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Chargers' coaching shuffle a cautionary tale for Ravens

The Baltimore Sun

This afternoon's game at Qualcomm Stadium ought to serve as a reminder to all disgruntled Ravens fans hoping for only one thing under their Christmas trees: a new head coach:

Be careful what you wish for.

You could end up like the Ravens' opponent today, the San Diego Chargers.

You could end up with these tradeoffs: Marty Schottenheimer for Norv Turner. The best record in the NFL for 5-5 with six games to go. The quarterback of the future for an inconsistent, undependable, poor-quality replica. The NFL's Most Valuable Player for a confused, underused back as liable to break into tears as to break off a long run.

The only reason the Chargers aren't in just as bad a spot as the Ravens are is that they play in the NFL's most mediocre division. They're underachieving like nobody else, yet they have a far better chance of making the playoffs than the Ravens do.

The Chargers don't deserve that kind of reward, not the front-office Einsteins who make the "decisions" or the man in whose shaky hands they entrusted the team.

They messed with something very good, fired a coach who did exactly what he was hired and paid to do - win, and get them into contention for a championship - and did it without a clue about how to replace him. Truly replace him, that is. Not just park in his old space at the practice facility, not wear his headsets on the sideline, but further his accomplishments, or at least continue them.

That's the part about the cries to replace Billick, and most coaches who have won before but not enough lately, where the argument gets weak. You want to fire Billick, you say that nine years is enough, that the Super Bowl is too far in the past, that he has lost the team and has wrecked the offense? OK. Whom do you have in mind to replace him?

You probably want Bill Cowher. You might get Norv Turner.

Out in San Diego, Schottenheimer clearly, obviously, rubbed team general manager A.J. Smith the wrong way. And, unfortunately, his career is defined by losses just like his last one to New England in the playoffs in January, by getting his team to that point but never further. Some coaches never get far enough to come up short in the playoffs, though.

Some coaches like Turner, whose career record, with three teams over 10 seasons, is 63-87-1. With one division title and one playoff appearance. Insane, you'd think, to give him another chance. Except that by the time things stopped coming apart and started coming back together for the Chargers, Turner was all that was left.

It was either him and his history of losing or some neophyte with no history at all taking the reins of a 14-2 team, its young stud quarterback (Philip Rivers), its MVP (LaDainian Tomlinson), all its other up-and-coming stars and its high expectations.

A rash, angry, personal decision is ruining the Chargers' rare chance to get to a Super Bowl and to maximize the wealth of talent on the roster, especially Tomlinson, whose clock, because of the position he plays, is ticking.

Ready for that with the Ravens? Got someone in mind who is guaranteed to prevent that?

Sure, it's worth thinking about. Billick the offensive coordinator is a far bigger problem than Billick the head coach, and that can be solved without that kind of upheaval. The alternative is having an offensive coordinator masquerading as a head coach. Like ... you know.

Here's another alternative: the stability that comes from not shooting the coach out of a cannon after every bad season. The Steelers never pulled the plug on Cowher for 15 seasons; that is why he has the reputation he has now.

Denver has done all right hanging onto Mike Shanahan for 13 years, even though he hasn't made the Super Bowl since the 1998 season. Tennessee seems to have survived in Year 12 with Jeff Fisher, who hasn't made the playoffs since 2003.

Cowher has moved into the pre-game studio, which makes Billick No. 3 in tenure among NFL coaches. The aforementioned franchises are among the most envied in the league, largely for that very reason. The Chargers? Beautiful weather. Cool uniforms. Five coaches in the past 11 years. One Super Bowl appearance since the AFL-NFL merger.

They won't add to that this season. Because they looked at the coach they had and figured they could do better.

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