Speculation swirled about Brandon Staley‘s employment status ahead of the Chargers-Jaguars wild-card game and following his team’s 27-point collapse, but the Bolts will keep their head coach for a third season.
Eleventh-year GM Tom Telesco said Staley was never on shaky ground. Rumors connected the Chargers to Sean Payton, who has been connected to this job for a while. The Los Angeles-stationed FOX analyst will need to accept another position or wait until 2024 for the AFC’s Los Angeles gig to potentially open up, however.
“That was probably more [media] discussion than ours,” Telesco said of Staley’s hot-seat status, via ESPN.com’s Lindsey Thiry. “The front office’s belief in Brandon hasn’t changed. He’s got our belief. Our players believe in him. He’s a tremendous leader.”
The Payton matter has lingered for a while, but the Chargers’ past two games accelerated rumblings of a firing. The Chargers’ decision to play their starters in Week 18 ended up being costly, with Mike Williams suffering a transverse process fracture — an injury discovered late last week — that prevented him from making the trip to Jacksonville.
Los Angeles totaled three second-half points in the third-biggest collapse in playoff history, and the team lost wideout DeAndre Carter during the Jaguars matchup. Staley’s decision to play starters against the Broncos in their regular-season finale was believed to be an organizational decision. Many Chargers staffers knew this was the plan, per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, who indicated everyone was onboard with Staley’s call (video link). Telesco confirmed as much Thursday. “Brandon kind of mapped out what his plan was and yeah, I’m going to support that,” Telesco said.
Staley, 40, is 19-15 with the Chargers, who have continued to battle injuries under his watch. Several big-ticket players missed extended stretches for the team this season, extending a trend that persisted during multiple previous Bolts regimes. Staley’s seat stands to be hot in 2023, as the Chargers have not ranked inside the top 20 on defense — the third-year HC’s side of the ball. But the Chargers gave both Mike McCoy and Anthony Lynn four seasons apiece.
The Chargers have made some changes in the wake of that loss. They fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterbacks coach Shane Day. Staley cited the offense needing to reach a new gear, and Telesco said (via Thiry) Justin Herbert will have input as to who the team hires as its next play-caller. While the team is not planning any contract talks with Herbert until after Super Bowl LVII, at least, it will entrust Herbert with contributing to this big-picture decision. Herbert became extension-eligible this month but can be controlled through the 2024 season, via the fifth-year option the Bolts will exercise in May.
As for the Chargers’ OC plans, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen notes Frank Reich makes sense as a candidate (Twitter link). Reich was with the Chargers for three seasons under McCoy, and he served as their OC from 2014-15. Reich has booked HC interviews with the Cardinals and Panthers; the former Colts HC has ties to each of those teams as well. The Rams have been connected to Reich as a potential OC, making it fairly clear the respected coach will have options in the event he is unable to snag one of the available HC jobs.
One candidate the Bolts wanted to meet with has cut off a potential partnership. Vikings OC Wes Phillips rejected a Bolts interview request, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. Phillips, who just finished his first year as Minnesota’s OC, holds a non-play-calling role with the team. While calling Herbert-run plays will be a draw for OC candidates, Fowler notes Phillips will stay with the Vikings.
Lastly, the Chargers fired linebackers coach Michael Wilhoite, Daniel Popper of The Athletic tweets. A former NFL linebacker, Wilhoite had been with the Bolts for two seasons. This marked the 36-year-old staffer’s first gig coaching a position; he worked as a lower-level Saints assistant before heading to L.A.