Brandon Staley was simultaneously in his element and half a world away.
A passionate tennis fan since childhood, the Chargers coach has spent the last two days personally following Wimbledon games with his wife Amy. For them it is an anniversary trip and their first time in Europe.
Still, football is never too far away for Staley, who used the experience as an opportunity to hone his coaching skills. He received a special invitation to watch his favorite player, Rafael Nadal, grind his way through a training session on the practice grounds. The Staleys also sat in the players’ box for a Steve Johnson game, those prime seats courtesy of Marc Lucero, who coaches the former USC star.
“You’re just trying to see how the best players in the world train and perform,” Staley said. “As a coach, you try to incorporate things into Rafa’s drills that you think can help Justin Herbert. you’re just watching There were just a lot of moments in that hour bag that I know to take with me for Justin and Derwin James because Rafa is the best of all time.
In March, the coach brought quarterback Herbert and safety James to the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in hopes of instilling them with the focus and dedication it takes to, in Nadal’s case, play tennis at the elite level for a generation to play.
“There’s always something to observe if you’re willing to look and listen,” Staley said. “There will be something I can see with my own eyes that can help me with coaching.”
Josh Rupprecht, who directs media relations for the Chargers, arranged for the Staleys to take friend Pete Sampras’ seats on center court. Sampras was another childhood favorite of the coach.
Staley, 39, grew up playing tennis in Ohio, was a competitive youth player, and briefly considered focusing on that instead of football. However, the lure of playing quarterback was too strong, and he ended up playing the position at the University of Dayton.
“I used my athletics to beat you when I was a kid,” he said. “I’m out there wearing basketball shoes and baggy shorts. I could use my basketball and soccer background to beat these rich kids at tennis.
“Hit her differently. Beat them like Rafa, with my attitude. Play the game differently. If you get a good shot, I can get it and I’ll get it back. Then I’ll get another one. I’ll only wear you down.”
Even though football was the focus of his life, his love for tennis never faded. However, it faded after he lost his mother, Linda, to cancer while in college. She had picked up the sport at age 35 and became a relentless player in her community.
“My mom was amazing,” he said. “She was a human support. She would get everything back. She was so consistent.”
Linda Staley’s dream was to one day see the US Open and maybe Wimbledon in person. It never came to that. But now her son has been spending time on that sacred ground, striking up a chat with Martina Navratilova, one of her sporting idols, while visiting the Tennis Channel set on Saturday.
“If my mother were here now, she wouldn’t believe it,” he said.
Like his mother, Staley’s wife began playing this year at age 35 and she shows a natural aptitude for the sport. A former Division I college volleyball player, Amy must resist the urge to jump for every shot. When the youngest of her three sons starts school this fall, Amy will have even more time to work on her game.
“Brandon just doesn’t have the time for hobbies that most people have,” she said. “It has always been a childhood love of his to remember and talk about tennis. He had said for years, “If we stop moving, I swear we’ll start playing together.” It’s going to be something we can do together, we can do with our kids…’”
The Staleys have made 11 moves since 2007, including NFL stops with the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and Rams, before Brandon was hired as the Chargers’ head coach in 2021.
Now he has rediscovered tennis. Since this spring, he’s been taking an hour’s class every Friday at 6 a.m. before leaving for work.
“My first lesson, it all came back for me,” he said. “I thought, ‘I have to do this for the rest of the year, even during the regular season. I have to do this at least once a week.” It was like a renaissance. I remember how much I loved it and why.”
He feels it also brings him closer to his mother, who was a teacher.
“I tell people I come from the Bruce and Linda Staley coaching tree,” he said. “Everything I know about coaching, I learned from my parents.”
As for the other dream his mother had?
Staley is sending his wife and their friends to the US Open this year.
Half a world away. And never closer.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/chargers/story/2022-07-02/chargers-coach-brandon-staley-at-wimbledon Chargers coach Brandon Staley on a dream trip to Wimbledon