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Schottenheimer ready to get gorilla off his back

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Jan 12, 2007.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a target="_blank" href="http://www.sportingnews.com/yourturn/viewtopic.php?t=167044">The Sporting News</a>

    <img width="334" height="220" alt="Marty Schottenheimer SEAN M. HAFFEY / Union-Tribune" title="Marty Schottenheimer SEAN M. HAFFEY / Union-Tribune" src="http://photos.signonsandiego.com/gallery1.5/albums/061126raiders/SMHchargers7265016x00.jpg" />

    By Dennis Dillon

    The Schottenheimer coat of arms should be a fist. Now, don't misunderstand; no one in the family struts around looking for a fight. The fist is a symbol of unity and strength.

    It started years ago when Brian Schottenheimer, the son, was feeling anxious about an elementary school task. His mother, Pat, sat down with him and eased his worries. "You're not alone. Everyone is with you. There's Daddy, Mommy, Kristen and you," she said, holding up her fingers one by one. She even included the dog, using her thumb. "When you put everybody together, look how strong we are." Pat then made a fist and rapped on a table.

    Since then, the Schottenheimers have flashed one another the fist in moments mundane and momentous -- such as when daughter Kristen walked down the aisle to be married, when Brian called his first game this season as a rookie offensive coordinator for the Jets and, most often, after one of Dad's 344 career games as an NFL head coach.

    When Marty Schottenheimer walked off the field at Qualcomm Stadium after the Chargers' New Year's Eve victory over Arizona, he strode in rarefied air. It was his 200th regular-season win. Only four other coaches in league history have won more games in the regular season.

    What Schottenheimer has accomplished in 21 seasons -- 4 1/2 in Cleveland, 10 in Kansas City, one in Washington and five in San Diego -- is remarkable. His teams have reached double-digit victories 11 times and have had losing records only twice.

    The man gets it. That's why the late John Butler, who was the Chargers' G.M., hired Schottenheimer in 2002. It's why linebacker Donnie Edwards, who played three seasons for Schottenheimer in Kansas City, signed with the Chargers that same year after being released by the Chiefs.

    "I knew he was a good coach and we were definitely going to win," Edwards says.

    The playoffs? Well, that's an animal of a different species.

    With a 5-12 record, including two

    gut-wrenching losses in AFC championship games, Schottenheimer heads into Sunday's divisional game against the Patriots with a postseason primate the size of Mighty Joe Young on his back.

    "Call it what it is," Schottenheimer says. "That playoff record is abysmal. It's awful."

    There seems to be no tangible explanation for it other than the inability to make key plays at the right time. There are two glaring examples. During "The Drive," Denver's 15-play, 98-yard scoring march that set the Broncos up for an overtime victory over the Browns in the 1986 AFC championship game in Cleveland, John Elway completed a 20-yard pass to Mark Jackson on third-and-18 when Browns cornerback Hanford Dixon took a false step and couldn't recover. One year later, in the AFC title game in Denver, Browns running back Earnest Byner fumbled at the goal line while driving for the tying touchdown when he was blindsided by a defensive back who was supposed to have been lured away from the play by a rookie wide receiver.

    "I don't think that was coaching. It was just the breaks of the game, and we were fortunate the breaks went our way," says Dan Reeves, who coached Denver in those two victories over Schottenheimer's Browns. "I know this: Every time we played them, they were well-prepared. I think Marty Schottenheimer is proven. He's a great coach. That won't change regardless of the outcome in the playoffs."

    The 14-2 Chargers hold a hot hand going into these playoffs. They are the AFC's No. 1 seed and have the most balanced team. The offense features running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the league's MVP; tight end Antonio Gates; and an improved line led by rookie left tackle Marcus McNeill. The defense is solid from front to back with nose tackle Jamal Williams, outside linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips and unheralded cornerback Quentin Jammer.

    But two imposing shadows loom over the Chargers as they prepare for New England. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is 12-2 in the postseason, and quarterback Tom Brady is 11-1 as a starter. They have won three Super Bowls together. Compared with Schottenheimer's postseason record and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers' inexperience -- he has started only 16 NFL games and will be getting his playoffs baptism -- those are XX-factors.

    Schottenheimer may need to keep his fists doubled up through the entire game.

    After the Chiefs went 7-9 in 1998, Schottenheimer stepped down from coaching and spent the next two years working as an analyst for ESPN. But talking football wasn't the same as coaching it. As he and Pat sat in an Arrowhead Stadium suite on September 3, 2000, watching the Chiefs' season opener as guests of team owner Lamar Hunt, Schottenheimer experienced an epiphany. Turning to Pat, he said, "I don't belong up here. I belong down there."

    As he tells the story while sitting on a couch in his office last week, Schottenheimer pauses. His voice cracks. Tears well up in his eyes. Talking about Hunt, who died recently after a long bout with cancer, provokes emotions. "I loved the guy like a father," he says.

    Schottenheimer returned to the NFL in 2001 to coach the Redskins, but he was fired by whimsical owner Daniel Snyder after posting an 8-8 record. Then, it was on to San Diego in '02. Now 63, Schottenheimer is as energetic and enthusiastic as ever. One of the reasons he has survived this long as an NFL coach is he has learned to adapt as the game and its players evolve.

    "He's not so set in his ways," Edwards says. "He'll listen now and consider what others have to say, where before it was 'I hear what you're saying, but we're going to do it this way.' "

    His practices aren't as long or as grueling -- though he still runs the fierce, 2-on-1 Oklahoma drill in training camp -- and he delegates more to his assistants. He lets his coordinators call the plays, although he might suggest to Cam Cameron to run the ball more during a specific series or tell Wade Phillips he wants to blitz. (Contrary to what many believe, Schottenheimer handled what he calls "play entry" only one season, when he called the offensive plays for the 1988 Browns.) You might even see him without a headset at times during games. But you can bet when there are glitches, he'll step in and see that they're fixed.

    His style may have changed, but his philosophy hasn't. He still believes running the ball, throwing high-percentage passes, playing physical defense and emphasizing ball security and field position are the cornerstones for winning. Many coaches use that same sound strategy. When a Schottenheimer team plays that way, it's called Martyball, which often carries a negative connotation. Yet it has been a winning formula more often than not.

    "Everyone points to his playoff record, but to me the body of work he has done is really in a select group. He's a Hall of Fame coach in my mind," says Bill Cowher, who worked as an NFL assistant for only one head coach, Schottenheimer, before becoming coach of the Steelers in 1992. Schottenheimer was the first person Cowher thanked at his resignation press conference last Friday.

    Still, 5-12 leaves any coach open to criticism. Schottenheimer came under fire when the Chargers lost, 20-17, to the Jets in a wild-card game two years ago. After San Diego had moved from its own 30 to the New York 22 in overtime with an effective mix of runs and passes, the play-calling became conservative. Three consecutive runs for a net of zero yards left the outcome riding on the foot of rookie Nate Kaeding, who missed a 40-yard field goal attempt.

    But Schottenheimer blames himself for an earlier faux pas. When he thought the Jets roughed punter Mike Scifres in the second quarter, he walked out on the field to protest and was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. Instead of starting at their 48 after the punt, the Jets got the ball at the San Diego 37. It took them only five plays to score a touchdown.

    "I've always coached with the idea you don't ever make a decision that compromises your players of the opportunity to determine the outcome of a game," says Schottenheimer. "What I did was inexcusable."

    If the Chargers beat New England, they will host the AFC championship game, the final step to Super Bowl 41. "You couldn't ask for it to be set up any better to be successful this year," says Chargers president Dean Spanos. "I would be very disappointed if we didn't do well this year."

    The Schottenheimers will have been married 40 years on Super Bowl Sunday. Marty and Pat hope to celebrate their ruby anniversary in Miami with a championship. The road there won't be easy -- there are a couple of teams to beat and a playoff gorilla to shake -- but it could be a dream come true for the family. Just imagine this scene at Dolphin Stadium: Pat, Kristen and her husband, Brian and his wife, and the four grandchildren watching proudly as "Papa" holds up the Vince Lombardi trophy.

    They would erupt in fistfuls of joy.

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