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Armando Salguero: OutKick NFL Game Of The Week: Chargers’ Brandon Staley Matches Wits vs. One Of NFL’s Best

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Let’s agree John Harbaugh is one of the NFL’s finest coaches. Can we do that?

If you don’t readily acknowledge this fact, kindly investigate the evidence because it’s compelling:

Harbaugh, in his 14th season coaching the Baltimore Ravens, has guided his team to eight double-digit win seasons and the team is leading the AFC North and headed toward another double-digit win season in 2021.

The Ravens have finished below .500 just once in Harbaugh’s 13 previous years and have made the postseason in nine of those 13 seasons.

The guy has won with Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and without them. He’s won with pocket passer Joe Flacco and super scrambler Lamar Jackson. And, of course, Harbaugh’s 2012-13 team won Super Bowl XLVII.

There’s a reason ProFootballFocus rated Harbaugh the league’s second-best coach behind Kansas City’s Andy Reid before the season began.

So now that you wisely agree Harbaugh is a coaching beast, let’s examine what chance Los Angeles Chargers rookie head coach Brandon Staley has in matching wits and schemes against Harbaugh this week.

Because Staley’s Chargers visit Harbaugh’s Ravens on Sunday in this week’s OutKick NFL game of the week.

Staley, 38, looks like the unassuming guy pumping gas into the car ahead of you that you never notice. His coaching stops at Northern Illinois, St. Thomas, Hutchinson and even James Madison don’t immediately suggest an NFL burst-on-the-scene future.

But here he is, with one year of NFL defensive coordinator experience and only three years as a position coach, and Staley’s looking like something of a coaching prodigy.

And in doing that, he’s showing off impressive leadership qualities and communication skills that, frankly, can grab and hold the attention of an NFL locker room.

Take Staley’s view of the Jon Gruden scandal:

“I think that respect and trust in this world are really, really difficult to achieve,” Staley said, beginning a thought that was nuanced and clear and an example of how he addresses his team. “I think about all of the people affected by those e-mails, whether you’re a person of color, your gender, or your sexual orientation — the people affected by those e-mails, that’s who I’m thinking about.

“It’s a sacred mantle for someone to call you coach, or for someone to call you a leader. Trust is really, really hard to achieve in this world — it’s really, really challenging to achieve, especially with people in those groups that I just mentioned. People are really guarded and they’re skeptical of people because of e-mails like that.

“I think that kindness, lifting people up, respecting people that you don’t know, I think that’s such a big part of our thing here — listening to people and learning about people, because I think that what you’ll discover is that we have so much more in common than not.

“For someone like me, it’s just incumbent upon you to set the example every single day, so that people that were talked about in those e-mails don’t need to feel that way. They shouldn’t feel that way. Hopefully, all of us can learn from this. It’s about bringing people together, for me, so that people can become the people that they dream about.

“For me, leading this football team, hopefully, we can be a light for those people in those e-mails, that not everybody is like that. There are far more people that will love you than the opposite. Hopefully, this will be a chance for everybody to come together, instead of going apart.”

Smart. And authentic. And, most importantly, it played well in the Los Angeles locker room.

But Staley is also calculating and something of a gambler.

The Chargers, you should know, have won their last three games in large part because Staley took fourth-down gambles on offense to extend drives and even score touchdowns.

The Chargers have converted seven of eight fourth-down tries so far. The seven successful conversions are second in the NFL, as is the 87.5 conversion rate.

Such moves show Staley has:

-A plan for vital in-game situations.

-Confidence in his players’ ability to execute.

-And the trust of his players in return because they want to reward his trust in them.

“Sometimes on critical downs, especially when we have the momentum and we’re driving, and maybe when he feels like we need points, I think he picks and chooses the right time,” tight end Jared Cook said of his coach. “…That’s imperative, and he’s choosing great. I might as well play some lottery numbers with coach.”

This is not to say Staley’s first season has not been without challenges already.

The Chargers this week found out starting right guard Oday Aboushi will miss the rest of the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee and right tackle Bryan Bulaga will miss more time after having core muscle surgery.

But despite unwelcome news and a rough schedule that obviously gets no easier on Sunday, the Chargers have prospered. And Staley has not blinked.

“You’ve seen what Dallas is doing, you’re seeing what Kansas City’s doing,” Staley said after a victory over the Las Vegas Raiders. “These guys are real opponents. And that’s a real opponent that we just played. But I feel like our guys are coming together. I feel like we’re finding that sweet spot within the game plan of how much in the plan is getting these guys in their comfort zones. “

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

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