Meet the Bolts 2016 coaching staff.
On the Monday following the end of the 2015 season, Head Coach Mike McCoy had to tell six coaches they would not be retained for the following season.
While it was a difficult decision to part ways with good coaches and outstanding people, McCoy knew it was his duty to make that tough call for the betterment of the team.
"It was very difficult and brutal letting so many good coaches and even better people go. It is all part of the business. Our record was what it was, and we had to make tough decisions to move on."
There is no denying that 2015 was a tough season for the Chargers, and one that took a toll on the head coach. Hungry to reinvigorate the Bolts, it is also crystal clear that McCoy approached forming his new staff as a pivotal first step.
When evaluating who to hire, McCoy identified certain mandatory qualities as of the utmost importance, and refused to settle for anything less.
"We were looking for energetic, passionate coaches who are very hardworking and detailed. We wanted teachers who will not only develop younger players, but make every single player better. I believe the coaches we've hired have all those qualities. "
While difficult, the process was also extremely rewarding for the head coach who feels a palpable excitement for 2016. That energy is evidenced in the number of text messages he's gotten from players over the hires.
"They are fired up. They can't wait to come back in April to work with these new coaches. This is a new year for us. We are all moving on to next season and we feel rejuvenated. Last year was one of those years where you can't draw things up with what happened. But we will be a better team, better players and a better staff because of it. There is a new type of energy here moving forward with the number of new coaches, but we've got to do a better job. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but are excited for the opportunity that lies ahead."
One of those new coaches is someone the team is extremely familiar with. Ken Whisenhunt served as offensive coordinator in 2013, and his success across the board led McCoy to reach out to gauge his interest in returning.
"There was a common background together when you look back to the success we had in 2013," McCoy explained. "Look at what Philip (Rivers) did; he completed over 69% of his passes. On third down, we led the league and converted over 49% in those situations. We finished as one of the best offenses in the league, and we were balanced in the run and the pass. Knowing what the players thought of him, and the way things were done when he was here, we researched all of that. There were a lot of things we had to look at, and he was the right guy for the job."
Revitalizing the ground game is paramount heading into 2016, and was a factor when crafting the new staff. The team's new offensive line coach, Jeff Davidson, boasts an impressive resume when it comes to running the football. Although it was only one part of the equation that led to his hire, it was an important one.
"We know we have to run it better," McCoy said. "That is obviously one thing we know not just from 2015, but the past two seasons. We have to run it better, and that is going to be a big emphasis moving forward. We understand that. It's not something we didn't work on; it's just something we didn't do efficiently enough. The run game is definitely a big priority to improve heading into the 2016 season. Having worked with Jeff in Carolina for the time we spent together there, he understands what I want to get done and what we want to do as an organization. He is a great guy to run that room."
While Whisenhunt and Davidson are two new additions to the offense, the team shuffled a pair of coaches already on the staff into new positions. Nick Sirianni will transition to wide receivers coach from quarterbacks coach while Shane Steichen moves from offensive quality control to QB coach. Just like he preaches to his players, McCoy notes how both coaches have "position flexibility" as well as passion for the game that is infectious.
"When you put a staff together, you always look at the option to move guys around if that is where they are the best fit. Nick has coached receivers in the past with other teams, and also his first year here working with Fred (Graves). Knowing what the players think of him and how he did there, he will do a great job. I think very highly of both Nick and Shane. They've done a phenomenal job the past couple years, and they have a great passion for the game. They love it, and you love what you see out of them whether it was Shane standing up to talk at a team meeting the day before a game last year. And Nick, he is so passionate out there, even at practice. Sometimes you have to tell him, 'Settle down a little bit. It's not game day yet.' But you love that. They are great, young coaches."
Another coach with a fiery passion is Craig Aukerman, who McCoy believes strongly in. Not only have the two coached side by side for three years with the Bolts, but they were also on the same staff with the Denver Broncos. As a result, McCoy has long held Aukerman in high esteem and knew he would one day elevate to a position like he is in now as special teams coordinator.
"We saw what he could do the last few weeks of the season when he took over the kicking game, and we liked the way the guys played for him. He was someone we targeted when we first hired him that he was going to be a future head guy in charge of a position. We saw the past three years the way he ran and led a room. He had a certain role that we developed. With Craig, you are going to hear him out there on the field. He is not going to hide anything, and I think his passion and love for the game is great."
On defense, Bob Babich takes over at linebackers coach. This marks the third straight season the position will have a new guy leading the charge, but McCoy doesn't expect them to miss a beat.
"The players want good coaches, and that is Bob. He has a lot of experience in this league also as a defensive coordinator, and he will help John Pagano at times. It will be very similar to the way Mike Nolan was. You want good football coaches, and that is Bob. When you are going through this process, you ask yourself if this is a guy who is going to step right in and we won't miss a beat. His resume speaks for itself. And you talk about a passion for the game; well, that was one thing that he brought up a number of times. He has a passion for coaching a position again after being a coordinator for a long time."
Meanwhile, the Chargers hired Giff Smith as their new defensive line coach. When whittling down the candidates, his relationship with Whisenhunt is part of what sold McCoy on making the hire.
"He was with Ken last year, and you look at that relationship. That was something that we talked a lot about with Giff. When you have a former head coach that jumps on the table for someone that was on his staff, that is something you notice. It was big when (Whisenhunt) spoke about what he did for him, and John Pagano talks about his relationship with him. Then you look at the development of players and what he did for both the younger players and veterans, and the success they had up front, it was impressive."
The Chargers staff is not complete as there are a handful of positions still open, including tight ends coach and numerous assistants. McCoy is weighing his options before hiring the best fit, but was adamant the team has taken the right approach to hiring energetic, passionate coaches.
"I will run things by everybody, but I have to make the final decision on who to hire. I want everyone to have their input, and then I will sit down at the end of the day and say this is the guy we will go with. It is important to get as much information as you can. When you put a staff together, you want to make sure they are the right fit for the staff. We have a couple spots left to still fill, and there are a lot of qualified coaches out there. When we get down to making the decision, you have to make those phone calls. There is one really good phone call you make, and the guy is excited to come here. Then there are those multiple other phone calls you have to make to say you went in another direction. You can't hire everybody. It's a tough phone call to make, and sometimes you have to tell one of your best friends you went in another direction. But that is what you have to do. We have a couple spots left to still fill, and there are a lot of qualified coaches out there, but I'm very pleased with the staff we've formed."