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Our View: Chargers drop ball with last-minute decision

Perhaps Marty Schottenheimer was not the “closer” the San Diego Chargers needed to take that final step to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy high above their heads.

But it’s inexcusably bad form to publicly give your coach a vote of confidence, then yank the rug out from under him later.

As it stands, team owner Spanos’ three-week change of heart cost the team, and Schottenheimer, the chance to get in on the coach hiring/firing free-for-all that happens immediately after the Super Bowl. Marty missed his chance to land with another team, and the Chargers ended up settling on Norv Turner. Say what you will about Marty’s playoff record, but Turner has only reached the postseason once in nine seasons as a head coach.

The Chargers’ president explained his decision to reverse field and fire Schottenheimer by saying that, when the team committed to keeping him around after their crushing playoff loss to the New England Patriots, he expected Schottenheimer to retain the majority of his coaching staff. But anybody who watched SportsCenter in the last year knew that Schottenheimer’s top assistants - Cam Cameron and Wade Phillips - were serious candidates for head coaching jobs elsewhere. The Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys have since snatched them away.

The team’s offer of a contract extension to Schottenheimer came with a team buyout option that would net the coach a relatively meager $1 million. The coach declined it, essentially agreeing to coach the upcoming season as a lame duck – not the best way to stabilize the staff.

Luckily, it shouldn’t take a genius to lead this Chargers team back to the playoffs. Chargers general manager AJ Smith has put together the finest collection of talent in the NFL and these guys are not going to forget how to play the game.

We do, however, question Chargers’ owner Dean Spanos’ decision to change coaches so late in the game. Also, the Chargers’ future in San Diego is very much in jeopardy, with no concrete plan for a new stadium the team says it needs. Spanos says he wants to keep the team here, but seeing him flip-flop on the coaching issue is far from comforting for San Diego fans.

Marty Schottenheimer is a winner. He’s been a winner everywhere he’s been. He was a winner here. Could he have been a champion here? We’ll never know.

We wish La Jolla resident Marty Schottenheimer the best of luck wherever he chooses to coach next. We just hope, wherever that is, that he is appreciated more there than he was here.