SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Chargers fired Coach Kevin Gilbride on Tuesday after the NFL team's fourth straight loss and replaced him with offensive coordinator June Jones, who reluctantly agreed to be interim coach after only six months with the team.
Gilbride, 47, was in his second season after being signed to a five-year contract and had a record of 6-16. With rookie Ryan Leaf at quarterback, the Chargers won their first two games, but then lost four straight as Leaf was benched during two of the losses.
General Manager Bobby Beathard said the players were losing confidence, and the front office felt a change in direction was needed now before waiting for morale to completely sink later in the season.
"Instead of getting better, maybe we were stagnant, or maybe even regressing some," Beathard said.
"This is a decision that is very awkward, very difficult to make," he said. "But it's one that, after meeting about it several times, we felt we had to make."
The Chargers scored only 22 offensive touchdowns in 22 games under Gilbride, an offensive coordinator in Houston and Jacksonville before taking the San Diego job. Leaf has only one touchdown pass and has turned over the ball 15 times.
Jones, 45, said he reluctantly took the job after the Chargers approached him a couple of times about shifting the direction of the team.
"It was not my ambition to be a head coach again," he said. "And, I was more concerned for Kevin. He brought me here. As assistant coaches, maybe we failed him."
Jones went 19-30 in three seasons (1994-96) as coach at Atlanta, where he spent 1977-81 as a backup quarterback. Considered a guru for young quarterbacks, Jones also is remembered for a sideline blowup with then-Falcon quarterback Jeff George that ended both of their careers with Atlanta.
Ten days after Jones lost the Atlanta job, his wife was given a cancer diagnosis. He said the last year has been difficult for his family, and that also played into his hesitancy to take the Chargers' position.
Gilbride released a statement through the Chargers media relations department saying he was "in a state of shock over the timing of the termination."
"I cannot say I am surprised by the development," he said. "When you are the head football coach and your team does not win as many games as management feels you should, someone is going to he held accountable."
He said he laid a foundation for a bright future for the Chargers.
"Most of the pieces are in place and it's just a matter of time before some of the young players mature into the players they are capable of becoming and the team takes off," he said. "My biggest disappointment is that I will not be a part of it."