Martyball, the Chargers Years: Legendary Coach's Run Not as Special as You Think
January 14, 2007 is a date no Charger fan will ever forget.
After finishing the regular season with the best record in football, the Bolts lost a 10-point lead (and the game-sealing interception, thanks to Troy Brown's stripping of safety Marlon McCree) in the fourth quarter and were eliminated at home against the Patriots.
That description doesn't even begin to explain what happened that Sunday. There were numerous culprits that day besides Marty Schottenheimer. Eric Parker, Shane Olivea and Drayton Florence all committed crucial mistakes. Philip Rivers threw his first playoff interception on a screen pass. Nate Kaeding missed a field-goal attempt (albeit a long one) that would have sent the game into overtime.
But Schottenheimer paid the biggest price for the loss.
He often is listed on any Top-10 list of coaches never to win (or even reach) a Super Bowl. The game would be the last one he would ever coach and convinced any doubters that he could not survive an NFL postseason.
He was fired the following month, after Dean Spanos decided that Schottenheimer could not work with General Manager AJ Smith.
Now a book, Martyball!, has been released, which reportedly paints a rather unflattering portrait of Smith. However, Jeff Flanagan supposedly gives Marty a relative pass on his responsibility in two Charger playoff meltdowns.
Now that both Smith and Schottenheimer's successor Norv Turner have been fired, it would seem an appropriate time to examine the final chapter in Schottenheimer's legacy.
Even with after the constant blunders of the last three years of the Norv era, the "good old days" may not have been as good as some would like to think.
1. Marty Couldn't Lead in the Big Moments
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
The NFL is about results, and now more than ever.
However, he could not even get them out of the first round.
Some might argue that if there had never been a John Elway, or if Joe Montana hadn't suffered a concussion in the AFC title game in Buffalo in 1993, that Schottenehimer's legacy might have been different.
But then he also wouldn't have come to San Diego.
In the aforementioned playoff game, Schottenheimer elected to go on a fourth down in the first half, rather than let Nate Kaeding try a 47-yard field goal. You can't argue with the logic, but it backfired on Schottenheimer once again.
The NFL Network's "Top 10 Coaches Never to Win A Championship" showed a clip of Schottenheimer actually envisioning the very same scenario that sealed his doomed. He advised Drayton Florence to "Make sure now when you get the interception at the end of the game that wins it, you just go down on the ground and the hell with all that running around."
He should have told Marlon McCree, but somehow it seemed like it wouldn't have mattered.
2. The Playcalls Weren't Even Martyball at That Point
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
The Chargers' 14-2 season was the one in which Schottenheimer wasn't even calling the plays.
Cam Cameron, who was hired as the head coach in Miami after that game, never explained why MVP LaDainian Tomlinson was largely ignored in the second half of the game. Wade Phillips was similarly let off the hook for running an apparent prevent defense at the end of the first half.
But Schottenheimer was still the head coach. He prided himself not only on the smash-mouth style that was associated with him, but the discipline of an "old school" leader.
Dick Vermeil and Bill Cowher were able to loosen the reins and ride off into the sunset with a Lombardi Trophy. But Schottenheimer couldn't win for losing.
In his first playoff appearance with the Chargers on January 8, 2005, he was penalized for wandering onto the field. He also settled for a 40-yard field goal attempt by an unproven kicker.
It's frightening to imagine that with LaDainian Tomlinson in his prime, Marty ran a play simply to center Kaeding's ill-fated kick.
3. The Bolts' Lack of Discipline and Poise
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Even though he said all the right things, he couldn't get the team to do them when it mattered most. That's a coach's biggest job, and the one by which Marty was measured most.
Both of the Bolts' home-field playoff implosions were littered with mistakes. That falls on the head coach, especially one who preaches smart football.
Even though it wasn't part of Dean Spanos' official explanation, Schottenheimer's inability to lead the team during the postseason was a big part of his firing.
Norv Turner was brought in with the hopes that the team would respond better under different leadership.
4. The Chargers Improved in January After Schottenheimer's Departure
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Up until his Charger period, Schottenheimer's teams always fared far worse after his departure.
But during Norv Turner's first three seasons in San Diego, the Chargers went 32-16. They made the playoffs all three seasons and had a 3-3 record once there.
Simply entering a search with both my name and Norv Turner's will provide countless examples of my criticism of his coaching. But you couldn't argue with those first two trips to the postseason.
Certainly, Boltheads would only have been fully sated with Super Bowl wins. But the Chargers didn't shrink in the big moments until their next playoff game against the Jets. That's when Norv's "style" began to take its effect.
But the last three years don't mean that Marty Schottenheimer was the answer. Those who believe AJ Smith rode the late John Butler's coattails shouldn't anoint Marty.
Dean Spanos sided with Smith, and he also helped drive the team into the ground. Nonetheless, the "Marty was better" argument doesn't hold water as a result.
This isn't communist Russia. Charger fans are allowed more than two choices for head coach. Hopefully, now that Spanos has chosen someone from "Column C," Boltheads will be rewarded.