When Tom Telesco received an interview for the San Diego Chargers’ vacant general manager post in January, it was considered a terrific opportunity in the career of promising young front-office man.
Telesco wasn’t considered a sure bet to be hired to pump life into a stale franchise after the 10-year A.J. Smith era. But Telesco took control of his future and essentially stole the job.
It was well known that the Chargers were focused on removing Smith and head coach Norv Turner. Longtime personnel man Jimmy Raye was widely considered as a slam-dunk to be promoted. The Chargers were fine with the front office as a whole. They figured Smith’s time with the team had run its course and that the bigger issue was finding a replacement for Turner.
Then, Telesco interviewed. Everything changed. Telesco opened the Chargers’ minds. Perhaps an outside voice to lead the front voice was exactly what the team needed. And in a big upset, the Chargers named the 40-year-old Indianapolis front-office man to replace Smith.
The surprise hiring was met with applause from around the league. Telesco was a career front-office man and a protégée of former Colts’ general manager Bill Polian. Telesco was known for a keen scouting eye and was credited with helping turn the Colts back into a playoff team by restocking the roster.
“Tom has that no-stone-unturned mindset,” said Ryan Grigson, his boss in Indianapolis last year. “Tom never stops working. That's what the Chargers are going to appreciate. If I asked Tom if this guy could play or not, an hour later I was getting a text from him or he was knocking on my door, giving me a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. Tom is a bright, bright, bright guy with a great work ethic.”
Ownership was reportedly blown away by Telesco's knowledge of the Chargers' roster during his interview. The Spanos family was stunned by his vision for the team moving forward.
I asked Telesco about that, and he brushed it off.
“It’s my job to know the league,” said Telesco, polite as always. “I have to know that stuff. It’s my job to study rosters every day.”
Polian, now an ESPN analyst, wasn’t surprised that Telesco impressed the Chargers. Telesco first joined the NFL with Carolina in 1995 when Polian ran the Panthers. He followed Polian to Indianapolis in 1998.
“Tom knows the league, he does what it takes to be good at his job,” Polian said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s level-headed. He’s a great judge of talent … He will be great in San Diego.”
His first offseason in San Diego has been positive. He received kudos for tabbing heavily sought-after Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to coach the team. Chargers employees tout Telesco, who played receiver at noted NFL coaching and front-office factory John Carroll University in Ohio, as friendly. They say he has re-energized a building that lacked excitement at the end of the Smith era.
Most league observers believe the Chargers, who have gone three seasons without making the playoffs, had one of the best drafts in the NFL. The Chargers scored big in the first three rounds with the selections of Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker (first round), Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o (second) and California receiver Keenan Allen (third). ESPN analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper both said during the draft that Telesco got three first-round picks with his first three choices. Telesco aggressively went after Te’o, who was falling, and traded up on the clock to take him.
Telesco was less aggressive in free agency. The cap-strapped Chargers were active, but they didn’t make many splashes. They did get several players who should help right away, starting with cornerback Derek Cox, guard Chad Rinehart and running back Danny Woodhead.
San Diego has not sufficiently addressed its biggest need yet: left tackle. Free-agent signing King Dunlap is currently expected to start there even though he is not considered a solid option. In Telesco’s defense, the Chargers never really had a great chance of adding a top option at the position because of cap issues and because the top three draft options were gone after the first four picks of the draft.
Regardless of whether the Chargers enter Telesco’s first season a finished project, he promises to continue to approach the job his way.
“(I) come into work every day trying to find the best players we can,” Telesco said. “Part of building chemistry with the team and the team process is getting to know the coaches well, getting to know the scouts, the front office. That's all part of team building for me. It's just trying to get to know everybody really well.”