I'm writing this during the fourth quarter of a proper ass-kicking by the New England Patriots. Seriously, there is no question who the better team is. All complaints from last year's divisional playoff game must cease (and stay ceased unless somehow the Patriots and the Chargers meet in the playoffs this year).
I was worried this offseason that the Chargers had shot themselves in the foot with the whole coach-GM debacle. I remained worried about it during the game with the Bears, which, despite being a win, was as sloppy as a win could be. And now... I'm absolutely terrified.
Watching tonight's game it's crystal clear now that the Chargers are not the disciplined team they were last year, or any year under their previous head coach, the oft-maligned Marty Schottenheimer. Say what you will, the man was a disciplinarian, and A.J. Smith, the Chargers' general manager, never gave the man the credit he deserved.
Well, here it is (and no, my tune's not changing... just read my Chargers blog from last year):
The Chargers owe their resurgence as an elite team to four people. Two of them are players, one is a coach, and, yes, the other is A.J. Smith.
The coach, in case you're wondering, is obviously not Norv Turner (who has historically stunk as a head coach), but Marty Schottenheimer himself. The players are LaDainian Tomlinson (naturally) and Drew Brees. Notice something? Yes, that's right, two of these people are no longer with the Chargers... they were forced out by A.J. Smith.
Smith is, to give proper due, a player-personnel genius. You can't argue with his draft picks. You just can't. Even Philip Rivers, who this year seems lost in the NFL so far. But, the man is a dictator, and it's his way or the highway. If you don't do things his way, you're gone. The problem here is that Mr. Smith is not a coach. Marty Schottenheimer was a coach.
I've never been a huge Schottenheimer fan. I'm on the "he's too conservative" bandwagon, and despite the leaps and bounds he made last year to shed that perception, he's still too conservative. That being stated, I've never been a Norv Turner-as-head coach fan at all. Great offensive coordinator? Yes. Good head coach? Hardly. He's been handed the keys to what is probably the most talented team in football, and he couldn't even make the Patriots break a sweat.
Schottenheimer, and let me make this perfectly transparent, SHOULD HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO COACH ONE MORE SEASON. With one season of "Marty-ball is dead" under his belt, who knows what he would have done with the team this year? Not only that, with both Cam Cameron and Wade Phillips gone to their own head coaching gigs, Marty could have proven to A.J. that he is, after all, a great coach (perhaps that's one reason A.J. didn't let him stay... A.J. didn't want to afford someone he can't stand the chance to prove himself).
Smith, to this point, has been hailed as a genius. This year, however, I think he's about to be brought back down to just being hailed as a good general manager.
Brees is gone, replaced by Rivers. Brees managed to excel with a new team and a new system last year. Rivers managed to excel with a team built around its running back. Both QBs are struggling so far, but Brees is the one who has already shown that he can overcome adversity. Rivers has done no such thing.
Schottenheimer is gone, replaced by Rivers. Marty managed to turn around a crap team and turn it into an elite one. Not only that, he's done it before. Turner has run every team he's ever had into the ground.
Is Smith the problem? Probably, but even I have to admit that I'd hate to see him go. What Smith needs to do is find a head coach that inspires players to work hard and not make mistakes. Norv Turner is not that man.
If the Chargers aren't 6-2 by the midpoint of the season, I'm going to start crying every Sunday, because that would be enough evidence that the Chargers, who were thought to be in their Super Bowl window, are now simply, in fact, rebuilding once again.
Vote for Clint Eastwood. Even though he directed that Boston-based movie, Mystic River, I'm sure he wants a California team to take the Lombardi trophy this year.
* This is the first part of what will hopefully be a nine-part entry in the River of Mnemosyne challenge that's happening over at The ...
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