Without Sean McVay, it’s possible Brandon Staley might never have had a chance to do what he’ll do Sunday: coach against Sean McVay.
Staley was hired by the Chargers in January 2021 after helping the Rams’ defense finish No. 1 overall in the NFL.
Following only one — impressive — season on McVay’s staff, Staley received his first head-coaching job.
“It was an incredible year for both of us,” Staley said Wednesday. “I know that we accomplished a lot together. I certainly wouldn’t be here without him. There’s a lifelong friend there.”
The two buddies will meet as head coaches for the first time in the regular season Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
The Chargers (9-6) have clinched a postseason berth but are still playing for seeding, currently sixth in the AFC and one game behind the Baltimore Ravens for the top wild-card spot. The Rams (5-10) are finishing a difficult season as defending Super Bowl champions.
Staley said he and McVay still text regularly while their franchise’s battle to establish the greater presence and following in Los Angeles.
Asked the nature of those exchanges, Staley explained that they typically involve things such as acknowledging something impressive the other did during a game or said publicly.
“Just showing people the respect that they earn,” Staley said. “That’s what friends are for.”
Before the hiring process that led to him replacing Wade Phillips heading into the 2020 season, Staley said he had never met McVay. One of Staley’s good friends, Chris Shula, was and still is a McVay assistant.
When McVay hired Staley, the results caught the attention of the NFL. The Rams topped the league that season in fewest points and yards allowed and had the No. 1 pass defense.
Staley quickly joined the list of NFL assistants in line to become head coaches, the Chargers hiring him one day after the Rams were eliminated from the playoffs.
Saying “the stars aligned,” Staley explained that he and McVay shared similar philosophies on everything from teaching to Xs and O’s to personnel.
After one season with the Chargers, Staley rebuilt his roster and went heavy on former Rams, bringing in Sebastian Joseph-Day and Morgan Fox on defense, Gerald Everett on offense and Troy Reeder on special teams.
Those ex-Rams and the team’s former defensive coordinator now will reintroduce themselves to some familiar faces.
“I know the caliber of coaching that goes on at that place,” Staley said. “I know the caliber of players that are over there, who we are going to have to compete against. I think that was on display the other day.”
Despite having nothing to play for, the Rams pummeled Denver 51-14 on Christmas afternoon, embarrassing the Chargers’ AFC West counterparts. Shortly after the game, the Broncos fired coach Nathaniel Hackett.
Staley said although the result stunned some observers, he was not surprised in part because of McVay’s qualities as a leader.
“I don’t think that people would have predicted that type of game,” Staley said. “But the people that know that team, that know him, definitely would have predicted that that could happen.”
Staley also praised McVay’s ability to “shape-shift based on the players that he has,” pointing to all the injuries the Rams have endured this season. He noted McVay’s game-planning and commitment.
The success quarterback Baker Mayfield has enjoyed since joining the Rams three games ago is a tribute to McVay, Staley added.
“The way that he has been able to navigate the season with all of the injuries, it’s just a testament to how good of a coach he is,” Staley said. “You know, going into a matchup, he’s going to have a plan ready for you. Week-to-week, he’s going to pour his heart and soul into that plan to give his guys a great chance to win.”
These teams have met in each of the previous two preseasons, splitting those mid-August matchups.
Finally, Staley and McVay will coach against each other in a game that counts, even if the stakes are such that Chargers-Rams was flexed out of Sunday night’s prime-time spot.
“We’re great competitors, even though we’re good friends,” Staley said. “This game is going to be about competition. I’m excited to take the field on Sunday.”
Three-time Pro Bowl safety Derwin James Jr. remains in concussion protocol. … Running back Austin Ekeler is dealing with a knee injury suffered Monday night. The team estimated he would have been limited in practice. … The Chargers didn’t practice Wednesday after arriving home from Indianapolis early Tuesday morning.