Interview with Jim Steeg

Well, the dust has settled after Drew Brees' departure for the Big Easy. The Justice Files will return next week with my slant on the events leading to the coronation of Philip Rivers. Until then, here's my phone interview with Chargers COO and VP Jim Steeg from March 2:

RW: I'm sorry that I didn't make it over to the complex in December, but I don't think either one of us was in good spirits after that Miami game.

JS: Yeah, I don't want to make excuses for that one, but there were a lot of guys sick that week. I can't tell you how many IVs were on the sideline that day.

RW: Since you were the NFL's "Super Bowl Guru" for so long, what was your take on the Jerome Bettis Lovefest that took place in Detroit last week?

JS: Well, it was a unique situation like when the Bengals were there in 1982. The demand is there by the fans. That year, we had 10,000 people coming in from Cincinnati at 10:00 AM. As for the Steelers fans, I have a son that goes to Duke and everybody thinks those fans get whatever they want. But if you watched last night's FSU game, things tend to balance out.

RW: Speaking of 1982, I may be in agreement with many Charger fans who feel that the AFC Championship game should have been postponed due to the cold.

JS: (Laughs) Yeah, if there was ever a year to do it, that would have been the one.

RW: Obviously, most of the talk lately out of San Diego has been about A.J. and Marty. I know you are really only responsible for the business end of The Organization, but I gotta ask: What happened down the stretch last year?

JS: Well, Ross, you have to remember that we had the fourth youngest team in the league last year. We had 5 long road trips. It seemed like we were flying every other week. But the big thing was that we were 4-4 at home. That's not good enough.

RW: I know you said you didn't want to make excuses. If it wasn't for that debacle in Philadelphia, the Chargers would have won all 5 of those East Coast road games. Do you think the wear and tear just caught up with the team?

JS: Well, the game at the Jets sort of cancels out the Dallas game. Against the Cowboys, we had the ball on their goal line and couldn't score. In the Jets game, the same thing happened to the other team. Also, you need to look at when these games are played. 3 of our last 4 games were on the road. You mentioned the Miami game--a lot of guys had the flu that week. In the first half, I thought we outplayed them. But down the stretch, we couldn't finish. Then we go to Indianapolis for what was obviously an emotional game. We then fly to Kansas City, who hadn't had to play since noon the previous Saturday.

RW: You mention the Kansas City game. Obviously, LaDainian Tomlinson wasn't near 100%. Do you think maybe Michael Turner should have gotten a little more time?

JS: You need to look at what a competitor LaDainian Tomlinson is, though. You never know with injuries. Look at Carlos Polk. He was injured on the last sprint of the summer and was out for the year. Nate Keading suffered through injuries last season.

RW: There's one thing I have to say. If Nate Kaeding was banged up, why didn't Mike Scifres get some shots at kicking off? That seemed to be a sensible move.

JS: Well, Mike had surgery. These decisions are made in the moment. It really is 2 or 3 plays that make all the difference in the game.

RW: How important do you think the role of the coaching staff is?

JS: Very important. It's those relationships between the players and coaches that really matter. They spend so much time together. I just had Shawne Merriman in my office the other day. He took his position coach to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. In football, players and coaches are the sport. I don't know if it's that way in baseball. I remember when I was with the Dolphins and we would get down. Nat Moore would just tell everybody to relax. They knew they would get it done.

RW: What needs to you think A.J. Smith is addressing this offseason? Does he really call all the shots? I know he keeps his cards pretty close.

JS: I haven't really talked to him, but A.J. has a lot of good people that he works with—Buddy Nix and those guys. The Organization needs to work together to retain continuity but at the same time trying to get better. You never know how the draft is going to pan out. Look at Pittsburgh last year with Willie Parker.

RW: One thing I immediately noticed when I was out for the Miami game was that tailgating scene has taken on a life all its own. It's like a Dead show out there.

JS: (Laughs) That's something we need to control a bit. The police told me that of all the arrests they make after games, 70% are directly alcohol-related.

As I thanked Jim for his time, he went on the web to see what ESPN.COM had about the free agent signings. It's gratifying and frustrating to be so close to the target of all our attention and yet still so removed. As my wife put it, I want to have an office that Shawne Merriman can stop by every once in a while.

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