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49ers assistant Staley looks for 'reset' after firing by Chargers

Ryan Kang / Getty Images Sport / Getty

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Brandon Staley's rise up the coaching ranks was meteoric, going from a Division III defensive coordinator to head coach in the NFL in a dizzying five-year span.

Staley's stay at the top of the football coaching profession proved to be brief as he was fired before the end of his third season as coach of the Los Angeles Chargers.

Staley took a couple of months of time off before resetting his coaching career in a lower-profile role as a defensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers.

Staley welcomed the opportunity to work for a winning organization led by coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch even if it didn't have the responsibility as the play-caller and coordinator.

“I don’t think looking at it as a reset is a bad thing,” Staley said Wednesday. “I was really excited about the role. There is a lot of common ground in how to lead a football team. This is what I was looking for more than anything, an opportunity where you feel you’ll be aligned with the right people who do things the right way and you have a chance to improve, and where you also have a chance to affect a team that can compete for a championship. All those stars kind of aligned and it’s been energizing."

Staley has a bit of an amorphous role with an official title of assistant head coach/defense under first-time coordinator Nick Sorensen. He is bringing some fresh ideas to add tweaks to what has been one of the NFL's top units in recent years, will work with the secondary bringing a few new wrinkles and use his experience of calling defensive plays for four years and being a head coach for three as a resource for Sorensen and Shanahan.

But Shanahan doesn't anticipate any awkwardness with a staff that features a former coordinator of the NFL's top-ranked defense working under a coach who has never called plays in the NFL.

“Nick knows who the defensive coordinator is, and Brandon does," Shanahan said. ”Brandon is in a real good spot, just leaving from being a head coach and how he can help us in a number of roles. I think Nick feels very excited to have a guy on the staff who has called plays, who has done it at a number of different places and things. I think he’s helped him a lot in those ways. But no, there’s no really gray area of it."

The 41-year-old Staley is viewed as one of the brighter defensive minds in the game even if his defenses didn't play to that level during his three years running the Chargers.

Staley went from being coordinator at Division III John Carroll to being an outside linebackers coach under former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in both Chicago and Denver for three years before being fired as defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams in 2020.

He helped Los Angeles have the stingiest defense in the NFL in his one season with the Rams, leading to him getting the head coaching job for the Chargers.

Los Angeles fell a game shy of the playoffs his first season, got into the postseason as a wild-card in 2022 before blowing a 27-point lead to Jacksonville and then got fired with a 5-9 record last season.

The Chargers allowed the fifth most points, the third most yards per play and a staggering 210 plays of at least 20 yards the past three seasons.

“You take a deep look at all of it," Staley said. "You have to unpack it the right way. You have to take time to do that, which I thought I did. You can’t do it yourself. You have to talk to a lot of different people who can help you. I read a lot. I worked out a lot. I was with my kids. Through all that, doing it the right way, it led me to an opportunity here where I was ready for it.”

Staley said he looks forward to working with Sorensen after getting positive reports on him from people who have worked with him in the past.

The Niners wanted someone well-versed in their defensive schemes to run the unit after struggling at times last year when Steve Wilks came in from the outside to replace DeMeco Ryans.

Ryans had also been an internal promotion when he got the job after Robert Saleh was hired as the New York Jets' coach in 2021.

While Staley has typically used a more complex style of defense than the simpler approach that has worked well for the 49ers with a four-man pass rush and more zone coverages on the back end, he believes he can bring some subtle changes that can elevate the defense even more without compromising the core principles.

“They've always evolved,” Staley said. “I think since Kyle’s first season to now the defense has changed. ... From Robert to DeMeco to Steve, and now Nick, I think you’ve seen a really nice evolution. That’s what’s important is that you don’t stray too far away from what makes you special. The style of play of this team is what’s made it special.”



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