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The Athletic- Brandon Staley story...

January 14, 2020 05:36AM

The Blue Streaks of John Carroll University needed a defensive coordinator in 2013, and fast.

The one they had lined up bolted for the NFL early in spring practice, leaving first-year coach Tom Arth with a big void. A trusted colleague suggested Arth look to the University of Tennessee and at a 30-year-old graduate assistant named Brandon Staley.

That started a six-year journey for Staley, one that culminated last week in the Rams’ decision to hire him as their new defensive coordinator.

A former quarterback, Staley already had put in six years as a graduate assistant, a Division III position coach and a community-college coordinator before he met Arth. Staley was young, but he impressed Arth enough to get the job at John Carroll. In 2013, the Blue Streaks went 9-2 and allowed fewer than 10 points in nine of their 11 games. After a year at an FCS school, Staley chose to return to John Carroll in 2015 and the team went 8-2. In 2016, the Blue Streaks reached the Division III national semifinals and finished 12-2.

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Soon after, Arth was hired at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and brought Staley with him, but before the 2017 season, Staley was hired by the Chicago Bears to work under then-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as the outside linebackers coach.

Arth, now the head coach at the University of Akron, maintained a close relationship with Staley during his three years with Fangio in Chicago and Denver. Arth was thrilled to hear that Staley would be joining Sean McVay’s staff with the Rams. He spoke on the phone with The Athletic on Monday to share some insights about Staley’s personality and defensive mindset.

(This interview has been lightly edited.)

How did you even become acquainted with Brandon to start with?

First of all, I’m just so, so excited for Brandon. He’s going to do such an incredible job for the Rams organization. When I first got to know Brandon, it’s kind of an interesting story. I became the head coach at my alma mater, John Carroll University, which is a prominent school in the National Football League (having produced several players and executives). I hired Jerry Schuplinski to be our defensive coordinator and had him for a couple months. We got into spring practice, and after the first or second spring practice, he got a call from Josh McDaniels, who was his college teammate, and Josh brought him to New England. So when Jerry left, I reached out to some people that I have great respect for, to look for a defensive coordinator. Jonathan Gannon, who is in Indianapolis now as defensive backs coach for the Colts — Jonathan had known Brandon growing up, I think through AAU basketball. They built a really strong relationship through that and through football and coaching. Jonathan told me, ‘There is not a better person you could talk to.”

Coming from him, that meant a lot to me, so of course, I called Brandon, I interviewed him. It was as big of a no-brainer as you can possibly imagine. Within 30 seconds of the interview, you knew there was just something really special about Brandon, just something really different. His personality, his way, his ability to teach, his knowledge and expertise and his ability to connect, all of it is really rare and it shows through pretty instantaneously. I’m sure Sean (McVay), when he met him, I’m sure he felt similarly. I knew in that moment that we were going to hire Brandon. We had him for the first year I was head coach. He went to James Madison for a year and, I think, missed what we had at John Carroll. When he left, I hired Chris Shula. Then Chris, after a year, got hired by Tom Telesco and the Chargers organization, and now obviously he’s working for Sean (as the Rams’ outside linebackers coach).

When Chris left, I called Brandon, just because we had talked all the time, throughout the year. I knew he missed it. He missed John Carroll, he missed working and doing it the way we do it. I just called him and kind of threw it (the idea of a return) out there, not really knowing what to expect. Sure enough, he was all for it. I remember that being — it said a lot about Brandon and the courage he had to leave a premier Division I FCS program to come back to a Division III school. Nobody understood that, outside our circle. Nobody could understand why he did that, but he did it for all the right reasons. Brandon came back and was our D-coordinator in 2015. Again, top-25 team in the country. Then in 2016 we made it to the national semifinals and finished third in the country. From there, we went to Chattanooga together and before spring practice started, he got hired by the Chicago Bears and Brandon went to work for Coach (Matt) Nagy and Vic, and has done a great job.

For people who might wonder about a 37-year-old, first-time NFL defensive coordinator, what about Brandon makes you confident that he’s ready for this?

I think you have to start with his ability to relate, his ability to galvanize a group and bring them together, believing in his style of play. I think you have to start there, with his leadership. From there, I think you look at his expertise. Brandon is as good of a football coach as I’ve ever been around. That goes back to my time as a player. Brandon is so smart. You hear how people describe Sean and his football acumen. Honestly, that’s how I feel about Brandon. I think he’s got this incredible, incredible football mind. The game comes very easily to him. He works extremely hard at it. Very well-prepared, very smart and detailed. He just has this innate ability to understand opposing offenses.

I think that goes back to his experience. He was a quarterback. He grew up playing quarterback and was a college quarterback. He sees the game from an offensive perspective and that’s how he coaches defense. I think he starts out with, “OK, what are they trying to do? And how do we take that away? Who are they and who are their best players and how do we take them away and how do we take away the intentions they have?” He’s just got such an incredible feel. He has great timing. He’s smart in his calls and aggressive when he needs to be and conservative when he needs to be. I think he’s got such a bright future ahead of him. For him to be a defensive coordinator at 37 in the National Football League and to have climbed that ladder as fast as he has, honestly it doesn’t surprise me. I would have recommended Brandon to be the D-coordinator for anybody in the country in 2013. He’s got something really special to him. He’s a guy that, a couple years from now, people are going to be talking about as a head coaching candidate.

By all indications, he aced the interview process with Sean McVay. It sounds like a lot of what you’re saying here …

Very rarely does somebody have the ability to come in and just absolutely exceed every expectation that you could possibly have. I really feel like that’s what Brandon does.

Rams fans obviously are interested in what Brandon will bring scheme-wise. In interviews, he has said that even before he got hired by Vic Fangio, he studied Fangio’s defenses a lot. Did you see that? And did he bring a lot of that stuff to your teams?

Absolutely. Vic was the coordinator for the 49ers at that time. I remember studying the 49ers structurally, very similar to what we were doing. I think the great thing about Brandon’s defense is that it’s multiple. It’s driven by matchups, which is the NFL game. It can be what it needs to be, when it needs to be that. Brandon is smart enough to understand that and understand what his players do, what they do well and what their strengths and weaknesses are. He understands that it’s about putting them in position to be as successful as they can be, regardless of what your intended scheme is. Brandon is going to put the Rams players in great position to be successful. I would expect it to be very multiple. I would expect to see a variety of fronts. I would expect to see a variety of pressures, some exotic pressures on third down and some different coverages, multiple coverages and a team that adjusts based on formations and motions and alignments. He does a great job and makes it really difficult for opposing offenses.

And I imagine he might have some thoughts on how to use Aaron Donald …

It’s funny. We talked the morning after all the news broke. Obviously, Aaron Donald is one of the best players in the National Football League. (Brandon) was talking about how he reminds him of a guy that we coached at John Carroll. (laughs) Just the skill set. At that level obviously it’s all relative, but there were different ways we used that player and how we aligned him and created matchups for him and things like that. He’s really excited about that. He’s already thinking about how he’s going to use Aaron.

  The Athletic- Brandon Staley story...

tonyde446January 14, 2020 05:36AM

  Thanks for posting that article!

RAMpant Defense65January 14, 2020 05:55AM

  Sounds like we have a McVay for the defense now!

Rampage2K-62January 14, 2020 08:04AM

  Re: Sounds like we have a McVay for the defense now!

RAMpant Defense49January 14, 2020 08:16AM

  Re: nice read

AlbaNY_Ram60January 14, 2020 06:22AM

  Re: The Athletic- Brandon Staley story...

Rams4370January 14, 2020 07:18AM

  Re: The Athletic- Brandon Staley story...

zn62January 14, 2020 07:32AM

  I'll take a learning curve over a flatline

promomasterj45January 14, 2020 08:03AM

  Re: I'll take a learning curve over a flatline

zn46January 14, 2020 08:26AM

  Experience at John Carroll University, alma mater of great Ram....?

RantoulRam45January 14, 2020 08:12AM

  London Fletcher

RAMpant Defense41January 14, 2020 08:18AM

  John Carroll University proud of its longtime ties to the NFL

MamaRAMa49January 14, 2020 08:18AM

  Re: Experience at John Carroll University, alma mater of great Ram....?

cool_hand_luke29January 14, 2020 08:59AM

  Re: Experience at John Carroll University, alma mater of great Ram....?

stlramz20January 14, 2020 11:30AM

  Re: The Athletic- Brandon Staley story...

Rams4353January 14, 2020 08:17AM

  Re: The Athletic- Brandon Staley story...

oldschoolramfan38January 14, 2020 09:18AM

  Re: Staley is already thinking about Aaron Donald....LOVE IT!

oldschoolramfan43January 14, 2020 09:28AM