For the record I’m a longtime Marty Schottenheimer fan, so I am pleased that he did not take the fall for coaching yet another losing playoff game last weekend. Still, the outcry for his ouster has been loud and long. While I’m not Marty’s apologist, maybe I should be.
There has been a lot of crazy talk this week about Chargers owner Alex Spanos firing the NFL’s winningest active coach after the Chargers lost to the Patriots. But yesterday Spanos granted Schottenheimer a reprieve. Schottenheimer’s Chargers finished a league best 14 – 2 during the regular season. But his latest post-season loss drops an already very poor career playoff record to just 5 wins and 13 losses. The naysayers and critics say Marty was coaching a team that was supposed to not just go to the Super Bowl but win it. Instead the Chargers lost and it just had to be Marty’s fault.
It’s been more than 30 years since Marty last put on shoulder pads and actually played a game in the NFL. Which is why Marty was on the sideline looking on helplessly when several of his players made a couple of horrendously costly – and stupid – mistakes on the field Sunday. There is only so much a coach can do. It is a players game. The coach can’t make the tackles, blocks, passes, runs or kicks that are the essential elements of the game. The coach can only watch and hope that his coaching sticks somehow. Kind of like parenting.
Marty’s coaching style is honest, straightforward and quintessentially old-school. His uncompromising, no excuses character also leaves him virtually unprotected from the vultures who try to feast on him when the going gets tough and the playoff losses mount. Most coaches these days don’t leave that much ass exposed – covering it early and often. But Marty’s unique (say honest) approach to coaching is exactly what makes Marty Schottenheimer special and vulnerable.
At no point did Marty beg for his job or point to his record. He didn’t because he shouldn’t have to. No, he hasn’t won very many playoff games or the Super Bowl and maybe he never will. But a lot of coaches and players have never won the big game either. That doesn’t make them or Marty losers. He knows perhaps too well that all you can do is work hard to prepare your team and let the players play the game. And in the end if the owner wants to fire you then so be it. In Washington a few years ago Marty Schottenheimer was fired for being Marty after just one year. But the Redskins have never quite recovered from Schottenheimer’s honorable year as coach. For this year at least the owner wasn’t so stupid as to let one of football’s best coaches go because the players failed on the field. Martyball is definately more than wins and losses.