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Schottenheimer lies low

While his job appears to be in jeopardy, Chargers coach stays out of sight and meets players.

January 16, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Chargers are done, and their coach might be too.

Marty Schottenheimer's future dangled in limbo Monday, a day after top-seeded San Diego was eliminated by the New England Patriots in its postseason opener. It was the sixth consecutive loss in the playoffs for a Schottenheimer-coached team.

LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Luis Castillo were made available to answer questions Monday, and each of the star players said he supports keeping Schottenheimer, who coached the team to a 14-2 record in the regular season, best in the AFC. But each also acknowledged the NFL is a business, and hiring and firing decisions are not part of their job description.

"The continuity and trust in that locker room starts with Marty Schottenheimer," Gates said. "But you worry about the things you can control."

Schottenheimer was said to be meeting individually with his players -- a common practice for coaches after the season -- and was not available for comment.

"I think he's done a tremendous job," Tomlinson said. "In my opinion, there comes a time where the players have got to get the coach over the hump. And obviously, a lot of things we did as a team [Sunday], Marty didn't have any control over it."

The Chargers made a slew of errors Sunday, from dropped passes to sloppy turnovers to silly penalties, mistakes they had largely avoided all season. After the game, Castillo and linebacker Shaun Phillips, housemates, returned home to torture themselves by watching a TiVo replay.

"You just want to go back and watch it and see what went wrong," Castillo said. "And it was obvious. We knew right after the game that we made critical mistakes that you cannot make in a game like that. I'll say this: they were mistakes that had nothing to do with coaching.

"There's no way to coach a player down from his emotions. There's no way to coach a player to not get a personal foul. You can only say so much. The interception that was fumbled that they picked up and gave them another chance, the dropped punt ... it's things that were in our control. We messed up, and as players we accept that responsibility."

The Chargers probably will make a coaching decision in days, not weeks. Cam Cameron, their offensive coordinator and a possible replacement for Schottenheimer, has interviewed for other head-coaching vacancies. He met with the Arizona Cardinals, who Sunday hired Pittsburgh Steelers assistant Ken Whisenhunt, and the Miami Dolphins. Another Chargers assistant who could be promoted is Wade Phillips, their defensive coordinator and former coach of the Buffalo Bills.

Should the Chargers fire Schottenheimer, they would owe him $3 million for the year remaining on his contract. That's one of the factors that could dissuade them from pursuing a high-priced candidate such as USC's Pete Carroll, who recently interviewed with the Dolphins.

Schottenheimer's son, Brian, offensive coordinator of the New York Jets, also interviewed with the Dolphins but Monday removed his name from consideration, scuttling speculation that father and son would team up -- the son as head coach and the father as a coordinator.

Carroll, who has said he plans to stay at USC, has entertained the notion of returning to the NFL. But he wants total control, something he wouldn't have with the Chargers. In San Diego, General Manager A.J. Smith is an influential voice in steering the franchise.

Smith and Schottenheimer have an icy relationship, and it's believed the tension concerns differences over personnel decisions. The coach was angered last season, for instance, that he wasn't consulted before Smith traded Cleo Lemon to the Dolphins. Lemon, a reserve quarterback, was a Schottenheimer favorite.

Apparently, coach and general manager also had a difference of opinion on quarterback Drew Brees, who wound up in New Orleans and this season was runner-up to Tomlinson as the NFL's most valuable player.

Brees, who was replaced as the starter by Philip Rivers, does little to hide his disdain for Smith. Earlier this season, he said that he had no problem with his former teammates, the assistant coaches or Schottenheimer.

"Those guys believed in me, and I believed in them," Brees said. "It was just one or two people at the top who wanted to give Philip a shot."

Rivers played well in his first season as a starter, and Smith has been widely praised for some of his draft-day decisions. The Chargers traded No. 1 pick Eli Manning to the New York Giants, for instance, and got Pro Bow Bowl selections Rivers, Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding in exchange.

But Brees and the Saints are still alive in the playoffs. They play at Chicago on Sunday and are one victory away from reaching the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.

As for Schottenheimer, he has 200 regular-season victories, the most of any active coach, yet has not played for the Lombardi Trophy in his 21 seasons leading a team. The other coaches who reached the 200 milestone -- Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry and Curly Lambeau -- all won multiple Super Bowls or NFL titles.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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