February 13, 2007

Going 14-2 Wasn't Enough?

Fans of the NFL might have figured that any coach with a 14-2 record in the regular season would have had no worries about his employment in the 2007 season. For most teams, that would have been true, but apparently not in San Diego. Marty Schottenheimer finds himself unceremoniously dumped by the Chargers after one of its best seasons:

Marty Schottenheimer performed well enough to go 14-2 last season despite what team president Dean Spanos called a "dysfunctional situation" between the coach and his general manager.

Less than a month after San Diego's NFL-best 14-2 season was wrecked in a home playoff loss to New England, Spanos said the exodus of assistant coaches -- the two coordinators became NFL head coaches and two assistants became coordinators -- contributed to an "untenable" situation that resulted in the coach being fired. Schottenheimer is due more than $3 million for the final year left on his contract.

While confirming he had no working relationship with Smith, Schottenheimer seemed puzzled that Spanos made the coach take the fall for his assistants leaving.

"That is absolutely unfair in my view," Schottenheimer told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "We had no control over two guys who became head coaches in this league. We gave two guys an opportunity to be coordinators in this league. We've added a couple of guys that people should be very pleased with. The future coach will be very pleased, as well."

It's a strange situation. Smith let Drew Brees go after a shoulder injury at the end of last season, only to see Brees once again become one of the league's most effective quarterbacks. While Philip Rivers has turned out to be a pretty good QB on his own, Brees' experience would have been helpful in their playoff game against the New England Patriots.

Besides, Smith hardly quaifies as legendary material, even as a GM. The fact that Schottenheimer produced two head coaches from his staff speaks pretty clearly about his value in developing talent, not as some sort of disqualification. This sounds like a very silly excuse to fire Schottenheimer for not taking them to the Super Bowl, a complaint that would have resulted in 28 dismissals last week had the rest of the league followed the Spanos example.

Schottenheimer will find another job. I'll bet that Jerry Jones is kicking himself for hiring Wade Phillips in Dallas a few days too soon. Spanos will have a tough time finding a coach of Schottenheimer's stature and talent, and the next head coach will have to wonder how secure his job will be if he loses two games early in the season.


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