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San Diego Sportscene / Dave Distel

Was This Really Poetic Justice?

October 02, 1985|DAVE DISTEL

"The game is played to win

success and failure


is calculated

by this scale."

--Tom Bass

Pro Football From the Inside


Alex Spanos was displeased. The Chargers had won, but he did not like the way they had won.

This was nine days ago, or a day after that wild 44-41 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. It was kind of exciting to win on a field goal with four seconds to play, but distressing that such dramatics should have been necessary with 41 points already on the board.

Addressing the subject of defense, Spanos said: "I know a lot of effort has gone into it, and it's true we have some very inexperienced kids, but we've got to do something about our defense."

Thus, Spanos could not have been pleased when the lackluster Cleveland Browns rolled through his defensive unit for 440 yards Sunday.

With the prolonged Gary Anderson negotiations finally out of the way, Spanos proved that he can move rather swiftly when a decision is unilateral in nature. He "did something" about the defense Tuesday.

He fired Tom Bass.

This was not a decision which figured to shock anybody, though the Charger front office seemed to be caught completely off guard. The press conference was called about 25 minutes before it happened, and the announcement was made in what was obviously a hastily typed release.

Among Charger fans, the only surprise was that it took so long to happen. Defensive coordinators have been scapegoats hereabouts throughout the '80s, when Charger games have typically been scoring orgies--no matter which side had the ball.

Bass came to the position in 1982, after Jack Pardee had been washed out of town on waves of pressure and criticism. That was the strike season, and it was understood that no one could be properly evaluated in such a year. However, the Chargers were winning (and losing) games by scores such as 41-37, 50-34 and 41-34.

"We're getting more of the same," cried the multitudes.

Patience, what little there was, virtually disappeared in the 1983 season, when games were lost 41-29, 34-31, 37-21, 44-14, 42-10 and won 41-34 and 41-38. Notice that the losses were starting to out-number the wins.

However, patience could still be expected. This offensive-oriented organization had paid little heed to its defensive needs until the 1983 draft, and that was certainly not the fault of the defensive coordinator.

The defense just had to be improved in 1984, right? In another dismal season, games were lost by scores of 33-30, 44-37, 52-24 and 42-21. It was once again more of the same.

And yet Bass was back, rightly so. Those previous three seasons had been disruptive affairs, what with the strike in 1982 and the injuries to Dan Fouts in 1983 and 1984. What's more, the defensive personnel simply did not have the experience and skills to compete in the National Football League.

Frankly, I don't know if the experience and skills are there this year either, but the results have continued to be worse than mediocre. Each of the first four opponents have amassed more than 400 yards in total offense, ranging from a low of 440 yards to a high of 489 yards. Games cannot be won with such defensive performances.

And so it is that Tom Bass came to be another of the Chargers' former defensive coordinators. After all, the game is played to win. Bass, of course, understands that. He included that line in a poem he wrote entitled "Frank Buncom and So Many More."

However, in specialized areas of coaching, success or failure is measured in areas other than wins or losses. Those defensive numbers--all those yards and all those points--can disturb an owner even after a winning game.

Alex Spanos first expressed his chagrin at the defense after that win over Cincinnati. He wanted improvement, and made it clear he wanted it immediately.

It did not happen.

Bass is the first of the Charger coaches to be fired in the Spanos regime, and be forewarned he will not be the last. He may not even be the last this year, and don't expect that Spanos will consider Dan Fouts' latest injury to be an excuse.

Indeed, there will be no excuses with Alex Spanos. His people are expected to do the job, whether they are building a football team or apartments. If a group of workers bungles a project on one of Spanos' construction projects, I suspect the foreman is the fellow who gets the ax.

And this was not the first time the ax had fallen on Level 1A at the stadium. The two top men in scouting, administrative assistant John Trump and chief scout Red Phillips, were fired on the same day last February.

Thus, Bass was not the first to be fired by Spanos and he won't be the last. Only the latest.

Tom Bass will likely find the firing to be an unburdening. He deserved better than all the booing and nasty letters from people who did not know him.

On an afternoon when folks around the Charger offices were tense and uncommunicative, Bass took his demise whimsically and with class: "I'm going to sleep in in the morning, then I'm going to go to Diego's and not think about football much."

Puffing on one of his giant cigars, Bass had a twinkle in his eye. Diego's, a disco with wildly blinking lights and television screens, is hardly a place he is likely to be found. For a man with such a foreboding sideline countenance, he is a sensitive sort whose interests run to listening to the symphony and writing poetry.

There will be time now for those better things in life, time for measurements other than wins or losses.

" . . . For in the years to come

the value

of being a winner on a team

will seem so small

to being

a winner

as a man."

-- Ibid

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