The Season Ahead

With five more victories, Chargers Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer will pass with the legendary Paul Brown and Bud Grant to become the ninth winningest coach in NFL history. <br><br> "This football team right now is far, far better than we had in any point in time a year ago."

"I want you to consider, that we are as a football team a beneficiary of a system that is driven by opportunity."

Marty Schottenheimer has gotten to the spot he is today with hard work, a strong ground game, and above all – a solid defense.

"A lot of discussion about change -- change is the face of the NFL and change brings with it opportunity, said Schottenheimer. "For those great former players that were here, we are now moving on as is necessary in the NFL."

Now Marty looks to not only improve on an 8-8 record with a tougher schedule than a year ago, but also improve upon the 32nd ranked pass defense in the league in the process with a brand new secondary that returns just one player that was on the unit a year ago and he, Quentin Jammer, was not a starter.

"There appears to be some concern about the youth of our football team. There is no problem with young players. Young players bring a tremendous energy to everything that they do.

"In 1997, as coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, we started four players who had the aggregate of one starting opportunity. They were all second year players and the guy who started was Donnie Edwards. That football team went 13-3 and won the AFC West."

All the new starters this year just happen to be in the secondary. Are those insurmountable odds?

"Those of you that have anxiety about the youth – forget it. It isn't an issue. What we have done as a football team is we have continued to work together, to grow together to become a Championship football team. I promise you – these young players, in combination with the veteran players we have here, have the skill that is necessary to get the thing done and get it done now."

"I have to share this with you…." Coach Schottenheimer began. "I saw the comments that AJ Smith said, that this was a push year. I wasn't quite sure what it meant, so I went and discussed it with him and he explained it to me exactly what he meant and let me tell you something – He and I are on EXACTLY the same page.

"If you don't aspire to be the Champions in our business, you should find another business. In the NFL there is one team that is the best and the rest are last. We don't have any intention of being anywhere but the best."

Starting out fast, especially within the division is essential. The Bolts play all three of their division rivals within the first four games. They start out in Kansas City and Schottenheimer is 10-6 (.625) in Opening Day games.

Schottenheimer was the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs from 1989-98. During his tenure, the Chiefs posted a 101-58-1 regular-season record for a .634 winning percentage. It was the second highest in the NFL during that time span. Only San Francisco (.769) had a higher winning percentage than Schottenheimer's Chiefs. In his 10 seasons in Kansas City, Schottenheimer's teams averaged 10 wins per season and advanced to the playoffs seven times. The Chiefs posted the AFC's best records in 1995 and '97 at 13-3. Prior to that in 1990, he led the Chiefs to an 11-5 mark, the team's best record in 21 years, and into the postseason for just the second time since 1971 and the first time since 1986. In 1993, the Chiefs had their finest season since 1969 when Schottenheimer led the team to a record of 11-5, their first division title since 1971 and a berth in the AFC Championship Game.

"There are some out there who would be skeptical. Who would say, ‘Well they are not ready yet.' We're ready. We have an offseason program in which 80% of our players participated in over 80% of our workouts. We have just concluded our 36th practice since we went to training camp. Our football team is ready. What we are going to do – we are not going to talk much about it. We're going to go out and we're going to take the skills of the players we have, utilize them in a manner that accentuates what they can do and ultimately what gives us the realization of a Championship, is the quality of the people."

Training camp and preseason is one thing, but the team was ravaged by injuries all throughout the lineup. 80% is an impressive turnout. Five players are already on injured reserve this year and the schedule has yet to begin.

"A year ago I challenged our fans to come out and support our football team and (they) did that as well as any place I have ever been. And I say that in all honesty and all candor.

"Once again I am saying the same thing to you, and you need to say it to all your friends, get out and be the twelfth man for our football team when we are here, playing at home in San Diego. I assure you, in this business today, the difference between winning and losing becomes two or three plays. And the presence and emotion that is a product of our fans is a very, very significant part of what we do. Come and be with our team."

Team attendance was great last year and this year the team has already sold out he Miami, Oakland, and Green Bay games. Other games are not far behind. If the team can start out hot, the seats will fill. Fans are fickle, but they are always willing to support a winner.

Fans should heed the words of Team Owner Alex Spanos:

"I always get excited this time of year, and this year is no exception. I have such a good feeling about the team. It is going to be a fun year, I know it. Let's have a great season and here's to the playoffs, we will make it. I promise you."

Our guess is he will not refund tickets if they don't make the playoffs.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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