<img src="http://www.overratedness.com/spanos.jpg" alt="Dean Spanos and A.J. Smith" height="192" width="300" />
By Curtis Egan
<em>BoltTalk Staff Writer</em>
It is 4 games into the '07 season, the Chargers "<em>Ferrari</em>" is stuck in the ditch at the side of the road. The rust spots that have been covered with bondo and spray paint are again showing through. The "We heart AJ" is peeling off of the sun damaged plastic bumper.
The team that has been anointed as the leagues most talented, Superbowl shoe ins, and Dynasty in the making looks more to be playing for a top draft pick rather than the Lombardi. But the problems that San Diego fans are seeing are not new by any stretch of the imagination. Let me explain.
Last season was different from the current season in only one way. The team was winning. There were problems with the coaching staff. The front office was not working with the coaches. Players had problems, including failed drug test, trafficking of cough medicine over state boarders and more. But the wins rolled in and much of the problems were shined over.
Fans in the parking lot cheered, and expected wins, and they got them. Going into the off season many of those same fans were calling for the head of then Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer. His failures in the playoffs were not made up for by his success during the regular season. But that is not where the story begins, no it begins years ago when Chargers General manager John Butler hired Marty to Coach the San Diego Chargers. The coach was not the candidate that AJ Smith wanted, but as Assistant GM, AJ went with what his long time friend and co-worker Butler wanted.
However things continued to disintegrate between the Head Coach and General manager, until it was made public last season that the two were not even in communication with one another. Again, a blemish that was waxed over. Then in the off season, in early February club President Dean Spanos, fired Schottenheimer, using the word: "Dysfunctional" to explain the situation. Did the situation become dysfunctional over night? I would have to say no. These things build over time. The Chargers went 14-2 with their coach and general manager not communicating, with the dysfunction that was covered by the plethora of wins.
Smith however, won the battle of wills when Schottenheimer was fired, then Smith was able to pick the coaching staff he wanted. The staff he was comfortable with. The coaching staff that he felt would win the World Championship that Smith had said he so desperately wanted. In his statement when Schottenheimer's dismissal was made public, Smith said the following:
<blockquote>Speculation was all year, but we just won a lot of games and we teed it up. We're disappointed. We just met and we just made an announcement and we're looking forward to next year to get at it again. That's where we are. We'll just try to win a world championship and we'll get at it again.</blockquote>
Anyone who believes that this was not a battle of wills need look no further than the responsibilities of the two men in question. Smith is responsible for acquiring talent, be it through the draft, trade or free agency. Schottenheimer was in charge of coaching the team, making a final decision on the 53-man roster and selecting a coaching staff. These were the responsibilities as approved by team President Dean Spanos.
However several incidents show that at times AJ Smith had over stepped his boundaries a bit in the execution of his responsibilities. One instance was the trading of then 3rd string Quarterback, Cleo Lemon to Miami, without consulting or even notifying the coaching staff. Then there was the insistence that Wade Philips be hired as defensive coordinator, and lastly the blocking of the hiring of Kurt Schottenheimer as Defensive Coordinator.
Now I can be a bit slow, but it appears to me that the final 53 man roster, and selecting a coaching staff were under the head coaches tasks. Granted only a fool would think the general manager should not have input. But appearances are that Smith wanted much more than input. Again, the wins gave the fans a reason to look past this all.
This brings us back to the means of the Chargers â€˜getting at it again'. It brings this in question in my mind. Have the Chargers gotten better in their drive to "get at it again", or have they regressed?
Smith got his staff, but they are no closer to reaching the post season, let alone reaching the World Championship. I would hazard to guess that Schottenheimer may have taken the high performance tires of the â€˜Ferrari" with him when he left, perhaps as a souvenir-
The Coaching staff put in place by Smith, in his drive for a world championship include offensive guru Norv Turner, who's record as a head coach was overlooked for his ability to â€˜get along' with the GM. Under Turner the Chargers offensive unit has struggled to say the least. Quarterback, Philip Rivers is struggling and the team in general seems to lack passion, unless it is displayed on the sidelines as they argue with one another. The Chargers have dropped from one of the top offensive units of last season to one of the leagues bottom offensive units.
The Defense under new Defensive Coordinator is yet another Smith pick, Ted Cottrell, whom worked with Smith in Buffalo. Under him the Chargers defensive unit is resembling the Defense seen under Mike Riley, as opposed to one of the best units in the league. Opposing quarterbacks enjoy a lack of pressure and soft secondary coverage and have burnt the Chargers defense repeatedly.
It does not end there, last season the team had heart and spirit. When down in Denver and Cincinnati the team stayed in it and clawed their way back into games. The feeling that if the Chargers get behind the game is over has returned. Something not felt since the Mike Riley years. This IS a digression. This is a step backwards. The team is lacking confidence, and lacking motivation.
Because the problem of the past have been compounded by the decisions made in the off season. Dean Spanos gave this as one reason for the Schottenheimer firing:
<blockquote>There were a lot of things that were discussed between A.J. and myself, but I think the most important thing is that I think he gives us the best chance to win next year. It keeps the continuity of the team together. There's a tremendous amount of support by the players. Those types of things were the things that were important to me. There were a lot of other things that were discussed, but that's between A.J. and myself.</blockquote>
Chance to win next year, continuity, those were the reasons give for the change. How about giving the fans the truth? The change had to happen because the problems were being compounded by two adults refusing to act like adults! Schottenheimer and Smith both are to blame for the current state of affairs as both put the struggle of their titanic egos ahead of the team.
Dean Spanos did not manage the situation well from my point of view but what is done is done. The Chargers need to get together, and figure out what it is going to take to get the damn Ferrari out of the gutter and running right.
Yesterday they took a big hit, dropping to 1-3 on the young season and losing to Kansas City at home. They gave up on the run and pass protection was shoddy at best in the second half. Runnig Back LaDanian Tomlinson had 116 yards rushing in the first half on 14 carries. In the second half he got only 6 more carries for 16 yards. The offensive genius of the Chargers head coach is seriously in question.
The Chiefs beat the Chargers by scoring 30 points, when they had not been able to score more than 13 in their first three games. Chiefs Running Back Larry Johnson had his first 100 yard rushing game against the Chargers, most of the yards coming in the second half.
I openly question the ability of the current coaching staff to motivate the players. During the post game interview Coach Turner said that he thought they had the game under control at the half. That is when the Chargers lead 16 to 6. However the lack of adjustments to what the Chiefs were doing on offense and defense made it a new game in the second half.
The Chiefs stole momentum, and the Chargers were helpless to get it back. That is on the leadership of the team. Many fans joked about Schottenheimer's speeches, "ONE PLAY AT A TIME MEN! ONE PLAY AT A TIME!" You know what though? It worked, the Chargers would not give up, they would not fall apart. They would play one game at a time and stay focused.
It is time for the Charger organization to review. Do they want to continue to let their Ferrari sit in the gutter, spinning its tires in futility, or do they want to haul it out of there and get it back on the road before the race is lost?
I hope it is the latter, but sorry AJ, I am fresh out of faith in the coaching staff you have put in. The Chargers are going to have to earn that faith back. Performances like the one turned in during the second half of yesterdays game is not the way to do it.
San Diego has been outscored 102-68 in four games, compared to last year when it outscored opponents 103-36 through the first four. Not a change for the better Mr. Smith, not a change for the better at all. The paint is peeling and the wins are not covering it up this season. Much to the dismay of the fans-
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