June 23, 2024

So where do the Chargers go from here?

They fired their coach and general manager Friday, which gives them something of a jump on the six or seven teams that will make similar big changes over the next few weeks. Of course, the Chargers can only do so much, as the new NFL rules bar them from interviewing anyone who’s on a current staff until after the divisional round of the playoffs.

That they fired coach Brandon Staley was not a shock. Everyone knew that was coming.

It was slightly more surprising they showed GM Tom Telesco the door. Yes, all those commenters on social media said the team should clean house — including Dean Spanos selling the club — but Telesco has done his share of good for that franchise. Regardless, he’s gone too.

The two most logical reasons for getting rid of the GM are either that the Chargers have a specific person in mind or they want to start fresh and make the coaching vacancy more enticing by giving that new hire the opportunity to help choose the GM.

It’s less likely that the process would go the other way, with the team hiring a GM who helps pick the coach.

A lot of people in NFL circles didn’t put much stock in the rumors that Tom Brady would wind up with the Chargers, or Sean Payton as coach, or now Bill Belichick coming to Los Angeles. They might like the buzz of those whispers, but the Chargers don’t open their wallets that wide.

We hear it just about every year. The Chargers need a culture change. They’re a franchise with warning-track power. They have some talented players on both sides of the ball, including a very good quarterback in Justin Herbert, yet the season invariably goes sideways.

In terms of an experienced head coach who builds a solid culture, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has a strong resumé. He garners a lot of respect around the league.

Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn watches players warm up.

Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has an impressive resumé, including being head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)

But coming off Staley, a defensive-minded coach, the Chargers are likely to go offense. The window for Herbert & Co. is beginning to close, and Spanos is going to want someone who connects with the quarterback on every level.

Few coaches drive fan interest as much as Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, who not only played for the Chargers but also began his illustrious coaching career at the University of San Diego, their old hometown. He has proven he can win, and almost immediately, but — were he on the open market — he’s a big and expensive personality who has worn out his welcome at places in the past.

At least the Chargers wouldn’t be bound by those NFL time rules if they were to talk to Harbaugh and, hey, he’s going to be in town for the Rose Bowl.

A coach who is going to get a lot of attention this offseason and will have multiple offers to consider is Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, with the Lions averaging 390 yards per game, third in the NFL.

The chance to work with Herbert certainly would be enticing to Johnson, although it would be on the Chargers to step up and be at least very competitive in a bidding war. Johnson was raised in North Carolina, played football for the Tar Heels and would be a likely target of the Carolina Panthers, who likewise fired their coach and need someone to get the most out of No. 1 pick Bryce Young.

Also generating a lot of interest in Houston offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, who has players running wide open with the Texans and has done a tremendous job with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud.

Slowik is from the Mike Shanahan coaching tree and was on that Washington Redskins coaching staff alongside future NFL head coaches Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur and Mike McDaniel.

Another potential candidate is Frank Smith, offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins. He was the run-game coordinator and offensive line coach for the Chargers in 2021.

The Chargers have offensive coordinator Kellen Moore in their building and likely would interview him, but they appear intent on making a clean break and heading in a different direction. They didn’t even give him the interim coaching job, instead assigning outside linebackers coach Giff Smith for the rest of the season.

Eric Bienemy, offensive coordinator of the Washington Commanders, is a former Chargers running back who will be in Los Angeles for Sunday’s game against the Rams (although teams won’t be able to interview him until late January). Statistically, Washington’s offense is in the middle of the pack this season; the Commanders defense is the problem.

Among the defensive coaches who are likely to get a head-coaching look this offseason are Cincinnati coordinator Lou Anarumo and Raheem Morris of the Rams, onetime head coach in Tampa Bay.

The bottom line with the Chargers is this: They can cycle through all the head coaches they want, hire the flavor of the moment and heap expectations on him, but until they make major cultural changes — whether that’s ownership or philosophy or something else — they are going to stay locked in this loop.

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