After he accepted the offer to become the Chargers’ next head coach, Brandon Staley called his wife.
Then he called his quarterback.
Priorities, after all.
Before he met with the media for the first time Thursday, Staley reached out to Justin Herbert again, this time via video call with his family by his side.
“I wanted him to see us, you know, before our big day,” Staley explained later. “I wanted him to know going into a big day that he’s such a big part of it.”
The gesture was about cultivating trust with the Chargers’ young cornerstone and also forming a relationship, relationships representing one of the blocks upon which Staley intends to build his program.
He explained that, in recent days, he also has been in touch with several former Chargers, including LaDainian Tomlinson, Shawne Merriman and Dan Fouts. Staley said he left a message Wednesday with Philip Rivers.
Among current players, he called running back Austin Ekeler and wanted to talk about anything other than Xs and O’s.
“We just kind of shot the [bull],” Ekeler said. “He was like, ‘We have all season to talk about football.’ I really appreciated that, just more of that humanized aspect, building relationships.”
This is Staley’s first head coaching job at any level, the opportunity arriving after spending only four years in the NFL.
Staley, 38, was the defensive coordinator for the Rams this season after three years as an outside linebackers coach, first for Chicago and then Denver.
Before that, he was a collegiate assistant for 11 seasons, working at a pair of Division III schools, a community college and James Madison — a Football Championship Subdivision entrant — among others.
General manager Tom Telesco said Staley’s maturity, ability to connect with others and teaching skills made up for his lack of NFL experience.
He compared Staley’s qualities to those of Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin at a similar age. Tomlin, who has won a Super Bowl and 145 games in 14 years, was 35 in his first season with the Steelers.
“It became really clear really quickly that he possesses all the traits we were looking for,” Chargers president of football operations John Spanos said. “He really blew us away in the interview.”
With his background, Staley said he will call the Chargers’ defensive plays. He ran a hybrid 3-4 with the Rams and probably will employ a similar system, though Staley promised he’d use multiple fronts and various schemes designed to exploit his players’ best assets.
He explained that the Chargers’ offense will feature similar flexibility and be tailored around Herbert, who passed for 4,336 yards and 31 touchdowns and is the favorite to win the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year award.
Staley said he would not “impose” an offense on Herbert but instead create “the system for Justin and uniquely shape it to his skill set because he is unlike anybody in the NFL.”
With his limited experience in the league, Staley said he is “exploring” the possibility of adding at least one assistant with a deep NFL resumé, perhaps an ex-head coach.
So far, his staff consists of former Rams defensive assistant Joe Barry and, reportedly, defensive line coach Jay Rodgers and run-game coordinator Frank Smith. Rodgers worked for the Bears this season and Smith for the Raiders.
Ekeler admitted that when he first heard the name of the Chargers’ new coach he was perplexed. The team formally interviewed at least seven other candidates, most of whom had more of an NFL background.
“I don’t know who he was,” Ekeler said. “It kind of came out of left field. ‘Oh, we hired the defensive coordinator of the Rams.’ It was like, ‘OK, who’s this guy?’ ”
Staley explained that he understood why his hiring might not make sense to a lot of people, but said he was preparing for this opportunity just as he did as defensive coordinator at John Carroll University in 2016, readying to face opponents like Muskingum and Otterbein.
“I felt like I had a double education going,” he said. “Yeah, we were competing in college to win every single game. But in my heart and after I was done preparing for a college game, I was studying the NFL.”
Staley reached the league when he was hired by the Bears in 2017 to be an assistant under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Two years later, Fangio became head coach of the Broncos and took Staley with him.
Two years later, Staley wowed the Chargers with a pair of interviews that highlighted his potential as a communicator, teacher and leader.
He likened accepting the job to a player being drafted into the NFL, recalling how he “started drinking coffee in the first grade and reading the sports page because I wanted to be here doing this job.”
Now, he is here, Staley officially signing his first head-coaching contract Thursday, four days after he and Chargers agreed to terms.
“That was my draft day,” Staley said. “That was my dream coming true because this is all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a little kid.”