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Riley Swiftly Fired by the Chargers

Pro football: A day after season-ending ninth consecutive loss, the coach courted by USC last off-season is ousted for 'bottom line' after three ugly seasons in San Diego.

January 01, 2002|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The San Diego Chargers won five times as many games this season as they did in 2000, but that wasn't enough to save Coach Mike Riley's job.

Riley, whose team finished with a nine-game losing streak, was fired Monday after three seasons with the Chargers. The Chargers, a team that went 1-15 last season, collapsed after a promising 5-2 start.

"It just came down to one bottom line, and that's winning football games," General Manager John Butler said at a news conference. "Unfortunately, that didn't take place as much as we hoped this year and previous years. That's the bottom line."

Riley, 48, could well have become USC's coach a year ago. School administrators met with him after Oregon State's Dennis Erickson and Oregon's Mike Belotti had said they weren't interested in the job after the firing of Paul Hackett. Riley could not guarantee he would take the job if offered it, so the Trojans moved on to Pete Carroll, and eventually hired him.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday January 10, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Mike Riley's record--Mike Riley's winning percentages as coach of the San Diego Chargers were incorrect in a Jan. 1 Sports chart. Riley's winning percentages were .500 in 1999, .063 in 2000, .313 in 2001 and .292 overall.

Butler fired Riley only hours after a 25-22 loss to Seattle on Sunday. It was the season finale for the Chargers, who finish with a bye and are out of the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.

Riley, typically upbeat, was so even in the face of the setback. He met with reporters and said he'd expressed his gratitude to team President Dean Spanos for entrusting him with his first NFL job.

"The best thing in a deal like this is to be grateful, and I'm grateful for this chance," said Riley, hired in January 1999 by then-General Manager Bobby Beathard. "I appreciate the Spanos family. I told Dean, I appreciated the opportunity. Not many people get to do this."

The only coach from Riley's staff who will be retained is offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the former Washington Redskin coach who has three years remaining on his contract. Asked if Turner is a candidate to replace Riley, Butler said, "I haven't even given that any thought, haven't talked about it, don't have any ideas on any successor right now."

The early favorite to replace Riley is Ted Cottrell, defensive coordinator for the New York Jets. Butler is believed to be leaning toward hiring a defense-minded coach, and Cottrell worked under him with the Buffalo Bills from 1993-2000, the last three seasons as defensive coordinator. Jet Coach Herman Edwards said he will allow the Chargers to interview Cottrell if they ask.

"It would be nice to get the interviews, because every time you do that, you feel more at ease, and hopefully sooner or later someone says yes to you and gives you the opportunity," Cottrell said.

Butler has loaded the Charger front office and roster with former Bills, notably quarterback Doug Flutie and end Marcellus Wiley.

The Chargers have fired three coaches--June Jones, Kevin Gilbride and Riley--since Bobby Ross was forced out after the 1996 season.

Although speculation swirled that Riley was gone, Butler said the decision to fire him was made Sunday night. He added, however, that Riley would not have saved his job by beating Seattle.

Riley has two years remaining on his contract and will collect $1.5 million. There is speculation he is a candidate for the vacant job at Indiana University, where he would work under Athletic Director Michael McNeely, a former Charger vice president and chief operating officer. Stanford, which lost Coach Tyrone Willingham to Notre Dame, also might be interested. Riley coached for two seasons at Oregon State before moving to the Chargers.

"I don't want to jump into anything," he said. "I don't want to assume anything. I want to coach, obviously, again. I'd like my next job to be my last one. I would like to go and build something and be able to leave something there that's good."

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Associated Press contributed to this report

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Mike Riley File

Mike Riley was named the 12th head coach in Chargers' history on Jan. 10, 1999. He was head coach at Oregon State from 1997-98, in the Canadian Football League with Winnipeg from 1987-1990, and in the World League with San Antonio from 1991-92. At Winnipeg, he had a 40-32 record and won two Grey Cup championships. Riley was named the CFL's coach of the year after the 1988 and '90 seasons. He was fired by the Chargers on Monday. His record at San Diego:

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Year Wins Losses % 1999 8 8 .500 2000 1 15 .067 2001 5 11 .454 Totals 14 34 .412

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