Brandon Staley was simultaneously in his element and half a world away from it.
Charging device coach, a tennis aficionado since childhood, has spent the past two days watching Wimbledon matches personally with his wife Amy. For them, this is an anniversary trip, and this is their first time in Europe.
However, football is never too far away for Staley, who used the experience as an opportunity to hone his coaching techniques. He received a special invitation to watch his favorite player, Rafael Nadal, polish a session on the practice courts. The Staleys also sat in the players’ box against Steve Johnson, those top seats provided by Mark Lucero, who coaches the former USC star.
“You’re just trying to see the best players in the world train and perform,” Staley said. “As a coach, you are trying to get something out of Rafa’s training that you think can help Justin Herbert. You are simply watching. There were just so many moments in that watch pocket that I know I can bring back with me for Justin and Dervin James because Rafa is the best of all time.”
In March, the coach brought quarterback Herbert and defenseman James to the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, hoping to show them the focus and dedication needed to play tennis at the elite level for, in Nadal’s case, a generation.
“There’s always something you can watch if you’re willing to watch and listen,” Staley said. “There will be something that I will see with my own eyes, and it will help me in training.”
Josh Ruprecht, who handles media relations at the Chargers, arranged for the Staleys to sit in the seats of friend Pete Sampras on Center Court. Sampras was another of the coach’s childhood favorites.
Staley, 39, grew up playing tennis in Ohio, was a competitive young player and thought about focusing on that instead of football for a while. However, the temptation to play quarterback was too strong, and he ended up playing a position at the University of Dayton.
“I would have used my athleticism to beat you when I was a kid,” he said. “I’m there in basketball shoes and baggy shorts. I could use my basketball and football background to beat those rich kids at tennis.
“Beat them differently. Beat them like Rafa does with my mindset. Play the game differently. If you hit the target, I can go and bring it back. Then I’ll go get another one. I’m just going to wear you down.”
Even though football took center stage in his life, his love for tennis never faded. However, this faded after he lost his mother Linda to cancer while in college. She took up the sport at the age of 35 and became a tireless player in their community.
“My mom was amazing,” he said. “She was a human pillar. She would return everything. She was so consistent.”
Linda Staley’s dream was to someday see the US Open and possibly Wimbledon in person. This never happened. But now her son has spent time on those sacred grounds, and while visiting the Tennis Channel set on Saturday, he spoke to Martina Navratilova, one of her sports idols.
“If my mom was here now, she wouldn’t believe it,” he said.
Like his mother, Staley’s wife started playing this year at 35, and she shows a natural aptitude for the sport. Amy is a former college division volleyball player who has to resist the urge to dive with every shot. When the youngest of their three sons starts school this fall, Amy will have even more time to work on her game.
“Brandon just doesn’t have time for hobbies that most people have,” she said. “His childhood love was always memories and talk about tennis. He said for years, “When we stop moving, I swear we’ll start playing together.” It will be something we can do together, we can do with our children…”
The Staleys moved 11 times 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. This spring, he began taking one-hour lessons every Friday at 6 am before driving to work.
“My first lesson, it all came back to 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 it at least once a week.” It was like a renaissance. I remember how much I loved him 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 that other dream his mother had?
This year, Staley is sending his wife and her friends to the US Open.
Half a world from here. And never closer.