Surprise! Surprise!

Sometimes something so surprising will come along that it leaves you in a state of shock. Fans of the San Diego Chargers could have said that after a 4-12 season, but the strangest thing was actually what a player said about his coach. It will surely leave you staring at the screen with your jaw on the floor. A revelation perhaps, and once it settles in an understanding that leaves you nodding in agreement in a situation you never thought you would.

Many fans have called for the head of this coach. They want to see the guillotine fall and take him off to some land that will never see San Diego again.

In 2002, Steve Crosby never seemed to use Ronney Jenkins properly. Jenkins was the leading returner the year before. Jenkins went from a star returner to the doghouse.

This year, rookie punter Mike Scifres has thrown Crosby a bone.

"I like Cros," said Scifres.

Really, I ask?

"He is a good guy, a really good coach."

A good coach? Wait a second here. Are we talking about the same guy?

"He definitely knows his stuff," Scifres says while laughing at my question.

Before going further, there is a need to look at his stats and credentials, plus whom he has to work with.

His punt team placed 4th in the league in placing kicks inside the 20. They placed 18th in net punt average. Darren Bennett is the talent they have there and the coverage on punts was solid most of the year.

The Chargers attempted and made the fewest amount of field goals in the league. It had little to do with Crosby and more to do with Steve Christie kicking.

The kickoff coverage was solid considering Christie kicked off most of the time. His short, low kicks could have posed serious problems, but the coverage team was always up to it.

Maybe it is just a rookie talking. What do rookies know? "He has them guys ready to go," Scifres says in a serious tone. "They do a really good job."

Then there is the return game, which was woeful with the slow Leon Johnson manning both units when injuries transpired to Eric Parker and Tim Dwight. Lacking an explosive returner, Crosby did what he could.

"He has been around for a long time, he definitely knows what is going on. He is a good guy to be around."

Is it his philosophy that is sound? It appears the talent has been the real problem.

We need examples…Mike, tell us what they say to you in the huddle. Are you asked to kick it in the end zone, directional kick it, or squib it?

"Wherever they call (for the ball to go), that is where I kick it," Scifres said. "The big thing they tell me is to get good hang time on it. The more time the coverage team has to get down there – if a guy catches the ball on the 15 yard line, but it hangs for 4.3 seconds and our coverage team is at the 30 when he catches it, he is not going to get very far. So you are really not in that much trouble. It is when your kick goes to the 15 and it hangs for about three and a half seconds and your coverage team is at the 40, that gives them from the 15 to the 40 with a solid wall in front of them.

"Guys like Dante Hall can get 15 yards without anything, without a line in front of them.

So there is a theory to the madness out there?

"Yeah, basically wherever they call it I try and kick it and as high as I can," Scifres added. "The goal is to kick it in the end zone every time. For some guys it happens, it should happen every time, but there are time you don't hit the ball right, don't hit the ball perfect every time.

"The goal every time I kick off the ball is to kick it in the end zone. Even with the directional kicking."

The truth is there is little to gameplan when the key players on special teams are missing. The biggest problems for the unit came in the return game where Johnson could not break many tackles or find an open hole with a flashlight. The other lowlight was Christie who handcuffed the kickoff and field goal squads.

Those are beyond the powers of Crosby. Maybe, we have all been too hard on the coach. How can we blame the guy for ineptness at the star positions?

The only thing Crosby can work on with his players is their mental preparedness. Too many penalties plagued the team through the year and it cost them valuable yards.

Imagine running down the field to cover a kick and you stop them at the 20 yard line. Now imagine having to do it again ten seconds later. Odds are pretty good you will be tired. Odds are even better the kick returner will not be tired. Odds are better still that the returner will break a long gain out of it. Case and example, the Oakland Raiders game. The team had stopped the Raiders inside the 30. After Terrence Kiel was called for an offsides, Scifres put the second kickoff exactly where it was supposed to be, pinned against the right sideline. The coverage unit could not get down fast enough, however, and Oakland returned it for a score.

Get him a healthy Eric Parker for a year, get him a kicker that can get some air under the ball on field goal attempts and get a kickoff returner that will actually show some speed, or elusive moves. It isn't Crosby that is the problem, it is the players he has.

Denis Savage can be reached at

SD Super Chargers Top Stories