Brandon Staley Reportedly Alienated The Chargers Locker Room By Creating A Cliquey Frat House Vibe & Taking Zero Accountability

Brandon Staley
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

“Cliquey frat house vibe” almost seems oxymoronic, but fired Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley was known to play favorites, which was the root of what caused his team to drift apart. A comprehensive feature recently dropped by ESPN’s Kris Rhim breaks down, in painstaking detail, the awkward atmosphere Staley created, how he often refused to take accountability for his own shortcomings, and why he ultimately wasn’t the leader to carry the Bolts forward into superstar quarterback Justin Herbert’s prime.

Regarding the “playing favorites” situation, that manifested in the most weird-energy way possible: Celebrating the birthdays of some dudes, and straight-up dismissing the same special occasions for others.

Here’s the next little passage right below that chunk generously captured by Mina Kimes:

“‘Guys didn’t feel included; he didn’t make it feel like a team,’ one team source said of Staley. ‘He kind of made it feel like a fraternity house. Certain guys are in the frat, certain guys aren’t.'”

Daiyan Henley was one of my favorite personalities coming into the 2023 NFL Draft. He’s the f*cking man. Of course his vibe didn’t land with Staley. Why would it? Too much charisma from Henley might overshadow Staley’s outsized ego. Something about Staley just feels so inauthentic, right? His personality is like an AI avatar of how he thinks an NFL head coach should carry himself.

Not sure why Henley hasn’t gotten more playing time this season. Not like the Chargers have had much success defensively, nor do they have a bunch of world beaters at Henley’s position. Side note…this made me cackle:

Speaking of linebackers, though! Get a load of this. The lack of accountability from Staley — if that wasn’t self-evident in some of the press conferences toward the end of his turbulent tenure — arose from the blown 27-0 lead against the Jaguars in the playoffs. Staley berated his linebackers coach as his defense melted down and he was outfoxed at every turn by Super Bowl-winning Jacksonville coach Doug Pederson. How he carried himself in the locker room afterwards was even more unbecoming.

“As the unit collapsed, Staley could be heard screaming at linebackers coach Michael Wilhoite. Staley believed Wilhoite’s group had made an error on a big Jacksonville play. Wilhoite countered that Staley had made a ‘dumba** playcall’ and that the linebackers had done their job, according to team sources who witnessed the sideline exchange.

“[…] When Staley entered the locker room — facing a grieving team in disbelief — he told them, in part, ‘games like this happen in the NFL.’ The message annoyed some players, especially those who had played on other teams and experienced postseason success. To some, it felt like Staley was shifting ownership of the collapse off the squad — and himself — as a regular occurrence, team sources said.”

I boldfaced part of that passage from Rhim’s piece for a reason. Here’s why: Those were the precise, famous last words that proved to be the final straw before owner Dean Spanos axed Staley and GM Tom Telesco following a 63-21 loss to the Raiders:

I used to joke that Staley’s brisk pacing back and forth on the sidelines during game days made it seem like he was crop dusting his whole team and trying to run away from all the terrible coaching decisions he was making in real time. It’s truly amazing that he, a defensive guru, blew at 27-0 lead in the postseason and was somehow allowed to come back the following year. How did he pull that off? Might be his most impressive accomplishment, tbh.

Now to be fair, rookie wideout Quentin Johnston has been the subject of much scrutiny. Staley encouraged him throughout this year, and Johnston even went on the record with ESPN to express his appreciation for that.

Let’s not lose sight of the main point here, though. I’m not blaming Staley for everything, nor is Johnston or some other sources ESPN talked to. It’s clear the organization is in need of a serious cultural overhaul. The hiring of Staley in the first place was an on-the-cheap play by Spanos. It was a convenient marriage for Telesco, who’s a John Carroll alum, which is where Staley was coaching before he entered the NFL. ICYNHI (In Case You’ve Never Heard of It), John Carroll is a Division III school.

Anyway, Telesco and Staley were in lockstep for better and worse. Way more often than not, it was the latter. Telesco survived three coaching hires, whiffs in free agency, and a failure to build a competent offense around Herbert. Keenan Allen is good, but he’s never been a true explosive WR1. He’s the ultimate Rich Man’s Tyler Boyd. Mike Williams is hurt all the time. Johnston looks like a bust.

The Chargers have mismanaged the offense from the start of Herbert’s career. They relentlessly put mileage on Austin Ekeler, a smallish running back. Herbert played behind PFF’s 30th-ranked pass blocking o-line as a rookie. He’s on his third different offensive coordinator in four seasons.

LA’s run blocking has ranked literally worst in the NFL in each of the past two seasons, per PFF. Not giving Ekeler much room at all to run isn’t ideal, especially since it appears he’s lost a step en route to averaging a career-low 3.6 yards per carry.

What a freaking mess. Oh by the way, the Chargers are projected to be about $34.7 million over the salary cap in 2024. As far as I’m aware, they can’t restructure the exorbitant contracts for Allen, Williams, or Khalil Mack, who turns 33 in February.

YIKES. Good riddance, Brandon Staley. When was the last time a failed head coach who was previously a defensive coordinator didn’t get another crack at a gig like that? Ex-Charger Kyle Van Noy seems to think much of Staley’s success with the Rams stemmed from how loaded that Aaron Donald-led unit was.

That seems to check out. I really wonder how low Staley will sink. Was his time with the Bolts so bad that he won’t even be a defensive coordinator next year or the year after? The fact that such an outcome is so in play is crazy for someone who was once lauded as a true football genius.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock