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Playoff Pasted

Chargers' Marty Schottenheimer has 200 victories in the NFL, but he is looking to improve on a 5-12 postseason record

January 14, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The last time Marty Schottenheimer won a playoff game was in the 1993 season, when his Kansas City Chiefs, led by Joe Montana, beat Warren Moon's Houston Oilers in the Houston Astrodome.

So that came against a team that no longer exists, in a mothballed stadium, with two quarterbacks now in the Hall of Fame.

Yes, it has been quite a while.

Schottenheimer, now San Diego's coach, aims to end that streak of futility today when the Chargers play host to New England in an AFC divisional playoff game at Qualcomm Stadium. He has lost five consecutive playoff games, one with San Diego and four with Kansas City, making him the league's most notorious postseason pushover.

"They talk about the football gods," said Schottenheimer, 63, who is 5-12 in the playoffs as coach of the Cleveland Browns, Chiefs and Chargers. "You can go back and see all the different things that occurred, plays we made and plays we didn't make....I'm not uncomfortable talking about the fact that the playoff record is miserable."

In 21 seasons as a coach, including one season with the Washington Redskins, Schottenheimer has won 200 regular-season games. The other coaches who reached that milestone -- Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry and Curly Lambeau -- all won multiple Super Bowls or NFL titles. Schottenheimer's teams have never been to a Super Bowl.

Some of the games in which his team came up short were so epic, they're remembered simply by nicknames. There was "the Drive" in January 1987, when John Elway led Denver to victory over Cleveland in the AFC championship game. The next season came "the Fumble," when Browns running back Earnest Byner lost the ball at the goal line at Denver for another championship loss. There were the two seasons the top-seeded Chiefs became the one-and-done Chiefs.

Then, there were the Chargers two years ago. They played host to the New York Jets in a wild-card game and overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime. In the extra period, San Diego had a first down at the New York 22 and had a chance to turn a good-percentage field-goal try into an even easier one. The Chargers played it safe -- a maddening earmark of Schottenheimer's offensive strategy -- and ran it up the middle three times for a total of one yard. Then-rookie Nate Kaeding missed a 40-yard try, the Jets marched down the field and won with a field goal of their own, and the Schottenheimer curse lived on.

Schottenheimer's greatest regret from that game? He ran onto the field to confront the officials after punter Mike Scifres took a dive. The coach was flagged, and that 15-yard penalty helped the Jets set up a tying touchdown near the end of the first half. Asked recently by the Associated Press what he would change if he were to get one playoff mulligan, Schottenheimer referred to that moment.

"I'd stay the hell off the field," he said. "I violated a basic principle of mine, and that is, don't do anything that puts your football team in a position where that action has affected the outcome of the game. The bottom line is, that ain't your job. So I got a triple-bogey."

One of his former Browns, Doug Dieken, also uses a golf analogy in describing the concept of "Martyball," the derisive nickname for Schottenheimer's conservative style.

"It's like when you're getting to the 18th hole and you're up by one, and you hit an iron off the tee instead of going for it with a driver," said Dieken, a longtime left tackle who played half a season for Schottenheimer before being cut. He's now a radio analyst for Browns games.

To Schottenheimer, however, Martyball is a myth.

"I don't believe it to be true," he said. "The way we went about things may have appeared that way, may have manifested itself that way. But everything we ever did in terms of preparing to play and win was determined by one thing -- what is it the people you have do best? That's the critical question that must be accurately answered to be successful in coaching in this league.

"You can't go around doing things that your players aren't particularly suited to do."

Offensively, the 2006 Chargers do everything well. They led the NFL in points, touchdowns and red-zone efficiency. LaDainian Tomlinson was selected the league's most valuable player and set NFL season records in points, touchdowns and rushing touchdowns. Philip Rivers, in his first season as the starting quarterback, showed uncommon poise despite a couple of shaky games down the stretch. And San Diego closed the season with a 10-game winning streak.

Along the way, Schottenheimer was praised for letting his coaches coach. Specifically, he let his coordinators make a lot of decisions. With Cam Cameron overseeing the offense and Wade Phillips watching over the defense, the Chargers emerged as the league's most balanced team.

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