During the summer of 2009, Brandon Staley took a trip that forever altered his football life. Staley, then just a 26-year-old assistant at Division III powerhouse St. Thomas in Minnesota, talked his way into a week’s worth of meetings and practices with the Saints’ quarterbacks. Joe Lombardi, the Saints’ QB coach at the time — had been the offensive coordinator during Staley’s stint as the QB at Mercyhurst College, and the enterprising young assistant parlayed that connection into six days within the Saints’ inner sanctum.
New Orleans led the NFL in scoring the previous season and Staley’s time with Drew Brees and Sean Payton gave him an intimate look at what kept the best offense in football humming.
“He’s a brand-new coach, and he was just seeing that the Saints were really successful,” Lombardi said. “And he always wanted to know why. What do you guys do? How do you do it?”
By the time the week was over, Staley had his answer. He was floored by the level of detail that permeated every aspect of New Orleans’ approach. Staley specifically remembers the script reviews New Orleans would conduct before the following day’s practice, which included plans for how every play would function against all the possible looks a defense could throw at them.
“Every walkthrough,” Staley said. “How intentional every single play was. To get the right personnel grouping. To get the right formation. To get the right motion. So that you can get the right matchup … I just think that they poured into all those little things that make a big difference.”
Now in his first season as the Chargers’ head coach, Staley has been open about why he chose Lombardi as his offensive coordinator and the Saints’ system as the unit’s foundation. With the endless combinations of personnel packages, formations and motions, the New Orleans offense mirrors Staley’s approach on defense. To put it simply, playing against that offense makes for a miserable week at the office. But beyond the mechanics of the Saints’ system, Staley was also drawn to the way that Brees shaped every facet of the New Orleans offense.
“I felt like the quarterback had full command over what was happening,” Staley said. “There wasn’t anything that was getting run in those practices that wasn’t designed for Drew Brees, that he wasn’t truly invested in.”
In Justin Herbert, the Chargers have a 23-year-old quarterback fresh off one of the best seasons for a rookie quarterback in NFL history. With Lombardi on staff and the Saints’ offensive blueprint in hand, the Chargers’ goal wasn’t to drop Herbert into an offensive system that already existed. It was to turn that quarterback into the offensive system.