A look at Schottenheimer, a player's prespective

The San Diego Chargers are a team that has been built with youth and will rely heavily this season on untapped potential. But one individual who is all about seniority and production is the leader of this young group, head coach Marty Schottenheimer. And while his production in San Diego has indeed under whelmed, his 0.375 winning percentage with the team merely drags down his career winning percentage to a not too shabby 0.593.

It is difficult to determine why the coach has struggled so much with his latest team. The keys to the Martyball brand of football which he prefers to play are a strong running game, a stout defense, and winning the turnover battle. LaDainian Tomlinson single handedly ensures that one of those prerequisites is crossed off of the list. Playmakers on defense such as Igor Olshansky, Donnie Edwards and Quentin Jammer should ensure the defense will be no litmus test. And turnovers are typically a result of poor communication or concentration, two things good coaching should help solve.

So why then is this team expected by so many to be awarded the first pick in the draft for the third time in five years next spring? Perhaps the man who has led his team to victory 170 times has simply forgotten how to coach. Or maybe the game has evolved around him, and he has not adapted well with the times. Then again, maybe he is a better coach now than he ever was, and it is just a talent-hungry roster that is keeping him for proving it.

To find which of these scenarios is indeed true, one must look to those who know Coach Schottenheimer's ability to coach the best, and those are the people he coaches.

"Everyone says this and that about the guy, saying he is tough and a mean guy and everything like that," rookie wide receiver and practice squad member Malcom Floyd said. "I think he is a really cool and understanding coach. He's not a mean guy, he'll just let you know what's going on."

As of now, the Chargers are readying themselves for the season opener after another camp in Carson, where Marty ran another one of his infamously challenging training camps. You know, the ones that made Bruce Smith whine worse than Terrell Owens at a trade arbitration. Marty was up there in the smog whipping his team into shape, and no Chargers complained about it.

This team realizes it was the worst team in the league last year. But the difference this year is that there is no savior coming in to save them. There is no David Boston to carry the receiving corps, and there is no Marcellus Wiley to be charged with providing an immediate pass rush. If this team is to improve it is going to have to work for it. Installing that blue-collar, lunch-pail type of work ethic is Coach Schottenheimer's job.

Keeping this team focused, however, is even more difficult seeing as there is the distraction looming overhead that this may be the coach's last year with the team. There was even speculation that this impending overhaul was one of the reasons that Eli Manning ran from San Diego in order to go hide behind a Giants offensive line that has about as much collective natural talent as William Hung. This means in addition to coaching his players, Coach Schottenheimer has to put the pressure on himself to deliver, and lift that pressure off of his young team.

"The only real pressure on me is to perform," fifth round selection Dave Ball said when asked about playing for his coach's future. Ball had four sacks in his preseason and even busted out his Schottenheimer impression during the Chargers luncheon.

Apparently, the coach is doing an admirable job indeed. But just because he has lifted that pressure off of his players does not mean they are not aware of his situation. The good news is that many of the players are using it as a form of motivation rather than allowing it to become a distraction.

"If that's true I'll do whatever it takes to help him out," the injured Floyd said. "I think he is a good coach. I mean the impression he has made to us so far is that he is a really good coach. He is really understanding and has a great attitude with his players. Even when we went golfing he was trying to teach everybody something. And he even knew pretty much everybody by first name, which is pretty impressive with so many people coming and going. We're all like a family, and I would hate to see him go. He has really taken everybody in. I think he is a really good guy, for sure."

The good thing is that young players such as Malcolm Floyd and Dave Ball are not the only ones impressed with their new coach. The teams initial free-agent pick-up and new starting weak-side linebacker Steve Foley likes what he sees as well.

"I think he is a hell of a coach," Foley said. "I have dealt with a lot of old school coaches. Hearing talks from around the league and other coaches and how they approach things as well as dealing with several different head coaches, the way that Marty runs things around here, I have high praise for this guy. I am only hoping, as players, realize what we have in him and what we have for the rest of the coaching staff and not abusing it."

So it is clear that Coach Schottenheimer has the respect of his players, and that the players are willing to work for him. The running game is in place, the defensive talent has improved, the more aggressive 3-4 defense has been installed to produce more turnovers, and Phillip Rivers has been drafted to stop the frequent throwing of them. Everything seems to be in place.

"The coaching staff is working real hard," fullback Andrew Pinnock said. "They are not stopping. When I go by the facility after my workouts, every last coaches' car is in the parking lot. They are working non-stop. The mood is to not give up and get back at it. I can't really state for everyone, but hopefully everyone is on the same page and ready to turn this thing around."

All that is left is for the players to prove they can do what the were brought here to do, and that is simply to play up to the level to which they are capable. If they can do that, then Marty Schottenheimer can prove he has not forgotten how to coach, and that this team has not forgotten how to win.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@sandiegosports.net

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