SAN DIEGO — On Aug. 1, 1984, Alex Spanos wrote out a check for more than $40 million and purchased controlling interest in the Chargers from Gene Klein.
Since that day, he has been an activist owner, reshaping the organization to his taste, pointing toward his dream--a date in Super Bowl XXII in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
Spanos, 62, one of the nation's largest apartment builders, is an energetic man who flies an average of 6,000 miles a week overseeing his Stockton-based construction business. He usually spends two or three days a week in San Diego and recently discussed his plans for the Chargers.
Question: After two years as owner, you have your people in place in key positions and the team bears your stamp. Are you satisfied with the direction the team is going?
Answer: It's obvious--I made a commitment two years ago. I feel very, very comfortable about fulfilling it. As far as offense, we're better than we've been in past years. The defense obviously needs improvement. We're definitely going to have some improvement this year. I can say I've never been more satisfied.
Q: What has been the most satisfying thing you've accomplished?
A: It's difficult to pick just one thing. But I would say bringing discipline to this organization. I strongly believe that there isn't any organization that can work without any discipline. It's just impossible.
Q: How do you define discipline in a pro football operation?
A: We have all these divisions and offices that have to learn to work with each other. In the past one department never knew what the other did or what the problems were. Now they're able to work together. Discipline carries a lot further than that, but that's the start of it.
Q: The methods that succeeded in the construction field have been applied to football?
A: Absolutely. It's no different. Good leadership is needed in both areas, and that's what I've tried to give it. I've never been happier with our administration or coaching.
Q: Have there been surprises along the way?
A: A lot of them. It's no secret the club, what it is today compared to three years ago, it's obvious I've made a lot of changes. It's my ballclub, and we're building something here that I want to be here 20 years from now. A winning ballclub. The only thing anyone understands, and the only thing I understand, is winning.
Q: Morale seems higher than it has been in years. The atmosphere seems the way it did in the playoff years. Do you think that comes down from you?
A: Well, I hope so. I certainly like to believe that. Sometimes, I've had to be tough in making changes in coaching, administration and players in fulfilling my commitment. That has to build enthusiasm into anyone.
Q: You've made it clear you would like a playoff spot this year and a Super Bowl next year. Are those realistic goals?
A: Oh, I think so. I really do. Just the fact, if we continue to have the enthusiasm among the players, we can get there this year.
Q: In retaining Don Coryell as head coach, you elevated Al Saunders to the position of assistant head coach and gave him broad powers. Are you happy with how that arrangement is working out?
A: I think Don can answer that question better than anyone. He's never been happier or more pleased. He's still the boss. His record speaks for itself. Hey, he's been one of the top coaches since he's been in the NFL.
Q: At the same time, you are preparing for an orderly transfer of power to Al Saunders in the next year or two, right?
A: Under Don's guidance, we can't go wrong.
Q: You've hired new defensive coaches to give you a blitzing defense. It's been part of your style to educate yourself, but once you feel comfortable in a given area, you're pretty sure of yourself, right?
A: Absolutely. These coaches are young, aggressive and innovative. And well disciplined.
Q: How much more knowledgeable about the game are you than when you bought the team?
A: Oh, my God (laughs). It doesn't take long. I can't believe how much there was to learn. I didn't want to get this involved when I bought the ballclub, but I can honestly say I've really enjoyed it. With all the problems, we've corrected them and I've learned from them.
Q: Do you feel you're on even footing with other owners now?
A: I can't say I've caught up. Some of these guys have been in there 25 years. I've got a lot of ways to catch up. But I have a lot of common sense and good business sense, and I'm able to make a decision. I'm able to make up my mind about something, and accept it right or wrong, and that's the success of any business.
Q: Let's talk about some of the broader problems facing pro football--the lawsuit with the USFL, the TV contract and the collective bargaining agreement. How do you assess the dangers in terms of the profitability of each team?