Panic Button

With some of the recent changes in the off-season, it is hard to imagine the San Diego Chargers producing a worse product on the field than they did in 2003. After all, the Chargers did have the number one overall pick in the 2004 draft. The Chargers took a hit publicly with the Manning fiasco. And despite the growing animosity towards the way things transpired, some of the points about the organization's commitment to winning are valid. This brings us to the head coach.

It is clear that the formula the team has been using, since Bobby Ross left has not been working. In that time, the Bolts have changed head coaches three times, and the prospects of the fourth keeping his job is, to say the least, bleak.

The Chargers have tried it all. They promoted a coach, June Jones, who fell short of turning another organization around. They then hired one of the hottest names in the NFL coordinating circles in Kevin Gilbride. After Gilbride proved to be a bust, Bobby Beathard then went after Mike Riley, who if anything, accomplished something short of a miracle at Oregon State. Finally, the new GM, John Butler, turned his sites to a proven winner in Marty Schottenheimer.

But how committed are the Chargers to Marty? Most Charger fans have not been happy with the progress of their team under his tenure, and rightfully so. But if we have learned anything from the past, it is that the coaching carousel does not work. It is safe to assume that if the Chargers are once again the worst team in football next year, a change will happen. But how much must the team improve for Marty to keep his job?

Every fan has their preference, and the question is subjective at best.

Realistically, the Chargers are going to struggle yet again. They are bringing in a rookie quarterback, changing the defensive philosophy, and have yet to address the needs at left tackle and wide receiver. Considering there are major questions on both sides of the ball, it would be unrealistic to rely on the offense to carry the load for the defense, and vice versa.

What to do, what to do. Does this mean the Chargers are doomed to another hopeless season? In this day and age, who really knows. Regardless of what the on the field record is, certain expectations will have to be met in order for Marty to save his job. Some might say the line is "the playoffs", or just "breaking even". Others might say, "We just want improvement."

This brings up the inevitable question, "What is improvement?"

In most fans' opinion, a 5-11 record will not cut it. What if, though, the Chargers start off 0-11 and win their last five games in convincing fashion? Would it be appropriate to make a change then? Then there is the flip side of that coin. What if the Chargers start off 8-0 and then drop their last eight? Of course, these scenarios are very general.

Changing the defensive scheme and drafting a young quarterback almost assures the team will face a tough road ahead. If the team is really committed to winning and the changes they have made, they must see the ship through, so to speak. Marty needs to be given every opportunity to prove he is still a capable head coach. After all, would not bringing in a new coach, with new philosophies, be just repeating the same old cycle?

There are, of course, obvious exceptions. If we end up with another number 1 next year (and not the Giants'), a change needs to be made. But considering the Chargers are facing more obstacles this year than they did last year, a lot of leeway needs to be given to this coaching staff. I do realize this is a very tough pill for the fans to swallow. I too will not enjoy it. But if the Chargers are to shake their national perception of being a bad franchise, we must learn from our past mistakes.

This isn't to say that the changes made prior to Marty's hiring were not justified. But they do show that the little red panic button in the organization is punched way too often. Next year we must look at different indicators, in addition to wins and losses, before we punch the red button again. Is the team improving week to week? Is the defense gradually getting better? If Rivers starts, how does he look in his first week opposed to his last? How is the offensive line progressing? All of these are more important factors than whether we beat Oakland; make the playoffs; or to a certain degree, what our final record is. We should also analyze how the team performs in the second half of the season opposed to the first half.

There will come a time, though, during the season where that red button will look mighty attractive. In pushing it, however, we do know what the following season (or two) will inevitably bring. The bigger mystery for the Chargers would be to hold off, for the time being, and discover if patience is really all it is cracked up to be.

Byran Martin can be reached at byran@sandiegosports.net

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