The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH)
NE Ohio native, family recall Chargers coach’s path to NFL
Jason Staley needed just a little more time with his brother.
Separated by 128 seconds at birth — but 2,500 miles apart from each other on this day — emotion overcame the twin sons of Bruce and Linda Staley on Jan. 17 as they talked on the phone.
“We did it!” Brandon Staley blurted out. “I'm the new head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers.”
Jason knew his brother had others to call with the big news. Plans needed to be made and people needed to be told. But Jason needed a little more time with his best friend — his brother.
“Give me 30 seconds,” Jason told Brandon. “I need 30 more seconds to enjoy this.”
More than nine months have passed since that day when Brandon Staley called his twin brother to tell him he was an NFL head coach, and the thrill is just as special this week. It's a week in which Staley's Chargers (3-1) prepare to host the Browns, team the Staley boys grew up watching and idolizing.
“Diehard Browns fans,” Jason said. “I think we dressed up as Bernie Kosar four Halloweens in a row. But this week will be different. This'll be the first time I've ever rooted against the Browns.”
Student of the game
Brown-bag lunches clenched in their fists, Brandon and his buddy Mike Erkkila weaved their way through fellow students heading to the lunch room like two fish swimming upstream.
Once past Spector Gymnasium, the pair of ninthgraders at Perry High School ducked into the football coaches' office, flipped on the old box television and slipped a VHS tape into the VCR.
“That's how we spent our lunch breaks, watching film in the coaches' office,” said Erkkila with a laugh. “That was the 1990s. There wasn't Hudl for kids like there is today. Instead of going to the lunch room, we dissected film. Well, he dissected film. I didn't really know what I was doing, but he did.”
Forever a student of the game, Brandon didn't only want to know the Xs and the Os of the game he wanted to know why.
When the Staley family moved from Madison to Perry when the boys were in sixth grade, Brandon and Jason were regulars at Alumni Stadium, watching legendary coach Bob Ritley run the Pirates through practice. To the point that they were there so often, Ritley just asked them twins if they wanted to be ballboys for the Pirates.
The Staleys were more than ballboys. They were understudies. Especially Brandon.
Combine that attention to detail with a fierce competitive nature, and it was a budding recipe for success.
“Now we were outside more than we were inside glued to the TV,” younger brother Michael Staley
said, “but I remember the duels me, Brandon and Jason had playing Golden Eye on the Nintendo 64. It was a pretty high level of competitiveness. I took a lot of L's back then.”
Once Brandon had paid his dues as a youngster on Ritley's team, he elevated to the position of starting quarterback for the Pirates his junior year.
In that 1999 season, Staley threw for 1,653 yards and 13 touchdowns as Perry finished 9-3, going 8-2 in the regular season and bowing out in the second round of the playoffs.
As a senior, he threw for 1,096 yards and 13 touchdowns, throwing less because of the 1-2 running punch of Danny Crofoot (693 yards, 10 TDs) and Todd Kapostasy (539 yards,12 TDs).
“Brandon was the coach of the offense and Jason was the coach of the defense,” said Kapostasy, who left his job at ESPN in Connecticut and took at job with FOX sports in Los Angeles a few years back. “In high school, he seemed so much older on the field. Even in playoff games, he was never nervous or scared. It's like he was above those clouds. It felt like we had a 35-yearold out there with a bunch of us 17-year-olds.”
Even in the late 90s and early 2000s, Staley was a virtual encyclopedia of knowledge regarding Perry's foes — a walking scouting report.
“Brandon and Jason knew every single player of every team in the area,” Kapostasy said. “They knew their stats, what they were good at. They were like savants of recalling information about players and teams from around the area.”
Dan Murphy, Perry's tight end at the time, is now the Director of Communication for the Browns. He pointed out the time Brandon was at the Murphy's house and Jim Murphy — Dan's father and sports editor of The News-Herald at the time — was grading tests for prospective agate clerk positions at the NewsHerald.
“Brandon asked if he could take the test, and then he got every question right,” Murphy marveled. He knew all the teams, conference, mascots, players … it was amazing. … He's the smartest player I've ever been around.”
While scouting film in Ritley's office one day, Staley re-wound the VHS
tape and told Murphy that come Friday night, when Perry runs the specific play, Murphy would be open because the opposing team wouldn't cover him.
“We broke the huddle and he goes, ‘This is the play. You're going to be open on the backside and you're going to score,” Murphy said. “Sure enough, it was a 65-yard touchdown. I was like, ‘Wow, this kid knows what the defense is going to do before they even do it.'”
Later that season, Perry defeated VASJ, 14-7, in a regional semifinal playoff game.
“Right 60 X-flag,” Jason said, recalling the play. “It was a play we had run forever. Brandon said, ‘Hey, give me some time and this is gonna work.' It was the best ball he's every thrown.
“Those big games, the pressure never affected him.”
Paying the dues
By the time Brandon had catapulted himself up the coaching ranks in unprecedented speed, from his graduate assistant days at Northern Illinois to stops at St. Thomas, Hutchinson Community College, Tennessee, James Madison and John Carroll, he was ready for the big time.
Those dues he paid were a challenge.
“When he called and told me he got the Chargers job, I wasn't thinking about Los Angeles,” Jason said. “I was thinking about the $10,000 he made per year as a graduate assistant at Northern Illinois or making less than that at St. Thomas. It didn't happen overnight. He and (wife) Amy made a lot of sacrifices along the way. That's what I thought of.”
Once he got to Los Angeles — first as Rams' defensive coordinator and then as an interviewee with the Chargers, everyone that knows Brandon knew how it would unfold.
“You've gotta understand, he'd been preparing for this his entire life,” said longtime Perry assistant Mike Ryan. “He was watching and breaking down film when he was in eighth grade. He was probably interviewing himself for practice to practice for when that time came.”
From all accounts, he hit that first interview for an NFL head-coaching job out of the park.
“When he got that interview with the Chargers, I knew there was no way they were going to let him walk out of that room without giving him the job,” Murphy said. “Once the Chargers
got to know him, know his passion and his knowledge of the game, I knew that was going to be Brandon's only interview.” Michael Staley agreed. “I always tell people, the way Brandon is wired now is no different than when he was 15 or 16 playing high school sports,” he said. “That attention to detail, the competitive spirit, the competitiveness. That's never changed.”
Climbing the NFL mountain
When Staley got the Chargers job, he went to a local store to pick up some groceries.
No one noticed him, even though he was wearing Chargers gear.
“I'm pretty sure everybody thinks I'm the equipment manager,” Brandon told his brother, Michael, later that day on the phone.
When Jason and Michael made the trip to Los Angeles for the Chargers' game with Dallas, they were able to go to dinner without fanfare.
“L.A. is so big, he's still not quite as recognized as you'd think,” Michael said. “If you ask Brandon, he'd prefer it stayed that way. But yeah, I think that's going to change soon.”
A Week 3 win at Arrowhead Stadium over Kansas City and a “Monday Night Football” win over the Raiders have probably made Staley's anonymity more difficult to come by.
“His status is growing out here,” said Kapostasy, who attended the ChargersCowboys game and got to spend time with Staley afterward.
The next step is playing against a Browns team he and his brothers grew up following religiously.
As usual, Jason said he'll be nervous.
“I see him walking the sideline, the look on his face and how he walks, and it's just like my dad when he was coaching,” Jason said, “I just remind myself if Brandon is that calm, then I've got no reason to be nervous.”
As he has done every time his team (the Browns) played that of Staley's, Murphy said they will take time in pregame to take a photo together. But then it's business.
“I'll root for him every week — except this week,” Murphy said with a laugh.
The Perry community will likely be a little divided this week. Many, if not most, will be pulling for the hometown Browns. As longtime coach and teacher Mike Ryan pointed out, more than two decades have passed since Staley played for the Perry Pirates, so memories wane.
Those closest to him have deeper allegiances.
“Me? I want to see him lift that Lombardi trophy,” Ryan said.
Erkkila agreed. “Brandon's my guy,” he said. “The Browns can win the other 13 games they play this year. I have to root for Brandon.
“I tell you this — no one is gonna be more prepared for this game than Brandon Staley.”