SAN DIEGO — After the Chargers had perpetrated another of their last-second giveaways and lost to the Houston Oilers last month, owner Alex Spanos was so exasperated that he went on a brisk three-mile walk just to calm down.
At that stage of the season, the team's record was 5-7, and it appeared questionable, even unlikely, that the Chargers could finish the season at .500 or better. Don Coryell's job as coach was very much on the line.
Spanos, however, did not act rashly. Although one of his hallmarks is impatience, the Charger owner does not make strategic, long-range decisions on a whim.
Spanos' willingness to go the distance with Coryell resulted in three wins in the final four games and an 8-8 record. It also led to a new commitment to his coach and a reorganization of his staff that should prove popular with players and fans alike.
As expected, Spanos announced Monday that Coryell's contract has been renewed through 1987, a one-year extension of a deal that was to expire at the end of 1986.
He also announced the promotion of Al Saunders, 39, to assistant head coach. Saunders, who will serve as liaison between the staff and Spanos, is viewed as the heir-apparent to Coryell. He has served as receivers' coach since 1983 and will continue in that role.
Ernie Zampese, who had borne the title of assistant head coach, was designated offensive coordinator in what represents a lateral move rather than a demotion for the team's chief offensive strategist.
It was an emotional day for Coryell, whose eyes glistened as he faced a contingent of reporters and TV cameras.
At one point, while discussing the Charger defense, Coryell predicted fans would be shocked by the improvements he expects by next season. "Players have to be kicked around a little," he said. "They need the experience of playing over an extended period. The ones who survive the hard knocks come back better."
Coryell was asked if those remarks might apply as well to his experience this season.
"Well, I've been through problems I never had before, like seeing my wife pick up the paper and read my job was on the line," he replied. "I can wipe that sort of thing from my mind and go back to work. But it was new to me.
"I have a pretty good way of blocking out anything I don't want to face. It's the only way I've survived as long as I have. I create my own pressure. I try to satisfy myself. My first year as a high school coach, I put as much pressure on myself as I did this year."
Coryell said he learned last Wednesday he would be retained as coach. At that time, Spanos had publicly announced his satisfaction with the season, which effectively removed any doubt that Coryell would be back.
Coryell said he is very excited about the chance to see the current nucleus of young players develop in the short-term future.
"I want to go out on top as a real winner," the coach said. "I want to be part of this team when it wins. I don't want to wait. I want to win now."