All is not quiet on Chargers' homefront


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Jan 22, 2006
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All is not quiet on Chargers' homefront

Bolts coach wonders if club's on same page

By Jim Trotter

February 26, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS – While seemingly everyone else was offering an opinion on the Drew Brees situation the past few weeks, Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer was relatively quiet.

Not so yesterday.

Choosing his words carefully, and pausing at times to weigh their potential impact, Schottenheimer said he wants Brees back and believes the Chargers will be even stronger with him.

Later, he acknowledged an icy relationship with General Manager A.J. Smith and said he was uncertain if everyone in the organization is pulling in the same direction.

“I think it's important that there always be communication between the coach and the general manager,” he said during a break at the annual NFL Scouting Combine. “I've sought to see that realized, but, quite frankly, there hasn't been as much communication as I would like.

“I think we all understand that ours is a very difficult, competitive enterprise, and in my opinion it's important that everybody is aimed in the same direction.”

Is that the case with the Chargers?

“We'll have to maybe wait and see,” he said.

The statements were eye-opening because Schottenheimer normally is guarded when speaking about the team or the organization. His modus operandi is to accentuate the positive, ignore the negative – at least in public.

Yesterday marked the first time Schottenheimer has candidly discussed his working relationship with Smith.

“In my opinion, the important thing for all of us – for our football team – is that we all have a common purpose and understanding of what we want to do, and then have a plan that can be implemented to achieve it,” he said. “As I said earlier, those decisions that I am a part of, or responsible for, will always be driven by one thing: What's in the best interest of the San Diego Chargers? To me, that's winning.”

In January, one week after the Chargers finished 9-7 and failed to make the playoffs, club President Dean Spanos expressed his disappointment but said: “I feel very confident going into next year. I know we're going to win. . . . I don't think anyone in the organization expects anything less than to win next year – the playoffs and to succeed in the playoffs.”

If that is the mandate for Schottenheimer, who has two years and nearly $8 million remaining on his contract, then his job could be a lot tougher without Brees, a former Pro Bowler who is 21-11 as a starter the past two seasons.

Normally teams don't allow 27-year-old, Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks to test the market without protection, but the Chargers elected to do so because of what Smith calls “medical concerns” about Brees' throwing shoulder, which was surgically repaired after he tore his labrum in the season finale.

The sides have until Thursday night to agree on a contract; otherwise Brees would become an unrestricted free agent and free to sign with another club. If he departs, 2004 first-round draft choice Philip Rivers would assume the starting job.

Rivers has no career starts and just 30 career pass attempts, but Smith believes he has tremendous potential, which is the primary reason the Chargers traded for him two years ago at the NFL draft. A popular rumor making the rounds at the Combine is that Smith favors Rivers and is using the “medical concerns” excuse as means to get the youngster on the field.

“I wouldn't care if it's Philip Rivers or Drew Brees leading us to a championship and holding a Super Bowl trophy over his head,” Smith said yesterday. “I wouldn't care if A.J. Feeley was called upon and led us to a championship and held that Super Bowl trophy over his head. Whoever it is doesn't matter to me, as long as it's a Charger and the Chargers are winning. Philip is not my guy; the three of them are. That's why we want all three on the roster. I don't have a favorite.”

Schottenheimer also said he wants all three to return, adding that Brees would be the starter if healthy.

“In my opinion, we're better off if Drew Brees is here,” he said. “We've all come to realize that it takes more than one quality quarterback in this league to be successful. If he's able to recover from this injury – and I'm optimistic about that – I think it gives us an advantage.”

Schottenheimer refused to speculate whether the Chargers – who with a little tweaking have the potential to make a deep run in the playoffs – would take a step back with Rivers behind center.

“I don't know that you can say that,” he said. “I would think that history would indicate that (you would struggle some), but every situation is different. That would be pure speculation on my part.

“What I do know is, we've certainly gone through a process in the development of Drew to get him to where he is, and it's very difficult to condense that time frame.”
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