Chargers have new hope with new coaching staff
New stadium. New philosophy. New logo. New coaching staff. Everything is new for the Los Angeles Chargers these days. The Chargers coaching staff could have the right mix of NFL minds to get the team into postseason with consistency.
But there is nothing new about the men Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn will be counting on in upgrading the team’s success as the team and their fans embark on a new Southern California journey.
Lynn, in his first tenure as head coach, has brought in a ball-hawking, defensive guru, a seasoned offensive mind that put in place the current offensive philosophy the Chargers already have in place, and a man whose expertise in the special teams department should spark that unit into better overall performance.
“We have a good mixture of experienced coaches, young coaches, and it took some time,” Lynn said. “It took some time to get the right people in the building and it was definitely a group effort.”
It was just in January that the Chargers presented to the public an introductory press conference for Lynn. A month later, Lynn, just ahead of NFL free agency (March 9) and the NFL combine (Feb. 29-March 6), made his finalized coaching staff available for a laid back Q & A session with the media at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, home of the Chargers for the next couple of seasons.
It was an informal, formal introduction for Chargers assistant head coach George Stewart, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. On their merits, Stewart, Bradley and Whisenhunt bring more than just a wealth of experience to the table. They also bring stability.
All three men have been in the league for 10 years or more, with Whisenhunt (30th NFL season) and Stewart (29th season) adding three decades worth of NFL knowledge to the Chargers.
In his defensive and offensive coordinators, Lynn has the luxury of counting on two former head coaches to lead their respective units. Before taking the defensive coordinator position, Bradley served as the Jacksonville Jaguars head coach from 2013-2016.
Prior to that, Bradley earned his salt as defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks and their Legion of Boom defense for three seasons. Judging by the athletic talent he’s accustomed to with those Seattle and Jacksonville teams, Bradley no doubt could replicate the same type of aggressive style defense for the Chargers.
Under Bradley, Jacksonville’s defense ranked in the top 10 overall defensively in three of the four seasons that Bradley coached the Jaguars. What sold Lynn of one day working with Bradley came long before the Chargers head coach started on his coaching staff search.
Besides Bradley’s obvious solid football acumen, Lynn told the story of how he had met up with his now defensive coordinator when Lynn applied for the offensive coordinator position at Jacksonville. Although he didn’t get the gig, Lynn got something more out of that meeting. And that stuck with him.
“Those meetings usually take two to three hours, and Gus and I went about seven,” Lynn said. “Probably four of those hours, we were just getting to know one another because we enjoyed each other’s company. When I left that meeting, I felt like even though we didn’t work out a deal, one day I want to work with Gus, because for the first time I left a football meeting feeling like a better father than a better football coach. And that’s the type of guy I want to surround myself with.”
Bradley reflected on that meeting, and said he was grateful that Lynn thought enough of him to ask him to join his coaching staff.
“I guess it’s accurate to say that I’m as excited as well,” Bradley said. “It really has been an unbelievable whirlwind. I think when Anthony (Lynn) talked about how our relationship started a couple of years back when he had that session in the defensive meeting room, where we had a chance to get to know each other, and then when this opportunity came up, there’s something that really drew me to being on his staff. I just felt like very grateful that he asked me to be part of it.”
Bradley isn’t the only one that must be excited. Quarterback Philip Rivers has to be overjoyed right about now. Instead of going through the rigors of having to learn a new offensive system and getting on the same page of a new offensive coach, Rivers will be hooking up with Whisenhunt, the man who was the Chargers offensive coordinator in 2013.
That’s a plus for both Whisenhunt and Rivers. That kind of familiarity should bolster an already explosive Chargers offense. That combination has already proven to be lethal. Under the guidance of Whisenhunt, the Chargers offense ranked No. 5 in total offense and No. 4 in passing in 2013. The run game, which fell off to 26th in the league last season, ranked. No. 13 in the NFL under Whisenhunt.
“There’s not going to be a lot of change to our system from a terminology standpoint,” Whisenhunt said. “Philip … he’s a very good football player, and he’s comfortable in the system. The system that we operate now is one we put together in ’13 when I was here before, and he’s been very successful and been very comfortable in.
“I think that one of the things that’s important is you’re looking for is you’re looking to grow the system,” Whisenhunt add. “Anthony (Lynn) brings a lot, from the success they had in Buffalo and the success they had in New York that we can add to it and we can teak. Those challenges are always good because they’re new and they’re fresh.”
There’s nothing new or fresh about special teams. They’re about as part of the game landscape as the mouthpiece. For Lynn, though, the specialness of his special teams unit will take on a whole new meaning with Stewart in charge. After coaching wide receivers for the San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings for the last 17 seasons prior coming to the Chargers, Stewart went the special teams route from 1989 to 1999, so he knows his stuff.
While special teams can be mundane to some, it means something else to Stewart.
“It gives us a chance to turn a football game whether it’s football coverage, whether it’s a kickoff return, whether it’s a big punt or punt return,” Stewart said. “You see the difference that the (Tyreek) Hill kid did in Kansas City (Chiefs) last year for them. We had a guy in Minnesota named Cordale Patterson, who can turn a game around. We have to develop that here. That’s one of things we’re looking for going into the (NFL) combine, going into the draft. Our biggest area is the return game, in terms of getting positive field position for Rivers. Of course, anytime you get positive field position for your offense, you give them a chance to be successful.”
Top photo of QB Philip Rivers and TE Antonio Gates by Claudia Gestro
Dennis Freeman is a veteran journalist who has written for various publications in Southern California.