A Letter to A.J. Smith: Keep Marty

marty.jpgDear A.J.,

You've probably been sleeping for hours by now. Or maybe not. Maybe you're still up, wondering how the team you're general manager of -- the San Diego Chargers -- just had its season ended.

Maybe you're replaying some of the freak occurrences that led San Diego to blow a game it was clearly dominating -- the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that salvaged a dead New England drive, the interception turned fumble turned game-tying Patriot touchdown.

And maybe, like the rest of the sports world, you want to blame Marty Schottenheimer for it, and fire him. Sure, he wins regular season games by the ton and pretty much everyone but you loves him, but he can't win the big one, right?

Well, the bus has arrived. All you have to do is throw him under it.

Don't do it.

Yes, he's lost six consecutive playoff games. Yes, he made some mistakes in this one that, in retrospect, could have changed the outcome. But to blame Marty for this 24-21 loss -- that's like blaming a guy in a rubber suit for being killed by lightning.

Sometimes, to paraphrase an expression, stuff happens.

Granted, it seems to happen to Marty a lot. As he said himself after the game:

"Anytime you're in the playoffs and lose, and certainly I have plenty of experience at it, there's a disappointment."

But the only reason the San Diego Chargers were in this game was Marty Schottenheimer.

If you've forgotten, just think back a few years, when San Diego was a franchise in total disarray, known more for Ryan Leaf's televised tantrums than anything else.

Then Marty came to town.

And like he has with every other team he's coached, he turned it around. Brought in players like Donnie Edwards. Made his team responsible for itself, and for striving for excellence. He even changed up Martyball, turning the Chargers into a team that has electrified the NFL for two straight seasons.

Don't believe me? Just ask your players. After one of the most devastating losses in recent memory for any team, they were imploring you to keep the coach who got them here.

"As players, we failed this organization," defensive tackle Luis Castillo said, his voice quavering. "This had nothing to do with ownership, nothing to do with coaches. They put us in position to win this game. As players, we made mistakes that you cannot make in a game like this." (L.A. Times)
Linebacker Shaun Phillips, asked about Schottenheimer's future, said, "That's up to the people upstairs. But I plan on playing for Marty the rest of my career." (AP)

If there were any glaring weaknesses in this game, A.J., it was your first-year starter at quarterback, Philip Rivers. He looked frazzled out there.

If only you'd kept that guy who threw for more than 4,000 yards this season -- you know, the one who put the New Orleans Saints into the NFC title game on Saturday? But you let him go. Time to plan for the future, right?

That didn't work out so well.

So maybe instead of jettisoning your guy at the first sign of adversity, you should hang onto him. After a failure like this, can you imagine a team with a bigger chip on its shoulder, or more of a mission for next season? LT is dying to win. Rivers wants to show he can lead this team to glory.

And that Marty guy? I think he wants to win pretty badly, too.

Your team believes in him.

Maybe you should, too.

January 15, 2007 2:23 AM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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