Bye Week Primer

The San Diego Chargers are in the midst of a bye week and rumors have begun to swirl. From an 0-5 team, nothing is out of the realm of possibility. The coaches have said anything is possible. The same can be said for the owners. Five losses in a row to start the season will put everybody's job on the line, whether they like it or not.

We reported earlier in the week that the Spanos family had a meeting to determine the fate of the head coach. It turns out the Spanos's agreed that no decision would be made unless both Alex and Dean agreed. They did not. One favors his dismissal and the other does not. General Manager AJ Smith does not have the permission or power to fire Marty. His position – he wants to keep Marty and ride this thing out.

The concern here is Smith may feel the owners are undermining him and it could force him out at the end of the season. In essence, they did back his point of view by keeping Schottenheimer, but the relationship strain could mean Smith will look elsewhere. Of course, we could just be reading way too much into this.

Unless something dramatic happens, Schottenheimer will be coaching the Chargers on Monday when the team returns from its bye week.

"He's the coach," general manager AJ Smith told Jay Paris of the North County Times. "And we're underway, and once you're underway, you just go. That's all I can say."

Not a glowing endorsement, but when pressed further he said Schottenheimer would, "Absolutely" keep his job.

Still the decision remains out of his hands.

Everyone knows Marty is the coach who will put alarms on hotel room doors and be strict in his guidance, not allowing for any leeway. His way or the highway. He has proven that in the release of San Diego favorites. Make no mistake; he had a strong hand in those decisions.

Marty doesn't change his tune. Whether the team is 0-5 of 5-0 he is playing the fiddle the same way. He continues to teach the fundamentals, hoping, nay, praying, the team comes together behind him.

When we talked to Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey he broke down the difference between his current and former coach.

"You got coach Spurrier is not as ... Marty is more of a disciplinarian," said Bailey, who never saw eye to eye with Schottenheimer. "If you do something wrong or you miss a meeting you get a maximum fine. He's big on things like that. But as far as wanting to win they're the same."

No one is denying his want to win. What is in doubt is his ability to lead this team. Some players are privately debating how they are used in the schemes. Once the dominoes begin to fall from the top players, it may be a cascading effect.

"I believe in Marty," said one defensive player. "Marty is a winner."

It is all about belief. At 0-5, the morale is low, but the belief in what is being taught could turn the season around. Most of the players are young and are not in high enough standing to make any demands. They need to play better first. The concern is not losing the younger players; they are for the most part followers. The concern is keeping the veterans, who felt they were on the cusp of something great at 8-8 last year, from rebelling.

Depending on what happens over the course of the next few weeks, this team will learn a lot about itself. Do they have the intestinal fortitude to rebound from a winless season? Who are the true leaders of this team? Will they quit on the coach and the season?

The belief here is they will not quit. Does that mean they will rebound? Not necessarily. They have, "far too much pride", as one player told us, to continue to be the losers they have been thus far.

The questions remain as to what will happen at the end of the season. With the stadium talks seeing an inch of movement, things will change if the ship continues to sink. Smith may make his own call at the end of this campaign. He clearly has put his own stamp on the team. The only issue; the team needs extra postage right now.

Schottenheimer, on the other hand, is on a very short leash. With so many youngsters there is a concern the team will not come together in 2004 with a new coaching staff. They have just been taught one way to play and to uproot that philosophy will take time, something the owners do not have with the stadium issues hanging over their heads. Still barring a miracle, it will be tough not to endorse change and the owners will do what they must, even overturning their GM along the way.

Stay tuned.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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