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San Diego Chargers right to keep Marty Schottenheimer

“Look at what’s happening in San Diego! Herr Schottenheimer may actually get to the Super Bowl…Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!! Ahhhhh ha ha ha ha ha…” – John Tayman of Bang! Cartoons.

It really shocks me how many gut-wrenching cataclysms have befallen star-crossed head coach Marty Schottenheimer. Five times his teams have been the number one seed in the AFC and five times they have failed to convert that opportunity into a Super Bowl appearance. The confluence of misfortune he has endured reached “Perfect Storm” proportions this weekend in the Patriots game. Dropped passes, a fumbled punt, a personal foul to continue a drive that should have resulted in a punt, and a missed field goal at the gun. It sounds as bad as Phil Mickelson’s epic flameout the last three holes at Winged Foot (two trees, two bunkers, a garbage can and the merch tent).

What could the football gods possibly have against Marty because, ESPN opinions aside, this loss – as is true of many of his playoff losses – was not his fault. To quote Douglas Adams, “fate is playing silly buggers with him.”

The difference in Marty’s regular season records and his corresponding playoff record is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. But what everyone is forgetting here is that the teams Marty coached – the Browns, Chiefs and Chargers – have all had a team institutional footprint of dismal regular seasons other than when Marty was there.

Marty takes terrible teams and makes them winners; big winners in the regular season. Maybe, just maybe these over achievers in the regular season just run out of gas in the crucible of the AFC playoffs. Marty’s teams play unbelievable playoff football – for 58 minutes.

Look at these staggering numbers:

Cleveland Browns (four straight years in the playoffs) – Regular season: 41-23 (that’s an average of over 10 wins a season). One year Bernie Kosar was a rookie, the other two are still regarded in holy whispers as among the greatest AFC Championships of all time as John Elway defied logic, then Ernest Byner fumbled away the game. Both were dubbed miraculous and are among the greatest NFL games ever played.
You cannot blame Marty for “The Drive”or “The Fumble.” Those things are out of his hands. By the way, the Browns haven’t done diddly since.

Kansas City Chiefs (seven years in the playoffs out of eight) – Regular Season: 77-35 (avg. = 11 wins per season!) The loss in ’95 is the crusher when, as the number one seed, they lost at home to the 6th seeded Colts when Lin Elliott missed THREE field goals.

You cannot blame Marty for that. By the way, the Chiefs haven’t done diddly since and for the record, apologies to Herm Edwards but he’s wrong, this year’s playoff appearance was a Christmas gift.

San Diego Chargers – The last three years are a triple ulcer. The regular season records are a combined 37-11. That’s an average of over twelve wins a season! But, the cruel fates mock him so! In 2004 as the number one seed, the lowly Jets come in and steal a win on Nate Keading’s missed field goal. In 2005 their 11-5 record did not qualify for the playoffs! (While numerous 8-8 jokes routinely get in from the NFC).

Good Lord! How many 11-5 teams can claim they didn’t qualify for the playoffs? It has to be less than five. (Update coming as soon as I finish my research) Their week 3 loss to Pittsburgh, at home to a field goal at the gun, gave the Steelers the tiebreaker and they went on to win the Super Bowl. Cincinnati is not the only team regretting what might have been.

Then it took the movement of Heaven and Earth for the Pats to steal last week’s epic game. If any one of those bad breaks goes SD’s way, they win.

Do you think Marty didn’t tell his punt returner “protect that football?” Do you think he somehow neglected or overlooked long field goal practice? Do you think he is casual about dropped passes with his receivers?
Most importantly, do you think he didn’t tell his team “no stupid penalties?” Of course not. Not Marty, a graceful and classy man, even in defeat. One devastatingly and untimely dumb penalty is not enough to condemn Schottenheimer who does not instill his players to be cavalier, swaggering, or overly emotional. Brian Billick? Him I’d hang for lack of discipline of players. Mike Tice? Definitely. Jerry Glanville, Art Shell, Dave Wannstadt? Of course. Marvin Lewis? Good Lord, of course – can you believe the “revenge of karma” the Jailbird Bengals got a sweet, sweet dose of with their hated nemesis the Steelers finishing them off in Cinci for a second season in a row? (“We don’t go, you don’t go! Who dey? Who Dey? Pittsburgh Steelers, that’s who!) Why it’s enough to make Bootsie Collins trash a hotel room!

No, I have to agree with Steve Czaban here and here. It’s a long, terrible run of bad luck. Shockingly long, cathartic in its sadness, almost Boston Red Sox-like in its massive confluence of high profile disasters at literally the 11th-hour-and 58th-minute. But precious little can actually be accounted to Marty even if it looks over and over again like “Marty being Marty.”

“He’ll get you close…and that’s all” wrote Czabe. Job 38:11 says it differently in the Bible: “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” But it can’t happen forever.
Look, I may not know much about “cover 2” and “hot reads” and 3rd down packages, but I sure know something about “It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up.”

By God, I sure do know something about that…and Marty Schottenheimer takes franchises that were abject failures and instills pride, passion and a winning attitude to the team, the organization, the fans and the city. How well do you think San Diego would do with Art Shell? Tom Coughlin? Ron Rivera? Dave Wannstadt?

“It wasn’t Marty’s fault” said dejected but still faithful Chargers fan Matt Light. “It’s one thing if he called weird plays or had the team poorly prepared. But there comes a point where it’s out of the coaches hands and the players have to play and the players didn’t execute what clearly was a game plan that was working.”

“This one hurts bad” agreed life-long San Diego denizen David Glickman, “but blaming Marty is not the answer and firing him is a big, bad step in the wrong direction. It’s a knee jerk reaction that we have gotten too used to in sports. Instant gratification may say ‘fire the coach’ but instant gratification only makes things worse. The NFL right now is about patience and long term. Our year will come. Look at the Steelers. They went 15-1 and lost a heartbreaker to the Pats in the AFC Championship, then won the next year when no one expected it.”

Marty has one more year on his contract with the Chargers. I feel for him. All next year loudmouth “analysts” looking to create a story where they shouldn’t will have him “on the coaches’ hot seat” and ask repeatedly “should he be fired” and likely as not in the incredibly competitive AFC, Marty’s Chargers, playing a tough first place schedule, will fall back a bit.

Then maybe Marty will be free to try the NFC. Once again, some down-trodden franchise like Detroit or Arizona or who knows where, will find itself winning. It always seems that just when it seems darkest, dawn comes. Just when you least expect it, the unexpected happens (especially in the NFL!) As Jerry Garcia joyfully sang:

Once in a while you can get shown the light
in the strangest of places if you look at it right.

Some time when we least expect it, Marty will finally get through to the Super Bowl. Just when we all thought it couldn’t happen, like with Bill Cowher…and the Patriots in 2001 against the Rams…and the ’69 Jets…and the Giants against the Bills. If I had to bet, I’d say Marty’s too good a coach to let this eat him up (he’s had too much practice at being devastated already for this to finish him) and he’s too good a coach for these long odds to continue.

And then he’ll finish the job…and we will all celebrate heartily.

You don’t fire 37-11. You don’t fire the guy who taught the franchise repeated years of winning. You don’t have a reactionary response when dealing with a sports franchise. You act wisely and for the long term. Failure and success, you cannot have one without knowing the other. Marty’s time will come…and if not, he sure gave you a better ride than years of 7-9.

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