When Marty Schottenheimer addressed the audience at his first San Diego Chargers kickoff luncheon, his message was simple and direct. “We will win,” he said.
The cities change, the players change, but one thing doesn’t change. Marty Schottenheimer wins. He won in Cleveland, he won in Kansas City and he built another winner in San Diego, which may be his greatest achievement of all.
In 2004, Schottenheimer led the unheralded Chargers to a 12-4 regular season record and first place in the AFC Western Division. He was the Maxwell Club’s choice for the 16th annual Greasy Neale Award as NFL Coach of the Year. He also was named NFL Coach of the Year by the Associated Press.
Prior to the season, most experts picked San Diego to finish last in its division. It was impossible to find anyone outside the organization who thought the team had a prayer of making the playoffs. When the Chargers opened the season by losing two of their first three games, it appeared the gloomy forecasts were accurate.
But Schottenheimer turned the team around with the help of quarterback Drew Brees, the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year, running back LaDanian Tomlinson, who led the AFC with 18 touchdowns, and a rugged defense, which ranked third in the league against the run. The Chargers won nine of their last 10 regular season games and Schottenheimer was in the playoffs for the 12th time, third most among NFL coaches all-time.
“He stuck with the things he knows are going to help us win,” Brees said of Schottenheimer. “There are certain things he has done in 21 years of coaching. He’s had 19 winning seasons. He knows that’s how you win games. On the other hand, he’s done a few things differently, knowing that if you keep doing the same things, you’re not going to get the same results.”
Schottenheimer changed his approach, opening up the offense which scored 446 points, third in the NFL behind only Indianapolis and Kansas City. It was a departure from the conservative days of “Martyball” in Cleveland and Kansas City when Schottenheimer’s teams pounded away on the ground. Brees finished as the second rated passer in the AFC, trailing only Peyton Manning.
Schottenheimer also invited input from the players, creating a veterans’ committee which met with him weekly to suggest ways to improve the work environment. New ideas were adopted, from allowing the players to bring their cars to training camp to changing the menu in the dining hall. The players also suggested cutting back on the heavy hitting at training camp and Schottenheimer agreed.
In his first season with the Chargers, 2002, Schottenheimer went 16 straight days at the start of training camp without giving the players a day off. It was full speed, twice a day. This season, the players told Schottenheimer they would stay fresher if he scaled back the practice schedule and gave them more time to recover. He agreed.
“He was really open to different ideas,” said linebacker Steve Foley, who led the team with 10 sacks. “Last year, the team was in full pads every day from the beginning to the end. This year, when we mentioned (changing) he was like, ‘Hmm, I don’t know about that.’ Then he said, ‘OK, if you guys feel that way, I’ll consider it.'”
The change paid dividends for the players and Schottenheimer as well.
“This is a season of change,” he said. “If there’s any question in your mind whether you should or shouldn’t, then you should change.”
Schottenheimer ranks eighth all-time among NFL coaches with 177 victories and his winning percentage of .602 is eighth among coaches with a minimum of 200 games. Counting this season, he has led three different franchises to at least one season of 12-4 or better.
“The job of a coach is to create situations where there is no uncertainty, where players can go play without anxiety,” Schottenheimer said. “You have to teach. That’s the essence of coaching.”
San Diego Chargers