'Martyball' Era Ends in San Diego

Tuesday, February 13th 2007, 7:13 am
By: News On 6

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Marty Schottenheimer performed well enough to go 14-2 last season despite what team president Dean Spanos called a ``dysfunctional situation'' between the coach and his general manager.

The relationship got so bad in the last month that Spanos fired Schottenheimer on Monday night, another shocking development for a team that thought it was Super Bowl-worthy but lost its playoff opener.

Spanos said the exodus of assistant coaches _ the two coordinators became NFL head coaches and two assistants became coordinators _ contributed to a difficult situation that resulted in the coach being fired. Schottenheimer is due more than $3 million for the final year left on his contract.

While confirming he had no working relationship with general manager A.J. 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, the son of team owner Alex 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.''

Schottenheimer added: ``There is and has been no relationship'' with Smith.

Since when?

``How long's he been here?'' Schottenheimer said.

Smith was promoted in April 2003 after John Butler died of cancer.

Schottenheimer tightened up the time frame a bit, saying: ``In the last couple of years, there has been very little, if any, dialogue.''

It's believed that the Smith-Schottenheimer feud stems from personnel moves by the GM, including allowing Drew Brees to leave as a free agent a year ago after the quarterback hurt his shoulder in the 2005 season finale.

``I have no idea,'' Schottenheimer said. ``I've made inquiries about it on a number of occasions and he said, 'I don't want to talk about it.'''

The firing was first reported by ESPN.

Schottenheimer's dismissal came after all other NFL head coaching vacancies were filled.

Dean 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.

Every time Schottenheimer's job appeared to be in jeopardy, Pete Carroll's name would pop up. Although Carroll has said he's committed to staying at Southern California, he met with Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga in early January.

Carroll said then he was not offered the Miami coaching job, and stressed that he has never thought about leaving USC since arriving after the 2000 season.

Spanos said in a statement that he had expected that the core of Schottenheimer's coaching staff would remain intact.

``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,'' Spanos said in a statement. ``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.''

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was hired as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was hired as head coach of the Miami Dolphins on Jan. 19.

Tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski became Cleveland's offensive coordinator, and linebackers coach Greg Manusky was hired as San Francisco's defensive coordinator.

Schottenheimer said last week that change was inevitable, but Smith sounded concerned about losing the coordinators, saying, ``Both in the same year. Wow.''

Although Schottenheimer was given the power to hire and fire assistants, neither Spanos nor Smith provided specifics of what they kept referring to as an ``untenable situation.''

``We both wanted to win a world championship very badly,'' Smith said during a conference call. ``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.''

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 status.

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.

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.