COSTA MESA, Calif. -- It's not as if Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert hasn't been through this before -- new head coach, likely new offensive coordinator (or not) and likely new offensive system (or not).
He had three different head coaches (Mark Helfrich, Willie Taggart and Mario Cristobal) at Oregon before adjusting to a new staff as a rookie in the NFL last year. Herbert did all right, finishing his junior season in 2018 with 3,151 passing yards, then throwing three touchdowns in winning the Rose Bowl to cap off a senior year in which he threw for 3,471 yards.
He then was the No. 6 pick in the 2020 draft, set an NFL rookie record with 31 touchdown passes and is a favorite to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
But Herbert says that while change is part of the game, he's hoping whoever becomes offensive coordinator under Brandon Staley, the new Chargers head coach, doesn't change things up too much. Herbert is smart and says he "learned so much" from quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen that he figures he can get through another change. But who's to say there will be one?
One source close to the team said he believes Staley will keep "most of the offensive staff intact" to work with Herbert while he concentrates on defense. When Staley took the Rams job, he kept the majority of the defensive assistants, which is unusual for a new coordinator.
"It's a great story," the source said. "And he had a ton of success with that defense this year."
And there's no doubt Staley went into his meetings with the Chargers with a solid plan for Herbert and the offense. Staley isn't foreign to offense (he is a former University of Dayton quarterback, after all) and otherwise, why would you hire him if he didn't have an offensive vision? Chargers GM Tom Telesco said any defensive coach the Chargers hired would have to have some strong ideas on the offense as well.
Staley is the first defensive-minded coach the Chargers have hired since Marty Schottenheimer was selected in 2002. Schottenheimer went 47-33 in five seasons with the Chargers, including a franchise-best 14-2 in 2006.
Like Herbert, Staley also has been through some changes, albeit more serious ones. His father was diagnosed with cancer when he was in grade school, and his mother died after a nine-year-battle with breast cancer when he was in college. Following his first year as a graduate assistant coach at Northern Illinois, at age 24, Staley himself was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and underwent chemotherapy at the Cleveland Clinic.
He said it made him and his twin brother, Jason, grow up faster.
"You're just exposed to things most 12- and 13-year-olds aren't," he told the Willoughby (Ohio) News-Herald in 2016.
Staley's winding path went from Northern Illinois -- where he spent two years -- to the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, Tennessee, James Madison and finally to defensive coordinator at John Carroll, a Division III school in University Heights, Ohio, where he was OAC co-assistant coach of the year. From there he coached linebackers for the Chicago Bears and then spent a season with the Denver Broncos' linebackers before getting the defensive coordinator's job with the Rams in 2020.
Staley helped turn the Rams into the league's best defense, giving up only 281.9 yards and 18.5 points per game, redeeming the praise Sean McVay had for his fellow Dayton native. There is some talk Staley could go after Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell, but McVay would have to sign off on that deal and again, why would he?
"It's not just that Brandon possesses a tremendous football mind that makes him the ideal head coach to lead our team forward," said Telesco, a John Carroll graduate, in a statement. "It's that he excels in the ability to effectively tailor, apply and communicate his concepts to players. It's clear Brandon will not be outworked, he's the football equivalent of a gym rat and that has earned him the universal respect of the players he has coached throughout his journey."
Telesco said the Chargers were looking for a leader of men and a leader of coaches. They believe they have found him.
"I can't thank the Spanos family and Tom Telesco enough for putting their faith in us and by the time everyone is reading this quote in a press release we'll already be hard at work developing a program Chargers fans everywhere can be proud of," Staley said.
And he has a budding star quarterback to help him on that journey.