Bickering between coach, GM threatening to sabotage Chargers


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Jan 22, 2006
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Not seeing eye-to-eye

Bickering between coach, GM threatening to sabotage Chargers

March 1, 2006

Looking out from shore, it appears the reluctant marriage between Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith and coach Marty Schottenheimer is this close to the rocks – and the surf's up. There's trouble in what not long ago was perceived as a replenishing paradise.

When an NFL head coach goes public saying he's concerned that not everyone in his organization is moving in the same direction, it's serious. This is what Schottenheimer told the Union-Tribune's Jim Trotter the other day, that he has sought communication with Smith, but there hasn't been much.

“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,” Schottenheimer said.

Strong stuff. Something similar happened here 10 years ago between GM Bobby Beathard and coach Bobby Ross. Club President Dean Spanos then made the decision to keep Beathard and fire Ross, now an admitted mistake. It took years for the franchise to recover.

This situation is different, although both men clearly don't like one another. But it can bring down a team. The players sense it. Everyone within the organization can feel a possible house divided. Not good.

And we now know it isn't something that merely can be sensed. Schottenheimer's words speak libraries. There's more to it than two men who don't socialize. Good story, but the coach should have kept his mouth shut.

Spanos doesn't seem to mind if his GM and coach aren't Abbott and Costello, as long as there is communication – there was none in the end with Beathard and Ross – and a professional relationship and attitude exist. He should take bolder steps to ensure history doesn't repeat like a bad meal.

Spanos chooses not to discuss the problem, but it's known he was far, far from pleased with his coach's comments and discussed them with Schottenheimer. Spanos has to take charge from the bridge and grab this situation by the throat before the crack in the hull widens. Because, without cooperation from his executive officers, the captain's going to find himself back in a dinghy without a sextant. It's called leadership.

“Dean hasn't discussed what Coach said with me yet,” says Smith, who returned Monday night from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where he reportedly didn't sit with Schottenheimer. “But I haven't seen Dean. I just got back last night. I have all the confidence in Dean that the coach's opinions will be addressed.”

Schottenheimer, an old pro, isn't the kind to go off recklessly. He chose his words carefully. Imagine what he really thinks.

He's obviously upset about Smith's handling of the Drew Brees situation, because he's a coach, and coaches are today people. They don't look far down the road. The good GMs, and Smith is a good GM, look into the future. This upcoming season is what matters to Schottenheimer, who believes Brees is the quarterback who gives him the best chance to win – or, in other words, keep his job.

If Brees walks, Schottenheimer will have untested Philip Rivers at quarterback, making winning more difficult.

“All I can tell you is that this is a good football team,” Smith says. “I expect to go to the playoffs. The debate over the quarterback situation is legitimate, but hopefully a team has been built that can win no matter who the quarterback is. I do, absolutely, yes, expect to make the playoffs.

“At the end of the year, you dissect it. If Philip Rivers is our quarterback and we don't make the playoffs, maybe he stunk. Maybe it wasn't him. He made the Pro Bowl. Damn, did we hit on Philip Rivers. But where did we go wrong? Was it coaching? Bad decisions by the general manager? Free-agent busts? Bad drafts?”

The quarterback thing hasn't helped the A.J.-Marty love fest. It's known Smith wasn't thrilled when Schottenheimer chose to start Brees over Rivers in the meaningless final game against Denver on New Year's Eve. Brees damaged his shoulder and Schottenheimer didn't get his 10th victory. Hindsight or not, starting Brees that day was a mistake.

So now we have a rift. And it's widening.

“He would like more dialogue? More communication?” Smith says of Schottenheimer. “To me, that's an opinion of what's happening. People think it's not a good thing and bound to end in disaster, but we're trying to win football games here and we all know what our jobs are.

“I'm happy with the way things are. I'm fine with communication. I'm not an overly friendly guy, I guess. I'm not apologizing for it. I'm not a mingler. I'm not a great socializing guy. Some guys try to build relationships. I'm here to do my job and he's the head football coach. He knows what his responsibilities are.”

Beathard mingled. He liked being around coaches and players and sitting in on meetings. Ross locked him out. Smith spends little time around the locker room. He is not a glad-hander, but a football man, who focuses on acquiring talent, and he has. But the coach – not his hire – has made it clear something's amiss.

“It tells a story,” Smith says. “Eventually, if someone's around long enough, a pattern develops – either good or bad. And people cast judgments. So Coach had an interview and said some things that are being scrutinized in the media.

“He's a teammate. Lots of people don't like lots of people.”

True. But this is coach and GM, and good GMs – rightfully so – usually win out. At present, Spanos has to worry more about building a football team than a football stadium. One leads to another. Either get along, or else.
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