When it comes to referencing “Staley,”, most Bears fans are aware of the nickname of the franchise’s Decatur origins, which inspired the mascot you see prancing around at games and community appearances.
But we now introduce you to Brandon Staley, the new outside linebackers coach. He succeeded Clint Hurtt, whose contract was not renewed after last season despite a popularity with his players, and who is now the Seahawks’ defensive line coach. Staley’s resume won’t bowl over fans. All 11 years of his coaching experience have come at the collegiate level, and traditional powerhouses are difficult to find. He most recently completed his second tour with Division III John Carroll University, but also toiled at FCS James Madison for a year, two seasons at Hutchinson (KS) Community College, NAIA St. Thomas University, plus three years at Northern Illinois. Sprinkled among them was a season as a grad assistant at Tennessee in 2012.
“John Carroll has a real significant footprint in the National Football League,” Staley said Friday in Bourbonnais. “The way they run their program is much like how they do it here. So from a football standpoint, it really wasn’t much different. Certainly the caliber of players is. It’s been everything I’d hoped it’d be. I’m very fortunate to be in this situation. I’m just very, very lucky.”
And for those not well-versed in John Carroll football, their alumni list includes current and former NFL executives David Caldwell (Jaguars GM), Nick Caserio (Patriots Director of Player Personnel), Chris Polian (ex-Colts Vice President and G.M., and son of Bill), Tom Telesco (Chargers GM) and Hall of Famer Don Shula. Current and former offensive coordinators Josh McDaniels and Greg Roman hail from the University Heights, Ohio program. Former NFL linebacker London Fletcher is a former Blue Streak. It’s almost reflective of Ryan Pace’s 2017 draft, with its three small school picks. So if Staley walked into the position room after his hiring five months ago to a “Who is this guy?,” perhaps the alpha-males read up and had a more open mind.
“They’ve been awesome. Since the time I got here in February, I was able to meet a lot of them before OTAs and minicamps,” Staley says. “ That’s always been important to me in getting to know the guys and know their personal lives. I think that’s the best way to be a coach. And it’s been great having Vic in our room, heavily involved…his expertise at being able to coach that position at the level he’s coached it his whole career, I think it makes our room that much stronger. “
Staley has the position title, but is really somewhat of an understudy to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who’s decided to spend more time with the group specifically and had no direct relationship with Staley before being added to the staff.
“The key is he knows how to coach different kinds of players. He doesn’t have a 'one size fits all' coaching philosophy. He just has all these ezxperiences to draw from and he can really draw from and coach to a player’s skill set — not only in their physical abilities, but the way they learn and putting guys in position to be successful. Not just at our position, but the whole defense.”
For the immediate future, Fangio and Staley will be without Pernell McPhee, whom Bears fans wish would be available to play heading into a third season as much he’s available to deliver a killer quoten with a nasty attitude. McPhee underwent arthrospic knee surgery Friday morning, and there’s no timetable for his return on the procedure on the knee he was not recovering from a year ago.
“He’s everything you want in a competitor regardless of which sport you play,” Staley said of Ryan Pace’s first significant free agent signee. “This game means so much to him. He does have an impact on this group because they know what it means to him. We know when he gets back, what he’s capable of. But more than anything, it’s the influence he has on this group and the rest of our team. They know that when `92’ is out there, we’re gonna be better.”
So at the outset of camp, the talent level at the position takes a hit. Another injury to Leonard Floyd, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Dan Skuta or Sam Acho would be a crippling hit to a unit that’s supposed to be a strength. And the more weapons opposite Floyd, the better the 2016 ninth overall pick will be.
“I think if you guys had a chance to watch film from his first practice a year ago, to now, there’s no comparison,” said Staley, who could only watch that film since he wasn’t here. “The game is so much easier for him. It’s slowed down for him and his body’s changed a lot. He’s got a really high football I.Q. he learns the game well and I think we can use him in a lot of different roles because of that, and that gives us a lot of flexibility on defense.
“With Leonard, he’s a really complete player. He can play in the run game, he can rush and he can cover. Really the three traits you’re looking for in an outside linebacker. Willie’s strengths are more in the pass rush and run game. But he’s done a tremendous job buying in to being a cover guy at times. Willie has a little bit more power, little longer, little heavier. They complement one another and that’s the key in a 3-4 defense. Your edge guys have to complement each other.”
Just as Staley will have to complement Fangio, making a big coaching jump to the highest level there is.