Chargers coach focuses on improvement after playoff collapse

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Brandon Staley has been aware of the ongoing speculation regarding his status as the Los Angeles Chargers' head coach, especially as it grew louder following the team's historic playoff collapse against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But when asked during Wednesday's season-ending news conference if he ever felt his job was in danger, Staley responded bluntly: "No."

"I have a lot of confidence in how we do things here and what we've been able to accomplish and that's the truth," said Staley, who is 19-15 in two seasons with the Chargers. "Everybody that's been around me on a day-to-day basis knows that. I am aware of the speculation ... but I was not worried about that because I know what goes on here on a day-to-day basis. I know what we have in our locker room. I know what's out on that field and I'm excited to keep going."

The Chargers (10-7) earned their first playoff berth since 2018, achieving double-digit wins for only the second time in 13 seasons.

However, Staley, who turned 40 last month, drew criticism after he opted to play starters in the regular-season finale despite having clinched the No. 5 seed moments before kickoff. In that loss to the Broncos, star receiver Mike Williams suffered a back injury that would cause him to be unavailable for two to three weeks, ending his season barring a Super Bowl run.

Then, last Saturday in Jacksonville, the Jaguars mounted the third-largest comeback in NFL playoff history to erase a 27-point deficit and defeat the Chargers 31-30 on a 36-yard field goal as time expired.

"I wouldn't say that was the case for a half," Staley said when asked if the Jaguars' Doug Pederson outcoached him. "That team that we were playing showed a lot of fight, a lot of resilience. I thought it was a high-quality game against two teams that are both young and hungry. I thought it was just a high-level game all around."

The Bolts forced five turnovers en route to a 27-7 halftime lead, but Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence threw four touchdown passes in the second half as the Chargers' offense disappeared and their defense, including edge rusher Joey Bosa, melted down.

Bosa collected three penalties for 21 yards, a career high for the seventh-year pro. In perhaps the most damaging move, Bosa threw his helmet to the ground in frustration as the Jaguars scored a touchdown, picking up a personal foul that helped Jacksonville move closer for a 2-point conversion. That allowed the Jaguars to pull within two points of the lead, paving the way for an eventual game-winning field goal.

Staley picked up Bosa's helmet and returned it to the 27-year-old, only to watch him slam the helmet to the ground again.

When asked Tuesday why he picked up Bosa's helmet, Staley deadpanned: "Because it was on the ground in front of me."

Bosa, for his part, expressed regret for his actions and Staley defended the culture of his team when asked if Bosa's actions indicated a program run amok.

"I saw a player that was having a tough moment ... and he slammed it down again and I picked it up again and gave it to him," Staley said. "The culture of our team is as strong as it's ever been since I've been here."

Several players, including Bosa, quarterback Justin Herbert and safety Derwin James Jr., voiced support for Staley as they cleaned out their lockers for the offseason on Sunday.

"Everyone would be lucky to have a coach like Staley," Herbert said. "He's been incredible and he's got the respect of everyone on our team."

Said Bosa when asked if he believed in the coaching staff: "I do."

Staley said he met with ownership, including Dean Spanos, and the front office following the loss to Jacksonville, plotting how to move forward with the offseason process.

That process so far has included firing offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, quarterbacks coach Shane Day and linebackers coach Michael Wilhoite, each of whom was part of the staff assembled by Staley when he was hired in 2021.

"Just felt like we needed to make changes to the offense and the vision for the way I have us playing on that side of the football," Staley said. "I think there's a different gear that we can get to as a football team."

Leadership will be among key traits that Staley will seek in an offensive coordinator, he said, adding that experience at the position won't be a requirement and that it would be a "fair assessment" to assume he would be seeking a candidate that can run a system similar to the ones deployed by 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan or Rams coach Sean McVay.

"That's the offense that I believe in," Staley said. "When I came here, that's kind of how we got this off the ground. In terms of the passing game, that's what we've been able to do at a high level for the last two years: throw the football. But to be more explosive, you have to be able to run the football more consistently to put more pressure on people."

The Chargers averaged only 3.8 yards per rushing attempt and 89.6 rushing yards per game per game this season -- both of which ranked 30th in the NFL.

Herbert ranked 11th in explosive plays (rushes of 10-plus yards and completions of 20-plus yards) and he averaged only 6.3 air yards per attempt, which ranked third lowest among 33 qualified quarterbacks.

Staley said the decision to move on from Lombardi and Day was about maximizing the talent of Herbert, who is now eligible to sign a contract extension and is expected to command a deal worth more than $50 million per year.

"Those conversations [with Herbert] will take place in the right space and time," Staley said. "We've got really good relationships with his team and I'm confident that Justin Herbert is going to be a Charger for a long time."

For his part, Staley expressed confidence that he has laid a foundation that will enable him to be around for a long time, too.

"I know the type of improvements that we've been able to make, as a football team, since I've been here," Staley said. "I know the quality of the product on the field and I also know the capacity that we have to grow. We have all these things in place where we made tremendous improvement from Year 1 to Year 2. Now, from Year 2 to Year 3, we expect to make those same types of improvements."