Chargers Fire HC Brandon Staley, GM Tom Telesco; Grades Within

Starting next year, I’ll have one page for coach grades and one for GM grades instead of just making those pages for Black Monday and grading everyone else individually. But for now, we’re doing it this way. After last night’s historic blowout loss against the Raiders, the Chargers did what they have been so hesitant to do: firing HC Brandon Staley. They also dismissed GM Tom Telesco. Nobody who saw LA play should have been surprised by this. I’ll grade each of these moves separately below and discuss why they were made, what they mean, and what happens next.

Brandon Staley

FINALLY!!!! I’ve been complaining about the Chargers’ coaching for what feels like years. Oh wait; it HAS been years. Long-time readers of this blog already know what I think of Staley and how he has managed his team. For everyone else (and to refresh), he’s the worst coach in the NFL with no exceptions. A supposed defensive guru that was hired because he held a clipboard for Sean McVay and the Rams, Staley’s defenses have been among the worst against the run since he took over. Offensively, his hire of OC Joe Lombardi was a bust, and Kellen Moore has been no better this year.

In fact, LA’s offenses have been worse than they were under former HC Anthony Lynn. That is embarrassing when you have a guy like Justin Herbert as your QB. The hiring of Moore looks worse now that Dallas’s offense has become so much better without him. Part of being a good coach is hiring a good staff, and Staley couldn’t do that. Those are failings that could have been committed by any fired coach though. What makes Staley unique is his excessive commitment to “analytics”. He made reckless decisions on 4th down more than anyone I’ve ever seen, and they often hurt his team and even cost them games.

Consistently flippant with the media and refusing to take accountability for his own mistakes, Staley oversaw a talented team but only reached the playoffs one time. This year, RB Austin Ekeler is having his worst ever season, the defense just let the Raiders score 56 points (7 more came off a pick six), and the Chargers sit at 5-9 when they were supposed to be Super Bowl Contenders. There are 4 moments I can point to that define Staley as a failure.

  1. January 2022, week 18: The Chargers, Raiders, and Steelers were fighting for a playoff spot. LA was been in with win or tie against the Raiders, the Raiders were in with a win or tie, and Steelers were in with anything but a Bolts/Raiders tie. Fast forward to OT: the Raiders and Chargers were tied at 32. LV had the ball in borderline field goal range with under 50 seconds. It was 3rd and 6, and the clock was running down. The Raiders appeared willing to let the game end in a tie so both teams would get in and not risk anything. Staley called a timeout, and Vegas ended up kicking a field goal. So Staley single-handedly cost LAC a playoff spot.
  2. Last season: In a meaningless week 18 game, Staley opted to play his starters, including injury-prone WR Mike Williams. He suffered a small fracture in his back, causing him to miss the following week’s playoff game. That probably had an impact on LA’s loss in that contest.
  3. Last year’s playoffs: Speaking of that playoff game, the only one Staley participated in as a head coach, the Bolts dominated on the road in Jacksonville…for a while. They led 27-0 but completely melted down, allowing the Jaguars to come all the way back and win 31-30. This was among the worst collapses in postseason history (including that 28-3 Super Bowl). It was at this point when media personalities such as Stephen A Smith began calling for Staley’s job.
  4. Last night: The most points given up in Chargers history. The most points scored in Raiders history. A 49-0 LV lead before LA sniffed the end zone. All of these statements describe the Thursday Night Football game played during week 15 of the 2023 season, which the Chargers lost 63-21. Most devastating was the fact that Staley’s players quit. They made “business decisions” on tackles and didn’t even bother to chase a player returning a fumble, even though it would’ve been simple enough to catch a 320-lb DT. That was the death knell.

Even the infamously cheap and overly patient Dean Spanos couldn’t wait any longer after that fiasco. Fans wouldn’t have tolerated seeing on the sideline for even one more game. Thus, Staley was the first coach to be fired by the Chargers during the season in 25 years. In what can perhaps be seen as a slap at Moore, OLB coach Giff Smith was named the interim HC. As more evidence that Staley hired a poor staff, nobody else stands out as being any more qualified for the role. Regardless, who cares? Nobody could be any worse than Staley was, and that’s why this firing was long overdue.

Grade: A+++++ Supreme

Tom Telesco

Lost in the shuffle a bit, the Chargers didn’t just fire their coach. GM Tom Telesco was dismissed as well, which may not make a ton of sense considering the fact that he assembled a talented roster. Herbert looks the part of a franchise QB. His trade for Khalil Mack worked out, and he drafted other studs like WR Keenan Allen while discovering UDFA gems such as Ekeler. Telesco had his share of misses (the signing of JC Jackson last year in free agency chief among them), but I’d grade him as above-average in terms of roster management. So what gives? Why was he let go?

Beyond the roster, Telesco was largely in charge of selecting the team’s head coach. That was something he was terrible at doing. In fact, he hired 3 different HCs during his tenure. None lasted more than 3 years. Mike McCoy, who was supposed to revamp the offense, went 28-38 before he was fired. The team then turned to a defensive coach in Anthony Lynn. Lynn had a 34-32 record and really looked to be on the right track in year 4. However, Telesco and Spanos grew impatient and fired him after a 9-7 season in which he handled Herbert extremely well as a rookie. Telesco then made his biggest blunder by hiring Staley.

I’m not so high on this firing because Spanos could’ve simply assigned the duty of hiring coaches to someone else (even himself). Different teams handle coaching hires differently, with some organizations having centralized power structures and others undertaking more collaborative efforts. Director of player personnel JoJo Wooden is going to be the interim, and I don’t anticipate much change. Telesco was good at drafting players for the most part, which is a hard thing to replace. LA is going to need to conduct a wide search for a permanent GM, but the grass may not be greener on the other side.

Grade: C

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