4 San Diego Chargers Marty Schottenheimer is inspiring a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since 1995

September 01, 2002

Junior Seau was poolside at the Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa on
Oahu last February when the harassment began. Amused by the
notion that the Chargers' star linebacker and leader would soon
be playing for ultrademanding Marty Schottenheimer, Seau's fellow
Pro Bowl participants joined forces to make him feel troubled in
paradise.

"Welcome to hell," one player told him.

"Go ahead and retire," said another.

Six months later Seau laughs at the memory: "I didn't even try to
fight it. You know the guys--once they have a couple of mai tais,
it's all over."

But unlike in Washington, where he encountered a faction of
set-in-their-ways veterans last season, Schottenheimer received a
warm welcome in San Diego. Part of that was because he brought
along a .621 winning percentage accumulated in 16 seasons--the
Chargers, after all, haven't made the playoffs since 1995, giving
them the league's second-longest drought behind the bumbling
Bengals--but an assist goes to a certain workaholic linebacker
with unmatched intrasquad influence. "This," Seau decrees, "is
Marty's team."

Or, as Pro Bowl defensive end Marcellus Wiley says with a laugh,
"Junior's been demoted to assistant head coach."

Given Schottenheimer's recent past, Seau's endorsement was of no
small consequence. "It's always good when your premier players
put the team before themselves," he says, "and that's what
Junior's done. He desperately wants to win."

Reeling from training-camp turmoil last season, the Redskins lost
their first five games before rallying to finish 8-8. The
Chargers experienced the opposite sensation, ruining a 5-2 start
by losing their last nine games, which led to the departure of
coach Mike Riley. Enter the 58-year-old Schottenheimer, who had
been fired after clashing with Washington owner Dan Snyder over
front-office power. Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith wasted no
time advising his buddy Seau to "get ready for the toughest
season of your life."

Other Chargers heard similar warnings, and after Schottenheimer's
first full-squad meeting at an April minicamp--during which he
laid out a list of strict rules, including a ban on chewing
sunflower seeds and wearing hats in meetings--the locker room was
filled with the whispers of discontent. That's when Seau stepped
up.

"Any of us have rings?" Seau asked his teammates. None responded.
"If someone has a proven system that will work, speak now," Seau
continued. More silence. "Well," Seau said, "he's won more games
than all of us with that system. I'm buying into it."

As a result, Junior's Farm has become Marty's Mill, though the
difference is not as pronounced as one might think. "I don't care
what anyone says--we've always worked hard here," says Pro Bowl
strong safety Rodney Harrison. "We may have lacked talent last
season and we may have lacked discipline, but we didn't lack
heart."

Schottenheimer would be hard-pressed to disagree. Early in
training camp, he choked up as he told the Chargers that they
were the hardest-working team he's ever seen. He says he thinks
San Diego can win now, even with a second-year quarterback--Drew
Brees--who has thrown only 27 NFL passes running the show. This is
a coach who likes to ride his defense, and the additions of
free-agent middle linebacker Donnie Edwards and rookie cornerback
Quentin Jammer, the fourth pick in the draft out of Texas, should
bolster an already strong unit.

There's no question who remains the main man. "Junior Seau is one
of the top two or three linebackers ever to play," Schottenheimer
says. "I think he goes home at night and plugs himself into a
socket. I've never been around a human being with as much
energy."

Seau's penchant for making educated guesses is also legendary,
and that's where the adjustment to Schottenheimer and his schemes
could get sticky. As Harrison says, "There's no room for
freelancing in this defense. If you're out of position, you're
going to get burned."

Seau and Schottenheimer downplay any philosophical conflict. The
coach says he'll allow for his star's "playmaker" tendencies, and
Seau says, "There's no scheme I haven't played in or against, so
it's not that big a deal." Right now, only the Pacific is making
waves in San Diego, and it's likely to stay that way for as long
as Seau chooses.

If all goes as planned, when the mai tais start flowing next
February, Junior will have the last laugh. --M.S.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Seau hit the right note when he sold teammates on Schottenheimer's system. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS RAYMER

NEW TWIST

Junior Seau may now be the team's slowest linebacker. New
coach Marty Schottenheimer has plugged swift third-round draft
pick Ben Leber into the outside spot opposite Seau, leaving the
middle for former Chiefs standout Donnie Edwards, a 6'2"
227-pounder who flies all over the field.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Chargers

"There was a lot of talk about which quarterback would start, but
my question is, How are they gonna block anybody? I think they'll
need both quarterbacks because that line is awfully thin. They're
counting on Toniu Fonoti, a 20-year-old rookie from Nebraska
who's basically never pass protected? Come on! And the big
free-agent signee is a center who has never been that great. Cory
Raymer is a heady guy who knows where to go, but he gets pushed
around a lot.... As far as the quarterbacks, Drew Brees gives
them more life. He's got more ability to make different throws,
especially downfield. Doug Flutie can't see in the red zone, and
it kills them. When they had that nine-game losing streak last
year, 75 percent of it was because they couldn't get a consistent
game out of Flutie.... LaDanian Tomlinson is a good back, but he
had a lot of carries last year, and I think you need a
change-of-pace guy to succeed over the long haul. The backup is
Terrell Fletcher, who has made a career out of not scoring
touchdowns.... Still, they can be a sleeper if they get decent
play at quarterback because the defense is so tough. It starts
with Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison. It's tough to sustain a
drive against them.... Jason Fisk isn't as stout as John
Parrella, but with Junior shooting into gaps, running up the
middle will still be tough.... Last year, if you could block their front, their corners were vulnerable. But with Quentin Jammer back there, that won't be the case."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 8 at Cincinnati
15 HOUSTON
22 at Arizona
29 NEW ENGLAND

Oct. 6 at Denver
13 KANSAS CITY
20 at Oakland
27 Open date

Nov. 3 N.Y. JETS
10 at St. Louis
17 SAN FRANCISCO
24 at Miami

Dec. 1 DENVER
8 OAKLAND
15 at Buffalo
22 at Kansas City
29 SEATTLE

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: T1
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .546
Games against playoff teams: 7

PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics

COACH: Marty Schottenheimer; first season with San Diego
(153-93-1 in NFL)
2001 RECORD: 5-11 (fifth in AFC West)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 20/11/11; defense 7/20/11

OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*

QB Drew Brees 100
27 att. 15 comp. 55.6% 221 yds. 1 TD 0 int. 94.8 rtg.

RB LaDainian Tomlinson 20
339 att. 1,236 yds. 3.6 avg. 59 rec. 367 yds. 6.2 avg. 10 TDs

RB Terrell Fletcher 235
29 att. 107 yds. 3.7 avg. 23 rec. 184 yds. 8.0 avg. 0 TDs

FB Fred McCrary 342
2 att. 3 yds. 1.5 avg. 13 rec. 71 yds. 5.5 avg. 0 TDs

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

[PVR*]

WR Curtis Conway 85 71 rec. 1,125 yds. 6 TDs
WR Tim Dwight 159 25 rec. 406 yds. 0 TDs
WR Reche Caldwell (R)[N] 183 65 rec. 1,059 yds. 10 TDs
TE Stephen Alexander[N] 121 9 rec. 85 yds. 0 TDs
K Steve Christie 274 6/6 XPs 9/11 FGs 33 pts.
PR Reche Caldwell (R)[N] 183 0 ret. no avg. 0 TDs
KR Ronney Jenkins 346 58 ret. 26.6 avg. 2 TDs

LT Damion McIntosh 6'4" 325 lbs. 15 games 14 starts
LG Bob Hallen[N] 6'4" 295 lbs. 15 games 12 starts
C Cory Raymer[N] 6'3" 300 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Toniu Fonoti (R)[N] 6'4" 349 lbs. 12 games 12 starts
RT Vaughn Parker 6'3" 300 lbs. 16 games 16 starts

DEFENSE

LE Marcellus Wiley 38 tackles 13 sacks
LT Jamal Williams 2 tackles 0 sacks
RT Jason Fisk[N] 25 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
RE Raylee Johnson 28 tackles 9 1/2 sacks
OLB Ben Leber (R)[N] 73 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
MLB Donnie Edwards[N] 97 tackles 2 sacks
OLB Junior Seau 83 tackles 1 sack
CB Quentin Jammer (R)[N] 55 tackles 2 int.
SS Rodney Harrison 90 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
FS Rogers Beckett 77 tackles 1 int.
CB Ryan McNeil 64 tackles 8 int.
P Darren Bennett 78 punts 42.4 avg.

[N] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)

"They can be a sleeper if they get decent play at quarterback
because the defense is so tough."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)