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A Conversation With: Chargers Front Seven Specialist Mike Hiestand

Hiestand 1 is chatting with every Bolts assistant coach this offseason. Up next? Mike Hiestand.

We appreciate your time, Mike. Your first year with the Chargers is in the book. Before we get into that, what's your background and how did you end up here?

"I came here from Denver, I worked there three years as the Assistant to the Head Coach then became assistant D-line coach. I worked closely with Vic [Fangio] and Brandon [Staley] the first year in 2019. Then Coach Staley gave me the opportunity to come out here and had the chance to work as an offensive assistant last season. That experience was good because it was a little bit further away from my comfort level [on defense].

So this offseason I've been getting back up to speed on defense and have started working with the linebackers. It's been a good time for development, getting more comfortable with the back seven because my background is a little bit more with the front. It has been good to get with our staff here and learn from all the experience they have. DA [Derrick Ansley] and Jeff [Howard], there's such a good defensive staff here so that part's been enjoyable."

Away from the field, you're a dad to a 16-month-old daughter. What do you love about being a father and watching her grow up?

"It's been amazing. It has been a crazy last year with her. When we got out here — she was only a few weeks old. She was born at the end of January last year — we got let go to Denver and then my wife Emily flew out here about four weeks later. Emily did an awesome job taking care of our baby and setting up the move. Obviously, the season is busy, but the offseasons for us have been awesome. Now she is able to walk and to communicate with us, it has been a cool thing to see how much she's already grown."

How important is family to you, whether that's your immediate family or extended family?

"Yeah family means a lot to me. I have three siblings and we try to get together every year. We meet up in Maine, that's kind of the summer spot for us. My dad's retired now so he will be spending every possible minute there this spring and summer. My sister's a soccer player at Illinois so I got a chance to go out and visit her recently. I have a brother in the Air Force, so we had a chance to be together a lot when I was in Denver. But it's important to us because we moved around a lot and that definitely made our immediate family tighter."

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Do you come from a family of athletes then?

"My mom is the best athlete in our family. She went to Indiana, University of Pennsylvania and was an All-American field hockey player. And definitely I'll give my younger brother Mark and sister Sarah credit for being a better athlete than I was."

With your dad, obviously being a coach, what did, what did you learn from him just in general?

"This can be a tough profession to balance work and family time. The thing that he did was he tried to make sure that when he came home, it was 100 percent family time. Any time he could get away, he would, because the hours are what they are for a lot of the year, especially in college.

As I started getting into coaching we had a lot more specific conversations about expectations and what it should be like. I was able to get around him and some of his friends in coaching that were all solid people. I was able to see coaches that operate consistently, with character and how they do it and the ways they tried to help make players better. But his biggest things were to always do what you say you're going do, have high expectations for players but also hold yourself to that standard."

So you brought up something I was going to ask about. Your dad is obviously a great O-line coach but you have a defensive background. What are those conversations like, because, in essence, you're trying to defeat what he's trying to do?

"It was good, especially as I got going in coaching in the first few years. I was at Notre Dame at the same time as him and he was right there on opposing sides every day in practice. It helped with my development as a coach that I was able to run my thoughts by him and hear his perspective on technique and scheme. I think it even helped more last year being on offense since I could speak his language a little bit better and I was able get a little bit more out of the experience."

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You got a new title for this season as the Front Seven Specialist. What are the basics of what that means?

"My primary responsibility is that I'm going to be with the linebackers — inside linebackers — helping Jeff with the group. Between Jay Rodgers, Giff Smith & Jeff each position group has a very good coach. I appreciate Coach Staley and the Chargers giving me that title, I think it is a nod to my past experience with our system and with him. I hope I can just work to help the front seven whenever there is space to do so."

What was your first year like here?

"It was great. It was different, like I said, being on offense. But it was great because the staff was easy to work with and are consistent people. They dealt with the fact that I had a learning curve to get up to speed with the terminology because it was so different to me. They gave me an opportunity to give my defensive perspective and I just tried to give that whenever it could be helpful. I had a chance to work with the Tight Ends and it was a great group of guys to be in the room with."

You were a linebacker at Illinois State. Were you a good linebacker?

"No, I wasn't a great player. I had a great time playing at Illinois State but definitely had a limited role as a player. My role was to play on special teams, get good grades and graduate."

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You're going to be helping with the linebackers this year. What stands out to you about Eric Kendricks.

"He's a pro. He's been highly successful and productive, he's a very smart player. His eyes, footwork and hands — from a fundamental basis — is as sound as you could ask for. And he has a big picture understanding of the position, his role and how the defense functions. Some of our schemes may be different than what it did in the past, but he's shown that he's going to be able to excel the same way.

Being around Eric this spring he is a guy that comes with great energy every day. He's a consistent person and player. He is a communicator, connector and does things the right way. I know Jeff had great experience with him in Minnesota."

You mentioned Coach Staley a few times, what have you learned from him over the years?

"I was able to see him in Denver as a coach that approached things the right way, that took his role seriously and prepared his players the right way. I noticed that he was bright and how relationships are important to him. Having good influences on the staff in Denver helped me see proper habits coaching in the NFL and I tried to observe that closely.

Being able to learn more closely from him with the Chargers I have learned plenty of new schemes and ways to explain defensive techniques. I think I've definitely learned a lot from the way he's able to lock into the details that matter most and make complicated concepts simpler to teach and easier to understand."

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