8 best Chargers coaching candidates to replace Brandon Staley, from Jim Harbaugh to Bill Belichick

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When the Chargers gave Brandon Staley a chance to remain the team’s head coach despite blowing a 27-point lead to the Jaguars in the wild-card round of the 2023 NFL playoffs, they had hoped the team would improve heading into his third season.

Instead, Los Angeles has just about bottomed out.

Staley’s squad has posted a record of just 5-8 through the first 14 weeks of the 2023 NFL season. The Chargers have talent on both sides of the ball, but things have simply never come together under Staley’s watch. Their offense hasn’t been as sharp, as the team’s running game has been non-existent while Justin Herbert has battled finger injuries, and their defense continues to be wildly inconsistent.

The dysfunction seen during each Chargers game has been enough to make many question if Staley will be dismissed from his post in-season. The calls for his job only grew louder with each failed fourth-down conversion he attempted.

Even so, Staley survived into Week 15, but he may not receive the same fate for Week 16. The Chargers were embarrassed on “Thursday Night Football”, giving up a jaw-dropping 63 points to their division rivals in a 63-21 loss.

It would certainly be understandable if Staley was out of a job before the weekend slate. At the very least, if Los Angeles does elect to ride out the rest of the year with Staley, it’s highly unlikely he’ll return for next fall. 

Luckily for the Chargers, there are plenty of quality candidates expected to be available on the NFL coaching market during the 2024 offseason. From rising, offensive-minded stars to legendary defensive coaches, Los Angeles will be able to explore exactly which person will be the right fit to bring the team into the post-Staley era.

MORE: Latest injury updates on Chargers QB Justin Herbert

But who are the best fits to replace Staley? Below are some of the top coaching candidates that the Chargers should look into if they move on from the 41-year-old.

Chargers coaching candidates for 2024

Kellen Moore

  • Team: Chargers
  • Position: Offensive coordinator

One of the reasons that many believed Staley could be fired in-season if the Chargers struggled in 2023 was that the team had Moore on the staff. The former Cowboys offensive coordinator is considered an up-and-comer in the coaching ranks and the 34-year-old should soon land a head coaching gig.

Moore’s offenses have always been effective during his five-year stint as an offensive coordinator. He led the Cowboys to three top-six scoring offenses during his time there and twice had the team lead the league in total yardage generated.

Moore’s results with the Chargers haven’t been quite as encouraging, as the team ranks middle-of-the-pack in both scoring and yards per game. However, they were better in each category early in the season before Herbert dealt with nagging finger injuries, so perhaps the team will give him a pass and still look to interview him for the job.

At the very least, Moore might get a chance to operate as the Chargers’ interim coach if Staley is fired before the end of the season, so keeping him as the team’s head coach of the future cannot be ruled out.

MORE: Revisiting Kellen Moore’s record-breaking college career at Boise State

Jim Harbaugh

  • Team: Michigan
  • Position: Head coach

If Moore represents a familiar face with modest upside for the Chargers, Harbaugh represents a home-run swing. The former 49ers coach helped mold San Francisco into a Super Bowl contender with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, so it’s exciting to dream of what he could do with a talent like Herbert.

Harbaugh’s offenses were rarely better than above-average during his time with the 49ers, but he always got the most out of the pieces  he had. He also was always paired with a good defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, and has shown a knack for building excellent coaching staffs during his time at Michigan.

While Harbaugh could be a boom pick for the Chargers, he also has high bust potential. For one, he hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2014. While he has plenty of experience there, it may take him some time to adjust after spending nearly a decade at his alma mater.

The other element at play? Harbaugh could face a suspension for his involvement in a sign-stealing scandal that rocked college football during the 2023 season. Reports indicate that the NFL won’t make itself a “safe harbor” for Harbaugh to escape punishment, so if he faces discipline beyond the three-game Big Ten suspension he already served, he might not be available right away for any team that hires him.

Still, if Harbaugh is ready to make the jump back to the NFL, the Chargers look like the best landing spot for him. They have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball; they may just need to have a coaching staff shake-up to get all of their pieces to fall into the right places.

Bill Belichick

  • Team: Patriots
  • Position: Head coach

Here’s another big swing option for the Chargers. If the Patriots move on from Belichick — or look to trade him — after a disastrous season, Los Angeles could be an appealing landing spot for the veteran head coach. The Chargers have an established quarterback and offense; their biggest issue is consistency on the defensive side of the ball.

Belichick could help iron out those issues. He has long been one of the best defensive minds in the NFL and should be able to get more of a defense that features talented players like Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack and Derwin James than Staley has to date. After all, the Patriots rank ninth in yards allowed in 2023 despite being both undermanned and consistently put behind the 8-ball by their hapless offense. That is thanks, in part, to Belichick’s tutelage.

Of course, any Belichick hiring would have to come with assurances that he brings a strong offensive coordinator into the fold to work with Herbert. Could Josh McDaniels or Bill O’Brien be enough to inspire confidence? That would be the big question to answer.

But if Belichick can land a quality offensive coordinator, the Chargers could be sold on following his vision to turn Herbert’s supporting cast into that of a contender.

MORE: How the Patriots could replace Bill Belichick if they part with him

Frank Smith

  • Team: Dolphins
  • Position: Offensive coordinator

If the Chargers have soured on Moore’s potential, then Smith could make for a strong hire. The 42-year-old has helped turn the Dolphins into one of the league’s most explosive offenses while working with Mike McDaniel.

Tua Tagovailoa has particularly made strides under McDaniel and Smith. He has blossomed into an MVP candidate over his two years with the duo, so the Chargers may look at Tagovailoa’s progress and hope that Smith could have the same sort of impact on Herbert.

Also, the Chargers are familiar with Smith, who served as the team’s run game coordinator and offensive line coach in 2021 before taking the job as Miami’s offensive coordinator. Los Angeles’ run game averaged 4.3 yards per carry during that season; that was the Chargers’ best mark of the last five seasons by a wide margin.

Perhaps those fond memories of an effective ground game and a solid blocking unit could be enough to land Smith the gig in Los Angeles. Either way, he’s certainly worth interviewing giving his well-rounded resume.

Ben Johnson

  • Team: Lions
  • Position: Offensive coordinator

Johnson is another young, hotshot offensive coach who seems likely to be hired during this coaching cycle. It’s just a matter of which team will land his services.

Johnson has worked on Dan Campbell’s staff with the Lions and has Detroit on pace to be a top-five offense for a second consecutive season. They are one of the most prolific, well-rounded attacks in the NFL, and that should be attractive to the Chargers.

So too should the fact that Jared Goff has been very good under Johnson’s watch. He has posted a 97.3 passer rating since Johnson took over as the team’s offensive coordinator and is averaging 4,469 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions per 17 games played in that span.

Herbert has more physical talent than Goff, so the Chargers may like the idea of pairing their quarterback with Johnson in the hopes of getting him to take the next step in 2024.

Eric Bieniemy

Eric Bieniemy

  • Team: Commanders
  • Position: Assistant head coach/offensive coordinator

Bieniemy has been mentioned as a potential head coaching hire for several years now, but 2024 should be the time he finally gets a chance to lead a team.

The reason is simple. Just look at what has happened to the Chiefs in his absence.

The Chiefs are still a good team and are currently leading the AFC West with an 8-5 record. However, under Bieniemy, the Chiefs never ranked lower than sixth league-wide in points or yards per game. Without him this season, the Chiefs are seventh in yards per game and 11th in scoring offense.

The decline of Kansas City’s offense has been notable. Patrick Mahomes, who won two MVPs and two Super Bowls with Bieniemy, is on pace to log the worst passer rating of his career as a starter. And the team’s receivers simply can’t hold onto the ball, as they lead the league in dropped passes.

Meanwhile, Bieniemy has done yeoman’s work with the Commanders. Sam Howell spent most of the season leading the NFL in passing yards and Bieniemy has done well to help the 2022 fifth-round pick develop into a potential-packed starter. Washington may not be winning, but the offense isn’t their primary weakness.

The Chargers may be able to sell themselves on Bieniemy helping Herbert reach his ceiling as a passer, which could ultimately be an MVP level given the tools he has. Plus, adding a coach familiar with the team’s top challenger in the AFC West would be smart, so perhaps Bieniemy could find a way to finally help Los Angeles get over the hump.

MORE: What’s wrong with the Chiefs? How Eric Bieniemy’s departure is impacting the team

Brian Flores

  • Team: Vikings
  • Position: Defensive coordinator

The Chargers seem likely to hire an offensive-minded coach after their defensive-minded hire of Staley didn’t work. Still, Flores would be a great option for the Chargers to consider.

Los Angeles’ defense has on it plenty of talent, but it has never been married together. Flores would be able to complete that process. The former Dolphins head coach — who went 24-25 in that role — is one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL and has routinely elevated the play of his personnel during his NFL career.

This season, Flores has turned the Vikings’ defense from one of the worst in the NFL to one of its best. It ranks top-10 in both yards and points allowed per game just a season after finishing bottom-five in both categories under Ed Donatell.

Flores uses a blitz-heavy scheme that would likely get the most out of Derwin James and linebacker Daiyan Henley while allowing Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack to generate a lot of pressure as well. So, while the Chargers may be looking more for offense this cycle, they shouldn’t rule out Flores, especially if he can bring with him a strong offensive coordinator.

Bobby Slowik

  • Team: Texans
  • Position: Offensive coordinator

Perhaps no young coach across the NFL has done more to help his head coaching candidacy than Slowik. The first-year Texans offensive coordinator has turned C.J. Stroud into one of the best rookie quarterbacks in NFL history, and that has helped Houston make one of the league’s most surprising playoff pushes.

Slowik comes from Kyle Shanahan’s coaching tree and spent time working with Shanahan and Mike McDaniel creating a quality offense in San Francisco. He spent his final seasons there as a passing game specialist and coordinator with the team and Stroud’s performance makes it evident that downfield offense is his specialty.

The Chargers are built to run that kind of offense given their struggles on the ground, their receiving weapons and Herbert’s arm talent. That has never materialized under Staley and Moore, so perhaps the 36-year-old Slowik is the right candidate to bring that offensive attack to life.

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