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Chargers' Brain Trust Hoping to Avoid a Bobbery

December 07, 1996|T.J. SIMERS

Right now it can only be a prediction: Bobby Ross will not be coaching the San Diego Chargers next season.

Right now Bobby Ross says he is not interested in any other job. And Bobby Beathard, the team's general manager, says, "Ross will be the coach next year."

The "Two Bobbies," signed through the 1999 season, have been a dynamic duo and have guided the Chargers to three playoff appearances in the last four seasons. Their very presence, which has pleased San Diego fans, allowed Charger ownership to ramrod a city-subsidized $78-million, 10,000-seat expansion to San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

A divorce now would appear to make no sense, but there may be grounds for a split based on irreconcilable differences, although it would not come to that if Ross simply left to return to his first love: college football.

--Irreconcilable differences. Beathard and Ross will meet after the season, and Beathard is expected to suggest/demand that Ross dismiss offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen and defensive coordinator Dave Adolph.

"If it gets to that, OK then, there are going to be some tough decisions," Ross said.

The two words used most often in describing Ross are "intensity" and "loyalty." Friedgen and Ross have been coaching together for more than 20 years, and Ross hired Adolph two years ago to replace the retiring Bill Arnsparger.

"I have always talked to him about his staff, but we haven't gotten to that point this season," Beathard said. "We have always had a relationship where we are free to tell each other our opinions. What those opinions are now, I can't say. They are not completely formulated."

Beathard and Ross say they have a great working relationship, but behind the scenes there are differences one would expect to find in two men who have been previously successful by doing things their own ways. Ross maintains tight control over his assistants, does not accept criticism of players or coaches, and believes the front-office staff should remain in the front office.

"There is a side of the program [in professional football] in which there are other people who have input on things that you're not used to in college," Ross said. "I worked for athletic directors that stayed completely away.

"With this, you do have to put up with that to some extent, but I'm a military guy, I know how to respect authority. I may not like it all the time, but I've been able to work with it."

Beathard, who scouts more than any other general manager to get a feel for college players, likes to do the same when in town, talking to his players and coaches to better understand the mood of the team. However, he no longer makes as many visits to the Charger coaching offices.

That is no big deal when a team is winning, but the Chargers appear near collapse, and everyone concerned is frustrated.

Players have been quoted, anonymously, challenging the coaching staff's ability to motivate players. A year ago, players such as Natrone Means, Leslie O'Neal and Ronnie Harmon were the scapegoats for missed expectations, and the Chargers had made the playoffs. This year, the assistant coaches are under the gun.

Beathard, although as obliging and friendly as any general manager in the league, is ruthless when it comes to assembling what he believes will be a winning team. Insiders say he has the highest regard for Ross, but he has become increasingly frustrated with Ross' unwillingness to accept suggestions.

Beathard has ideas on what will turn the Chargers around. He will not surrender to Ross' loyalty if it is a roadblock, and knowing Ross as he does, there is a feeling here he already knows Ross will not back down.

When it came to firing Dan Henning as coach six years ago, Beathard had Ross in mind with more than a month left in the regular season.

Has Beathard already decided who will coach the Chargers next season if Ross leaves? Northwestern's Gary Barnett? Philadelphia defensive coordinator and former Redskin assistant Emmitt Thomas? Or, the Alex and Dean Spanos choice for many years, Florida's Steve Spurrier?

"I would expect Bobby to be coaching here next year," Beathard said. "Bobby is very intense. When I was asking people about him when I was thinking about hiring him, no one could think of any negatives or limitations, although one close friend said, 'He's much too hard on himself and he's always carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.'

"I hate to see him when he gets that way, but listen, any problems we have are not his fault."

--First love. Ross is the quintessential college coach. He believes in morality, hard work and pep talks, and over an 11-week span, that rings true with impressionable youth. Push that hard beginning in July, as he does with the pros, and try to fire up the troops day after day for the next five months, and as he said recently, "It's nowhere near as much fun as in college football."

Has Ross already decided to quit?

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