Marty Schottenheimer may be vilified for his 5-13 playoff record. He may be scolded for questionable play-calling. He may even be questioned for his postgame banter that borders on redundancy.
What Schottenheimer cannot be accused of is being a loser. He cannot be condemned by his players – they love him. He cannot be criticized for his love of the game.
"The players are a very, very important part to me aside from what they do on the field," said Schottenheimer. "I have great respect for what we've been able to achieve through their efforts and through the efforts of our coaching staff. To me the opportunity to continue to work with them and see them develop as players, you've heard me say on a number of occasions, I live vicariously through the performance of these players. It's a treat when you get a chance to work with them and then watch them go play in a winning fashion. What I'm anxious to do is find a way, notwithstanding the record, find a way to get over that hump."
Schottenheimer is far more driven than most people give him credit for. He lays his heart on the line for two things – his players and the win. The love is reciprocal. They want to do well because many know where the Chargers came from.
"As players, we love playing for him," defensive end Luis Castillo said. "We love stepping on that field and knowing he is with us. He has been a great coach and you want to play for him.
"All we can ask for is to have a coaching staff that has a great plan, and gets us emotionally ready the day and week of the game and that is what those coaches did for us. The most disappointing part is we let them down. Mistakes that had nothing to do with the scheme – that is what hurt the most."
The year 1994 may ring a bell as the last of its kind – until the recent stretch, under the direction of Schottenheimer. Sunny San Diego closely resembled a desert town. Seats were empty. The locker room was full of strife. Players preferred their rap career to the football field.
"I think Marty has done a tremendous job," said running back LaDainian Tomlinson. "When you look at before he came – he has totally changed not only the perception but the mindset of the players. The kind of players that keep coming year after year."
Schottenheimer came to San Diego and demanded respect. His working relationship with A.J. Smith may not be chummy but the two have forged a bond that leads directly to the practice field and into the game. One bad game does not discount the progress.
Smith's desire to bring in high character individuals who love football is mirrored by Schottenheimer. Their football savvy is the perfect marriage, even if their personalities differ.
Schottenheimer is affable and easy to like. While he demands respect, he treats everyone equally and praises as often as he constructively criticizes.
It is easy to find offense with Smith. He is the stern-faced father who only finds satisfaction in results. Even then, he keeps the enthusiasm tempered.
The common goal – the win.
"Coach wants to win a world championship," Smith said. "We were 14-2, we had the best record in football and we had home-field advantage throughout (the playoffs). I think that says something about two guys that are professionals that are doing their jobs."
"It's our intention to go back to work as is our custom and go at it in a way in which we can ultimately fulfill the ambitions of our organization and most importantly our fans," Schottenheimer added.
No one is happy with a first round playoff loss, least of all Schottenheimer. The crazy and rash thing to do would have been letting him go.
While "The General" no longer applies to Schottenheimer, he directed the team to 14 wins with a quarterback who had not started a single game in his professional career.
This team played with heart – lest we forget the successive comeback wins in Cincinnati and in Denver – now, that is coaching and proves his message can and will be heard.
The Chargers will be a Super Bowl favorite in 2007 and they should be. A one-and-done won't do. His talent, his supporting staff, his legacy. One year – it all lives or ends here and Schottenheimer will be defined by it.
Sit back and watch the players rally for the man who leads the charge.