- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

Chicago and Indianapolis fans shouldn’t get too cocky about playing Sunday’s conference championships in their own stadiums even if home teams are 6-2 so far in this year’s playoffs.

Both home teams haven’t won their respective conference title games since 1996, when Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was a junior at Tennessee and Bears quarterback Rex Grossman was midway through his junior year at Bloomington South (Ind.) High School. Home teams are 8-10 in the conference title games since.

The third-seeded Colts are the first team not seeded first or second to play host to a conference title game since the NFL expanded the playoffs to 12 teams and began seeding in 1990.

Meanwhile, New Orleans makes the NFC South the first division to have all four of its teams reach a conference title game since the 2002 realignment. The Saints follow Tampa Bay (2002), Carolina (2003 and 2005) and Atlanta (2004).

Only nine non-NFC South teams have advanced this far the last five seasons: Chicago, Indianapolis (twice), New England (three times), Philadelphia (three times), Pittsburgh (twice), Seattle, Denver, Oakland and Tennessee.

Marty stays put (for now) — Marty Schottenheimer, who led a team to the best record in its conference for the fourth time in his 20 seasons only to lose short of the Super Bowl yet again, will return as San Diego’s coach for 2007. However, the tension between Schottenheimer, general manager A.J. Smith and Chargers president Dean Spanos remained evident when the coach declined a contract extension Wednesday.

Smith, whose friction with the coach he inherited upon the death of former GM John Butler in 2003, said the offer of a $4.5 million extension for 2008 was “to our liking.”

But obviously not to that of self-described “tough, ornery old cus” Schottenheimer, whose 200 regular-season victories are fifth all-time. Not when Atlanta just gave Bobby Petrino, who has never been an NFL head coach, a reported five-year, $24 million deal.

“I just wasn’t comfortable with that particular arrangement,” the 63-year-old Schottenheimer said. “I was more comfortable proceeding forward frankly on the basis of the contract that I’d already executed. It’s in my best interest and in the organization’s best interest. I appreciate the fact that it was extended to me. Some people would say that I’m at my best when the pressure is on.”

Not come playoff time where Schottenheimer’s 5-13 record is easily the worst among the 15 winningest coaches in NFL history.

Spanos, who described San Diego’s 14-2 season as “not a bad record,” isn’t worried about the relationship of his coach and GM.

“Honestly, I don’t care as long as they do their jobs and they act professionally,” Spanos said. “You’re not in business to make friends. If you’re friends, that’s great, but that’s not the primary reason that they’re here. One is a very good coach and one is a very good general manager. We’ve had issues, there’s no doubt about it, but we work well enough to function properly … and go 14-2.”

And for Schottenheimer, who came to San Diego in 2002, to have been in his job as long as all but five other current NFL head coaches.

Waiting on Rivera — Wondering why Pittsburgh hasn’t just anointed assistant head coach Russ Grimm as the successor to retired coach Bill Cowher? Steelers owner Dan Rooney is going to follow the “Rooney Rule” on minority candidates to a T.

Minnesota defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, who is black, has received two interviews as has Grimm, the former Redskins All-Pro guard who is white. Rooney would apparently also like to talk to Chicago defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who is Hispanic. However, Rivera isn’t available until the Bears, the NFC’s top seed, finish their season. If Chicago beats New Orleans on Sunday, it will be interesting to see if Rooney’s patience will last until Feb. 5, the day after the Super Bowl.

If Grimm gets the Pittsburgh job, he would join Tennessee’s Jeff Fisher as the only NFL coaches who were promoted from within. Miami and Oakland are also looking for coaches but aren’t believed to be seriously considering their assistants.

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