|AP Interview: Spanos seeks playoff continuity for Bolts in wake of dysfunctional finish|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 09 August 2007 11:40|
Marty Schottenheimer is gone, and the Chargers toil through training camp under his replacement, Norv Turner. Expectations are so high after last year's 14-2 finish that many Chargers fans will be disappointed with anything less than a Super Bowl win.
Team president Dean Spanos has a good feeling about this team, too. But he's a bit more reasoned as the Chargers move beyond their offseason shakeup.
``Our goal is to get back to the playoffs,'' Spanos said in a recent interview. ``I'm not really focused on the record. And I think the team is, too. Let's just get back and win that first game in the playoffs and see where we go from there.''
A simple goal, it seems, for a team that sat atop the NFL at the end of last season, only to encounter some unexpected mayhem.
On Jan. 14, the Chargers melted down in a stunning 24-21 home loss to New England in their playoff opener.
Schottenheimer was supposed to return for the final year of his contract, but Spanos suddenly fired him on Feb. 12. The coach was deemed the fall guy in what Spanos described as a ``dysfunctional situation'' with general manager A.J. Smith. The Chargers already had seen both coordinators, Cam Cameron (Miami) and Wade Phillips (Dallas), hired away as head coaches, and other assistants leave for promotions elsewhere.
``Obviously it was an extremely disappointing end to our season last year, losing that first playoff game, and then obviously the next 30 days was a huge change for us, OK?'' Spanos said. ``We got by it. I like the change. Since then it's been business as usual.''
Schottenheimer and Smith didn't talk to each other for the longest time. Their feud ``had a life of its own,'' Spanos said.
``This is all about working relationships and success,'' Spanos said. ``I guess you can take whatever you want from that. But this team was successful. They may have had different philosophies on how you do it, but I think they were both good at what they do.''
Turner and Smith ``have a really good working relationship, and that's important,'' Spanos said.
Spanos' father, Alex, has owned the Chargers since 1984. After Alex Spanos and then-GM Bobby Beathard clashed over the signing of free agents at the beginning of 1994, Spanos put his son in charge of day-to-day operations.
Dean Spanos has presided over a few highs and lots of lows. The Chargers reached the Super Bowl following the 1994 season and lost big to San Francisco. They returned to the playoffs the following season, lost their opener, then disappeared for nine years. That stretch included another GM-coach feud, which Beathard won over Bobby Ross; the Ryan Leaf and Kevin Gilbride debacles; and a 1-15 finish in 2000.
Schottenheimer pulled the Chargers out of that long funk, leading them to two playoff appearances in the last three seasons. Both ended with disappointing home playoff losses, running their playoff streak to 0-4.
The Chargers would like to be as successful in the postseason as Indianapolis, New England and Pittsburgh, which have combined to win five of the last six Super Bowls.
While Indianapolis won the Super Bowl in February, Spanos points out the Colts lost their playoff opener the previous season after finishing an NFL-best 14-2.
``But the one thing that they've done and I know that we're trying to do is just get to the playoffs every year and be one of the perennial teams that gets there and continues to play. The more times you get there, the more chances you have a shot to win a world championship.''
The Chargers are generally considered the NFL's most-talented team, with reigning league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson heading a roster that includes 11 Pro Bowlers and five All-Pros. While Smith stockpiled talent through the draft and extended long-term contracts to several players, Schottenheimer led them to a 35-13 record the last three seasons.
San Diego has defeated the AFC's big three during the last two regular seasons, winning on the road in 2005 against the Patriots and Colts - San Diego wrecked Indy's perfect season after a 13-0 start - then beating Pittsburgh at home last season.
With this franchise, January has been the problem.
While a lot was there for the taking last year, Spanos thinks the Chargers' window of opportunity will remain open for years to come.
``I think if there's anything you take from the last three years is that this team can play with any team in the National Football League and beat them,'' Spanos said. ``I think that's what you strive to get to because that's how you win a championship. You have to be able to compete. And the talent on this team, I think, speaks for itself.
``We've proven we can win during the season. Now the next step is to get to the postseason and try to win. That continuity really helps.''