schedule. Everything is out there he’s laying it out there for us. It’s about us, to have come and had a conversation. Do we like this, do we think this is efficient? Are we going to get in enough work? We used to not have a meeting after practice, we put in another meeting after practice to get the film that day. Just ‘”our way‘” making sure we are all on the same page and we know what we want to get done, and we all can go forward to agree upon something. I love that about him because he’s open to us; he’s connects with us and makes this a positive work environment, where we can bounce things off each other.” 

Throughout training camp and preseason Staley would consistently refer to his top players on the Chargers as Gangsters. Not the hoodlums that hang out on the street corners across America, or Al Capone or John Gotti but guys with an attitude and who commands the respect of others. Staley would say when asked to explain why he used the term gangsters to define his players, “I think that sometimes how you say things makes people know exactly how you feel. That’s why I do what I do. I don’t throw it around loosely — I try to use it for the people that deserve it. When I say that, I mean it. For people in football and people that watch sports competition, has a certain implication. It’s a good one.”

Not only has he changed the culture of this organization in a short amount of time. Staley has instilled the belief that they should be winning and an aura of confidence that they should expect to win. Staley recently spoke about the team buying into this logic, “Confidence is critical in every walk of life. You earn it every single day you are out there. When you are at the game, and it’s happening for you, that’s when you can create even more belief. Most people see better than they hear, and I think our guys have been ready for those situations. They have performed well because they have prepared. We haven’t flinched in some of those big moments, and I feel like that is what we are trying to create in that competitive environment.”

Staley added, “Our players deserve all the credit for everything that’s happening on the field because they are the ones making the plays. They are the ones executing, with 80-thousand people screaming at them. What we’ve done is come together as a team. It has been every phase of the game, too. It hasn’t just been the defense or the offense. In all these games, we have executed as a team to come back. That’s critical, and these games have all been very different. Because you have to play the game the way it needs to be played, not the way you want it to be played! That’s what we’re doing, and we’re just ready for the tough stuff. The teams that we’re playing are real. That’s just life in the NFL. The more prepared you are for it to be like this, the better. Hopefully, that will help us down the road.”

With his presence and leadership, Staley has changed the expectations of this team. All the while empowering the players to perform at their best in each game. As the leader of the culture change on the team and in the organization. I would classify Brandon Staley as a gangster coach using his definition. Yet when I asked him about his thoughts on being referred to a gangster coach, he respectfully deflected the praise by saying, “I don’t think I’ve earned that. Some of the decisions we made were team decisions. I certainly didn’t make them by myself; I made that decision because of the help of a lot of people. That’s what I want everyone to know – we’re a team, that’s why I emphasize it so much because it’s important to me. We’ve created a lot of belief in the people we have around here. We’re going to continue to make good decisions. We won’t be perfect in our decision-making, but we want to live with the process. Our process has been one I’ve enjoyed, and that’s because of many different people. [Offensive Assistant] Dan Shamash, all of our coordinators up in the box. Some of those game management decisions aren’t a one-man show; that’s a team operation there. We’re going to keep going, as we have to be ready for the storms when it doesn’t go well; because that’s going to happen. We’re just trying every day to get to that improvement. That’s where our focus is.” 

Because Browns Safety John Johnson played for Staley on the Rams last season, I wanted to hear from him about Staley’s coaching style, he went on to tell me, “I feel it’s kind of unique when that ball hits the kickers foot at the beginning of the game, you’re ready to go! He just likes guys who make plays whenever they can. Even if they’re not in a good situation to do that, he trains his guys to be able to do that.”

The Chargers are 4-1 in this young season, as they have beat the AFC Superbowl representatives from the previous season, who were also the favorites to win their division. Though the season is still young, they are also ranked sixth in points scored, and thirteenth in points scored on, so far this season, when compared to eighteenth and twenty-third respectively last season.

The Chargers have confidently come from behind in three of five games this season. In week three, they capitalized on a 4th and nine on their final drive to give them the go-ahead score over the reigning AFC Champions. A week later, against another divisional opponent and after already converting a fourth down earlier, they went for it again on 4th and two to seal the victory against the Las Vegas Raiders. The momentum continued as they converted multiple fourth downs in their week five win over the Cleveland Browns.  

“It’s awesome that he believes in us because everyone in the huddle believes in each other, too. Whenever we get into one of those situations, we know that we’ve got the right play. We know that we’ve got the right guys. We have to go out there and execute it.” Quarterback Justin Herbert, the reigning rookie of the year, said about the belief Staley has shown in them after they beat the Las Vegas Raiders.

In his modest yet assertive, tone Staley would explain his thought process for closing out the Raiders with their play-calling as they did, by simply saying, “I felt like in that game, that fourth-and-two was an advantage situation for us. I felt like we knew the coverage systems that would be played, in that particular, down and distance. We felt good about the play call. You can’t minimize the way that [Offensive Coordinator] Joe [Lombardi] called this game tonight. He had a couple of critical fourth-down calls, a good third-down plan against a good pass rush. I liked our game plan.”

After their shootout victory in week five against the Cleveland Browns, the Chargers converted multiple fourth downs to extend drives. Herbert would say this about the belief the team now has in each other, “Just the belief as an offense and how I think we’ve done a great job of that all year. We’ve always talked about going into the huddle and feeling confident in each other. Knowing that all of the players in that huddle are special players, and any of those guys can make a play on fourth down. I know that we’ve got the right guys out there.”

Staley humbly said about their fourth-down conversions, “It’s just where the game was going, time, score. And then fourth and two isn’t a big deal for us. I felt like [Offensive Coordinator] Joe Lombardi was fantastic today. I can’t say enough about him and our entire offensive staff; Our guys are executing well in those got-to-have-it situations. We needed it today. We needed all those plays, and I’m proud of our offensive football team today.”

In doing so, they have converted seven of eight fourth-down conversions for an 87.5 percentage rating on the season. They are currently ranked third in the league in this category, to this point of the season, as compared to the twenty-fifth ranking last season. The confidence the Chargers now have to go for it on fourth down has grown by leaps and bounds since Staley moved his family to Orange County to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers.

If you’ve been following my articles on Staley, you’d know that I’m nearly ready to ask for a uniform to suit up and practice with the team; he’s been that inspiring! I believe his presence has made a significant difference with this talented team, and he appears to have the buy-in from every player on the team, and the results are showing on the field each week. My eleven wins prediction this season just might be selling these guys short, though the season is still young.

Though it’s early, the Chargers are having a promising season thus far and are now winning games they previously found ways to lose, and I’m sure no one in the locker room is making vacation plans for January 2022. Kindly share your thoughts on coach Brandon Staley with me and how he has impacted this team, along with what you think their ceiling is for this season. You can reach out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or shoot me an email at info@whatsgoodinsports.com. I encourage you to forward any suggestions on what topics or angles about this new version of the Los Angeles Chargers you would like to see discussed this season.

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