Grading the Coach

Judgement was reserved on the San Diego Chargers Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer since changes were due on the team and how he evaluated and whispered in the ear of recently deceased John Butler and new General Manager AJ Smith is an important piece to the future of this franchise

Marty Schottenheimer instilled a new attitude into the Chargers, and that can't be overstated. The team bought into his "one play at a time" mantra and nearly rewarded him with the first winning season for a Charger club since 1995. But Schottenheimer, as he so often does, seemed to play more not to lose than to win. He got conservative (surprise, surprise) at critical junctures, and that was among the reasons the team finished with a four-game skid.

The coordinators were both rookies, at the NFL level, and Cam Cameron (offense) fared better than Dale Lindsey (defense). Schottenheimer said there's no changes expected on his staff, although some would look hard at special teams assistant Steve Crosby. The Chargers are better off with Schottenheimer, but one wonders if his spiel will grow stale in the second year, especially with the limited success the Chargers had in his first year.

Looking at free agency Schottenheimer got his guys, nailing down David Boston and Lorenzo Neal, two players he coveted for their style of play. He knew he could get good players in free agency to upgrade the offense and set his mind on the defense come draft time.

Don't let anyone fool you, the 2003 NFL Draft was all about Marty and his style of play. Clearly Schottenheimer had the ears of John Butler and new GM AJ Smith.

His vision has always been, "I love big corners that can play bump and run." He loves guys to play out on an island freeing up his safeties to make plays without worry of overcompensating for a slow cornerback.

After the draft Marty stated, "I think the most important thing for us is that we wanted to get speed on this defensive football team and we wanted to upgrade our ability to cover."

This is now Coach Schottenheimer's team. He holds the cards fully on defense by taking out the players he felt could not contribute to the cover-deuce system the Chargers employ.

How is this possible?

You may have heard us refer to the fact the first year of any coaching regimen is built upon evaluation. Evaluate the talent around you and now stage two comes around, deploy your team the way you see fit. Thus the players who do not fit the mold are quickly pushed out the door and players that can be shaped properly are brought in.

Take a look at a quote from Marty Schottenheimer just a day before free agency began, "we already discussed the fact that secondary becomes a matter. Wide receiver, experience wide receiver possibly becomes a matter.

Looking at today, the plan was executed just as advertised.

What does that mean in regards to a grade for his season in San Diego?

Well he got his wishes, his plan was to evaluate and although he had aspirations of the playoffs those fell short.

In season Schottenheimer sometimes played not to lose. Despite a poor kicking game, chances to score were given away. He seemed to clamp down on his defensive coordinator just a few games into the season by eliminating the pass blitzing that Ben Leber was effectively executing.

Schottenheimer even confirmed the need for better coaching.

"I still think we need to do a better job of coaching, I've said that and I believe that. It's a lot more difficult now because of free agency to build these things in my mind and yet I think you find that some teams come from nowhere, and BANG, they win it," said Schottenheimer. "I mean look at St. Louis and I think that's the kind of hope that all of us have as we recognize and go through this difficult time when you're making all these changes. I think it is a matter, as we look at it, it is important to look at where we are going, not where we've been."

It is the coach's job to motivate, and forget early in the season. The pains of November and December have been fresh in the Chargers fans mind for years. That is when divisions are won, the playoffs are secured and legacies are made. Going 2-6 down the stretch, well, there is no excuse for it.

"We failed on the coaching side in this regard," Schottenheimer said. "When things got tight for us in a number of games, we abandoned the technical and fundamental skill that is the difference between wining and losing football games and that is coaching."

Of course Marty would come back with his famous retort, "We have not learned how to win."

Year two is deployment of the system in full. The grades will be much tougher next year. Marty had to take the players that were here and due his best with what he was given. I don't think he did that, but 8-8 was still about what we expected, how it happened on the other hand is the point of debate.

Thus we offer two grades:

Coaching Grade: C

Managerial: A-

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net or via the following link: Denis Savage

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