San Diego Chargers: Can the Right Coach Make All the Difference?

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San Diego Chargers: Can the Right Coach Make All the Difference?
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

As the NFL coaching carousel turns, Charger fans must sit and wait. 

Dean Spanos is apparently focusing on “due diligence” in his search for a general manager.  As for who will be the next man up to lead this team, the only indication we have is that it won’t be from amongst the recently fired.

Besides the hire not being a “retread,” Boltheads can only imagine who their next coach will be.  There appear to be a few directions Spanos can go.  He’s apparently eliminated the “safe” hire, which will only cause more fans to stay away from the stadium.

Since no coach has ever won a Super Bowl with two teams, Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden might not be worth the money.  There are many reasons to stay away beyond that historical deterrent.  It seems like the Bolts might find a healthy balance between retread and rock star.  After all, the best way to fill the stadium again and keep it that way is to win.

But, as we watch the NFL playoffs unfold for a third-straight season as uninterested spectators, it’s worth considering how much a coach truly can do.

If Nick Harper isn’t stabbed in the thigh the night before his playoff game in 2006, Bill Cowher might be remembered as the guy who lost four AFC title games on his own field.

If the Giants don’t go on a run in 2007, Tom Coughlin might be remembered as a strict disciplinarian who wore out his welcome in New York.  After coming over from Jacksonville, he had turned all the clocks in the team’s facility back five minutes and expected all his players to be early.  That sort of stuff would be seen as laughable if not for two Lombardi Trophies.

Some have argued that Norv Turner’s failure to reach a Super Bowl, let alone win one, was even more glaring due to the fact that his predecessor was fired after the team finished the regular season with a 14-2 record.  I maintain that it’s like comparing apples and oranges: The only thing both men have in common is that they failed to do the job they were hired to do.

Marty Schottenheimer was known as a coach who couldn’t win in the postseason long before he was hired in San Diego.  I wrote about this when he was hired, but noted that the Bolts would be happy at that point to even have a postseason record.

Before the Chargers' first playoff game in almost a decade, January 8, 2005, Marty correctly predicted that the game would come down to just a few plays.  But once again, his team didn’t make them.  Drew Brees threw a crucial interception at the end of the first half, and Quentin Jammer let Santana Moss get behind him to catch a long touchdown.

Chad Pennington was never known for his deep ball even when healthy, but it’s worth noting that he was suffering from both an arm injury and the flu at the time.  While Jets coach Herm Edwards was fighting with his running backs coach Bishop Harris, Marty Schottenheimer was being flagged for wandering onto the field.

It took a miracle (and boneheaded) penalty on former Raider Eric Barton to allow the Chargers to send the game to OT with a fourth-down TD pass to Antonio Gates.  For another team, this play might have been the beginning of a magical playoff run, like those of the Giants and Steelers

But Marty settled for a 40-yard field goal attempt from a rookie kicker.  The play was literally to place the ball on the hash that Nate Kaeding preferred.  The following play sealed the fates of the kicker, coach and team.

The much-ballyhooed 14-2 team was coached by Schottenheimer, but the plays were called by the recently-fired Cam Cameron.  That team earned the No. 1 seed, but displayed mental lapses throughout the team.  Nonetheless, they had every opportunity to beat a Patriots team that had Tom Brady on offense, but little else.

Eric Parker, Drayton Florence, Shane Olivea, Philip Rivers and, of course, Marlon McCree all committed mistakes that would mark January 14, 2007 as another dark day in Charger history. 

Marty said all the right things before the game.  In fact, you can see the clip on NFL Network’s “Top 10 Coaches To Never Win A Super Bowl” of him telling Drayton Florence to fall down if he intercepted a Brady pass that could end the game.

I don’t know what would prompt Schottenheimer to imagine such a remote scenario.  But the fact that it actually happened suggested that maybe he was cursed.  Florence had a crucial penalty that day, but it was McCree who had the ball stripped from him by Troy Brown.

Quentin Jammer was once again beat, this time by former Charger Reche Caldwell, and the Bolts blew the game.  Marty was remembered for going for it on a fourth down call at the end of the first half instead of attempting a long field goal.  He also challenged the aforementioned fumble even though it was clearly stripped.

The nonexistent relationship between AJ Smith and Schottenheimer was the catalyst for Marty’s firing,  but the reason given was his inability to make good decisions in tough January spots.  His teams clearly could not maintain their poise in the playoffs.

During his first two seasons as Charger coach, Turner’s teams did seem capable of going to the next level.  While I never thought he was a good coach, I could not argue that the team seemed like it might be finally learning its lesson.  However, its final playoff pratfall changed everything.

LaDainian Tomlinson was let go, but the other parts stayed in place.  That began the regular-season slide that has led us here.  Jon Gruden might be the only guy who would excite the fan base, but can he become the first coach to win a Lombardi Trophy with a second team?

Mind you, I don’t think Gruden will coach anywhere this year.  But I disagree with those who say he simply took Tony Dungy’s team to a championship.  Before Gruden, the Bucs could not get past the Eagles in the playoffs.  After helping them do that, Gruden provided invaluable inside info against his former team in the Super Bowl.

The Chargers might actually find a coach who’s right for the job this time.  Whether they will assemble a team that is up to the challenge is another story.  If history has shown us anything, it’s that the right man needs to find the right team at the right time.

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