SAN DIEGO -- Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer was fired
Monday night in a shocking move by team president Dean Spanos, who
cited a "dysfunctional situation" between the coach and general
manager A.J. Smith.
The move was first reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
Less than a month after San Diego's NFL-best 14-2 season was
wrecked in a playoff loss to New England, Spanos cited the exodus
of both coordinators and other assistants in firing Schottenheimer,
who had a year left on his contract.
"This decision was so hard because Marty has been both a friend and valued coach of our team," Spanos said in a statement. "But my first obligation is always to do what is in the best interest of our fans and the entire Charger organization. I must take whatever steps are necessary to deliver a Super Bowl trophy to San Diego. Events of the last month have now convinced me that it is not possible for our organization to function at a championship level under the current structure. On the contrary, and in the plainest possible language, we have a dysfunctional situation here. Today I am resolving that situation once and for all."
Mortensen reported that Spanos told Schottenheimer on Monday that it wasn't going to work between him and Smith. Mortensen also reported that Smith began calling Chargers players Monday night, telling them not to panic in the wake of the firing.
The San Diego Union-Tribune, citing unnamed sources, reported that Schottenheimer was fired after trying to interview his brother, Kurt, for the team's vacant defensive coordinator post. Spanos and Smith didn't approve of the move, but Schottenheimer reportedly insisted he had the right to hire his own staff.
The newspaper reported that tension had been building between Schottenheimer and the Chargers' front office after he allowed several of his coaches to interview elsewhere. The front office didn't approve of Schottenheimer's decision.
Spanos, known to be close friends with former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, and Smith said they plan to move
quickly on hiring a replacement. Smith said he had a list of
candidates but refused to divulge names.
When told the situation between Schottenheimer and Smith was described by Spanos as "dysfunctional," Schottenheimer said "that's a pretty accurate description."
"I enjoyed time with all the players and coaches there ... we made a hell of a lot of progress," Schottenheimer told ESPN's Mortensen. "We had one the best records in football over the past three years. We're leaving behind a good football team and a great bunch of guys. They can't take away what we accomplished."
As for Schottenheimer's relationship with Smith, Schottenheimer said: "I don't know why it was so bad. Every time I tried to get an explanation of why there was such a bad reaction, he always had the same rebuttal ... he didn't want to talk about it."
Spanos indicated in the statement that the Chargers will pay Schottenheimer for the last year of his contract.
Three days after the Chargers' playoff meltdown Spanos decided that bringing Schottenheimer back for the final year of his contract gave San Diego its best chance to win.
"Our fans deserve to know what changed for me over the last month," Spanos said in the 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."
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was hired as head coach of
the Cowboys on Thursday, following offensive coordinator Cam
Cameron and two other assistants out of town for better jobs.
Although Schottenheimer said last week that change was
inevitable, Smith sounded concerned, saying, "Both in the same
year -- Wow."
Tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski became Cleveland's offensive
coordinator, and linebackers coach Greg Manusky was hired as San
Francisco's defensive coordinator.
Running backs coach Clarence Shelmon, who's never been a
coordinator, was promoted to replace Cameron. Shelmon accepted only
a one-year contract due to what had been Schottenheimer's lame-duck
Three days after the 24-21 playoff loss to New England,
Schottenheimer declined the team's offer of a $4.5 million,
one-year extension through 2008, which came with a club-option $1
million buyout. Spanos and Smith seemed visibly angry that the
coach turned them down.
Schottenheimer has been at odds with Smith since the 2005
season, apparently over personnel decisions by the GM.
While confirming he had no working relationship with Smith,
Schottenheimer seemed puzzled that Spanos made the coach take the
fall for his assistants leaving.
"That is absolutely unfair in my view," Schottenheimer told
The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "We had no control
over two guys who became head coaches in this league. We gave two
guys an opportunity to be coordinators in this league. We've added
a couple of guys that people should be very pleased with. The
future coach will be very pleased, as well."
Schottenheimer did praise Spanos for making a difficult decision. "I don't disagree with it," the coach said. "I always
put the team first."
Asked if Smith should share the blame, Schottenheimer said:
"Uh, I'll leave that judgment to others."
Although Schottenheimer was given the power to hire and fire
assistants, neither Spanos nor Smith provided specifics of the
"untenable situation" during a conference call.
"We both wanted to win a world championship very badly," Smith
said. "It's just that my approach might have been a little
different than his."
Spanos said disagreements over future staffing was "part of it.
It's more the actual working relationship that's been difficult."
With a regular-season record of 200-126-1 with Cleveland, Kansas
City, Washington and San Diego, Schottenheimer is the most
successful coach never to have reached the Super Bowl.
His 5-13 playoff record has taken on a life of its own. The loss
to the Patriots was his sixth straight in the postseason dating to
1993, and the ninth time a Schottenheimer-coached team lost its
opening playoff game. His teams have failed four times to
capitalize on the home-field advantage that comes with owning the
AFC's No. 1 seed.
He was 47-33 in five seasons with the Chargers, including 35
wins and two AFC West titles in the last three seasons.
Led by league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers were thought
by many to be Super Bowl-caliber. But they had four turnovers and
made numerous other mistakes in losing to the Patriots, their first
defeat at home in the 2006 season.
Speculation grew following the loss that Schottenheimer might be
fired, due in part to the front office's expectations of a deep
playoff run and his icy relationship with Smith.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.