Less than a month ago, San Diego Chargers president Dean Spanos sat with reporters and announced that he was retaining his head coach, Marty Schottenheimer, because "he gives us the best chance to win next year."
Now, Schottenheimer is gone, and we're all left to wonder: What in the world happened?
|Dean Spanos cites 'dysfunction' as a reason for the firing. (Getty Images)|
So can I. Because what happened Monday ended one of the longest and most public feuds in the business -- and I'm not talking about Schottenheimer and Spanos; I'm talking about Schottenheimer and general manager A.J. Smith. It was no secret the two didn't get along, yet, somehow, they survived each other as the team flourished.
The Chargers this season had the best record in football at 14-2, losing twice on last-minute scores. They were 35-13 in Schottenheimer's final three years in San Diego, and you have to go back to the days of Air Coryell to find similar success. But even then Schottenheimer holds the upper hand, with Coryell's best three-year record a 33-15 spin through 1979-81.
Nevertheless, there was always friction -- with Schottenheimer and Smith publicly sparring last year over quarterback Drew Brees and his return to the team until Spanos intervened and put an end to the discord. The perception was that Spanos' intervention changed things, but if you spoke to Schottenheimer and Smith this season it was apparent it had not.
And that's why Spanos acted.
Though Schottenheimer declined to elaborate on what happened, my guess is that he and Smith were at odds again -- and this time over a defensive coordinator. The Chargers just lost Wade Phillips, the highly respected assistant whom Smith helped bring to San Diego, and his replacement seemed destined to cause more friction.
Schottenheimer didn't tell me that. Nor did Smith or Spanos. But people close to the organization said it was apparent from talking to Smith that he was insistent on playing a role in naming a new defensive coordinator -- just as he had done with Phillips. But that, they said, didn't jibe with Schottenheimer's plans, and stop if you've heard this before.
According to sources, Schottenheimer wanted to hire his own defensive coordinator. And when that choice conflicted with Smith there was trouble. Which is where Spanos came in, and I don't think I need to draw you a picture.
He was as tired of the bickering as Schottenheimer and Smith, and he was determined to end it. So he did.
"Our fans deserve to know what changed for me over the last month," he said in a prepared statement. "When I decided to move ahead with Marty Schottenheimer in mid-January I did so with the expectation that the core of his fine coaching staff would remain intact. Unfortunately that did not prove to be the case, and the process of dealing with these coaching changes convinced me that we simply could not move forward with such dysfunction between our head coach and general manager.
"In short, this entire process over the last month convinced me beyond any doubt that I had to act to change this untenable situation and create an environment where everyone at Charger Park would be pulling in the same direction and working at a championship level."