Being associated with the Los Angeles Chargers has been about as close to being thrown into a witness protection program as has been possible in the NFL. Since their overly ambitious ownership agreed to vacate the San Diego area that adored them for more than a half-century despite making all of one Super Bowl appearance (a blowout loss to the Steve Young-led 49ers) to join the Rams in returning what the league sees as a TV market from zero teams to two (despite the fact that, for TV purposes, they actually WERE the L.A. market team for two decades), their home games have attracted far more fans from their opponents than they have.
Having been fortunate enough to have seen two such games since they debuted in front of fans in the spectacular SoFi Stadium, I know first hand how concentrated and frustrated Charger fandom is. Unlike the Raiders fans who regularly would jet or drive down from the Bay Area during the 13 seasons when carpetbagger Al Davis tried to stake his claim to the market, Chargers fans who did drive up the coast did so with far less passion and hope, initially barely enough to even fill a sliver of their temporary, 27,000 seat home that is otherwise the venue for soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy.
But that began to change this year, as the Chargers actually stoked some expectations. They were able to secure a playoff berth last year, and with one of the marquee young quarterbacks at the helm, and a young, aggressive coach at the helm, dreams of echoing their co-tenants’ recent success were actually rampant.
Ah, but these are the Chargers. Success has eluded them. And this year, with a rash of injuries and inconsistencies that began months ago, has been especially frustrating. When they lost said star QB Justin Herbert for the season after he suffered a broken finger on his throwing hand after a home loss to Denver, their playoff hopes were all but dead. But as we’ve seen from teams with similar records in New York and Chicago, as long as you’ve alive at all, you at least try.
That clearly was not the case Thursday night in Las Vegas. And as THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER’s Elliott Teaford reported, the meltdown that happened before a national Prime Video audience was, even by the standards of Las Vegas, epic:
Against the Raiders, the Chargers appeared lifeless, unprepared, disconnected and unable to defend themselves. Las Vegas led 42-0 by halftime and went on to score more points against the Chargers than against any other opponent in their history. It also was the most points the Chargers had given up in theirs.
This happened at the hands of a team with an identical 5-8 record, which had the ignominy of being on the losing end of a 3-0 shutout at the hands of Joshua Dobbs and the Minnesota freaking Vikings just four days before, the first such NFL game to be played without the overlay of severe weather.
So it was hardly a surprise when Teaford dropped this story yesterday:
The Chargers fired Coach Brandon Staley and General Manager Tom Telesco on Friday morning, only hours after a humiliating 63-21 loss to the rival Raiders on Thursday night in Las Vegas. Later in the day, the Chargers named outside linebackers coach Giff Smith as their interim coach and JoJo Wooden as their interim GM.
Staley leaves as the epitome of mediocrity and underachievement:
Staley’s record was 24-24 over two-plus seasons. He was hired based largely on his track record as a fine defensive coach while rising through the ranks of NFL assistants. He was a collegiate quarterback at Dayton, but gained a reputation as a defensive guru while with the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and the Rams.
The Chargers’ defense has been as leaky as a spaghetti strainer for the better part of his tenure, though. Their defense this season has been disconnected in ways that could have been corrected long ago. The Chargers are 27th in points given up and 29th in yards surrendered this season.
And while losing Herbert was a body blow, not to mention the additional salvo they received when star receiver Keenan Allen was also surprisingly also declared out mere hours before kickoff, there’s a degree of professionalism that needs to be a minimum requirement for any NFL team that takes the field. If the Jets could muster a credible performance under the third coming of Zach Wilson, if the Bears could upset Detroit with the vultures circling over Justin Fields, if the Vikings could emerge from the train wreck of a game on the same field in Vegas days before, if the Raiders could come back onto said field led by Aidan O’Connell, then even with having the likes of one Easton Stick at the helm, a more professional effort should have been within Staley’s purview.
Instead, on both sides of the ball, the Chargers failed in ways that even eclipsed what had befallen them at the start of 2023, as BLEACHER REPORT’s Mike Chiari reminded:
L.A. only made one playoff appearance under Staley as well, and it turned out to be one of the worst losses in playoff history, as the Chargers blew a 27-0 lead over the Jacksonville Jaguars and lost 31-30 in last season’s Wild Card Round.
Staley somehow lived to see another day after that debacle, largely on the promise that his aggressive style would light a fire. And as we’ve seen especially this year, coaches that connect can coax performances even out of the most underachieving and injury-riddled squads.
What we saw unfold Thursday night on the Allegiant Stadium turf was an even greater disconnect that the Chargers management made with reality when they thought they could carve out a piece of the Los Angeles fan base for themselves. They didn’t really have much of one before, and now, it’s fair to share they’re a bigger afterthought than the Gronk Bowl that will be played tonight at So Fi.
Chiari’s story was rampant with X-itter speculation that the eventual replacement for Staley (and, potentially, for Telesco as well) will need to be a big get. Bill Belicheck’s name was bandied about, as was Jim Harbaugh’s. Their coaching pedigrees are certainly superior to Staley’s, and the thought of working with a talent like Herbert, when healthy, is tempting.
But fair warning to these storied achievers: It’s a tall order to motivate this franchise, and even if you do, getting LA fans to care at this point may be an even tougher nut to crack.
But at least the speculation about the impending Charger changes will be fun. Watching them play, especially this week, has been anything but.