Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sack dances and discipline

The San Diego Chargers lost to a lesser team last Sunday, and a great deal of newspaper ink has been devoted to discussion of why they did so. One consensus that seems to have emerged is that it was not the fault of Marty Schottenheimer, head coach. Sure, he challenged a call at a bad time and there was one time that he called time out when he should not have, but he did not drop perfect passes and certain interceptions and it was not he that committed personal fouls that gave Patriot drives new life.

There is talk that Schottenheimer is likely to be fired. Union-Tribune sportswriter Tim Sullivan says that would be neither right nor fair, and Nick Canepa doesn't say so directly but leaves a clear impression that he is of the same mind. These are two writers, persons, for whom I have great respect. Both are profound students of the game of football, and I have learned much from reading their articles and columns, but on this point I must respectfully disagree.

The Patriots were focused and disciplined on the field Sunday, and they won because of it. The Chargers were unfocused and undisciplined and they lost because of errors caused by their own character flaws. Grandstanding. Leaping to make catches that didn’t require the showy demonstration and thereby missing the catch. Deciding to score with an interception instead of taking a knee when the team was leading and an opponent was closing, and thereby losing the ball.

Championships are about character, and that is the responsibility of the head coach. The lack of character displayed by the Chargers, not just last Sunday but throughout the season, is a failure of leadership by Marty Schottenheimer.

How long do you think Vince Lombardi would have tolerated the “lights out dance” and all of the other “look at me” demonstrations that the Chargers players are so fond of?

Michael Felger of the Boston Herald put it very well,

"They are one of those teams where everyone has his own sack dance, where players relish the pregame introductions and come out one-by-one with their helmets off. (…) The Chargers have special players who don’t make special plays."

I had a sense of foreboding when the Chargers clinched the home field advantage and the bye week and the players began talking of needing the week off to rest, of being tired from thirteen weeks without a break since they had had their mid-season bye so early in the year.

Which team looked rested last Sunday? Champions don’t need a rest. They are ready, physically and mentally, to take on all comers at any time and at any place. Champions don’t complain about their coach working them too hard, or about other teams beating them up, or that they need a rest after tough schedule.

A head coach doesn’t tell his players what they can or cannot say to the public, or what they can or cannot do on the field. He builds character in his players. He shapes his players and, through leadership, creates players who are so dedicated to teamwork that their egos are served not by grandstanding sack dances but by team accomplishment.

The Chargers are a truly great group of young men, a marvelous collection of amazing talent. All they need to become champions is leadership worthy of that talent, and they are not getting it. They deserve better.


  1. The thing is, you could fire Schottenheimer, but who are you going to find who's going to find who's going to do more for the Chargers than he's done?

    If the Chargers fire him, upper management is going to look for someone who they believe can win the big game. But how many of those kinds of coaches are there in the NFL? Really, Bill Belichick is the only sure bet. Bill Cowher finally won a Super Bowl, but it took him 14 years to do it. If Tony Dungy and the Colts win this year, a year after Cowher did that would further burnish Marty's case that he deserves another year.

    The "closer" coach is a rare thing, and San Diego shouldn't fool itself into thinking it can find one.

  2. You make a good point, sami, but why keep settling for a loss in the playoffs because that seems to be the best that is available?

    When what you have is not getting the job done, change is needed. Sure, the new one may not get it done either, but it might. The possibility of success with an unknown is better than the certainty of failure with what you have.