Schottenheimer wins first top coaching honor

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Marty Schottenheimer's guidance of one of the great turnarounds in NFL history won him The Associated Press 2004 NFL Coach of the Year award.

Schottenheimer took the San Diego Chargers from tailender to division champion, from a 4-12 embarrassment to a 12-4 power. The 61-year-old, who also has worked in Cleveland, Kansas City and Washington, did his best work of an 18 1/2-season head coaching career during the regular season.

''There is a great sense of satisfaction when you're able to get things going in the right direction,'' said Schottenheimer, who received 27 1/2 of the 48 votes from a national panel of writers and broadcasters who cover pro football. ''I always pride myself on one thing — I think I'm a teacher. It's fun to see your players listen and work together to apply the basic philosophies and concepts that are important to success.''

Many of Schottenheimer's teams have done that. He's coached division winners in Cleveland, where he was the head man from mid-1984 through 1988. And in Kansas City (1989-98). He even had an 8-8 record in his one season in Washington, and considering how other Redskins coaches have done for owner Daniel Snyder, that was impressive, too.

But his third season in San Diego has been charmed. And perhaps a bit lucky, because Schottenheimer was looking for a different quarterback and hoped to go with first-round draft pick Phillip Rivers.

When Rivers held out for half of training camp, Schottenheimer stuck with Drew Brees. Brees wound up as Comeback Player of the Year and Schottenheimer became Coach of the Year for the first time.

His players say Schottenheimer's decision to form a players council and ease up in practices, as well as remodeling the locker room, made a big difference.

''I've seen it all year,'' said linebacker Donnie Edwards, who also played for Schottenheimer in Kansas City. ''The way he's changed his coaching to understand the players and let the players understand the coaches — so it's a two-way street now.

''There are so many things that have changed. It's all been for the best. I'm really excited about him, because he came into the year with great enthusiasm and great energy and it transferred over right to us as players, and we've been able to translate that onto the field.''

San Diego won nine of its last 10 games — the loss was in overtime at AFC South champion Indianapolis — to run away with the AFC West. Schottenheimer got superb performances from unheralded tight end Antonio Gates and star running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who both made the All-Pro team. Edwards was one of the league's best defenders, as was tackle Jamal Williams.

That made the 2004 regular season even more fulfilling for Schottenheimer.

''At the end of the day, there is more than just the personal enjoyment that you've experienced,'' he said. ''It's as much, if not more so, the fact that you can share it will all these people that have worked together with you to achieve it.''

Schottenheimer is the first San Diego coach to win the award. He was trailed by Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher (14 1/2 votes), who led the Steelers to the league's best record, 15-1. Cowher won it in 1992.

Last year's winner, Bill Belichick of New England, got three votes. Atlanta's Jim Mora received two and Carolina's John Fox got one.

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