- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2007

Parting isn’t usually easy for Marty Schottenheimer.

The sixth-winningest coach in NFL history left Cleveland in January 1989 via mutual consent with owner Art Modell after four straight playoff seasons and was fired by restless Washington owner Dan Snyder in January 2002 despite an 8-3 record over his final 11 games.

Schottenheimer’s dismissal by San Diego president Dean Spanos on Monday night tops those moves for sheer malice and stupidity.

Yes, Schottenheimer and the Chargers blew their divisional round playoff game at home to the three-time champion New England Patriots. Yes, the tension between Schottenheimer and general manager A.J. Smith is palpable. But does Spanos really believe the Chargers’ 14-2 regular season was more a product of departed coordinators Cam Cameron (18-37 at Indiana) and Wade Phillips (45-38, including playoffs, with Denver and Buffalo) than of Schottenheimer, who has had just two losing records in 20 years as an NFL coach?

And isn’t it usually a testament to the coach when his assistants are hired to run other teams as Cameron (to Miami) and Phillips (to Dallas) were?

Someone also should have reminded Spanos that Smith came to San Diego as an assistant to late GM John Butler, while Schottenheimer was the organization’s hand-picked coach in 2002 after the team had six straight non-winning seasons under four coaches.

Schottenheimer, 63, will be fine. He was going to be a lame duck anyway in 2007, and now he will get paid to play golf in his adopted home state of North Carolina while awaiting likely offers for 2008 from teams like Cleveland and the New York Giants.

Schottenheimer could be replaced in San Diego by former Chargers offensive coordinator Norv Turner (59-83-1, including playoffs, as a coach). Defensive coordinators Ron Rivera of Chicago and Rex Ryan of Baltimore and San Francisco assistant Mike Singletary, none ever in charge, might be fine coaches some day — but Schottenheimer was a sure thing.

San Diego has reigning MVP LaDainian Tomlinson, sacks champion Shawne Merriman, feared tight end Antonio Gates and plenty of other talent. But it’s obvious Smith let a personality conflict with his equally prickly coach supersede what was best for the team.

Canning Schottenheimer a month after a highly public kiss-and-make-up session was ghastly. History says Spanos and Smith might wind up paying for their mistake soon.

After Redskins owner George Preston Marshall fired coach Dud DeGroot after a 15-14 loss in the 1945 NFL Championship game, Washington didn’t make the playoffs again until 1971. That came under coach George Allen, who had been fired twice in 1970 by Los Angeles owner Dan Reeves. The Rams’ players got Allen’s job back the first time, but after the second ouster, Allen led the Redskins to glory while the Rams slipped back to mediocrity.

Phillips’ father, Bum, was fired by Houston in 1981 after going 36-19, including playoffs, the previous three years. The Oilers didn’t win that many games over the next seven seasons. Steve Mariucci was let go by San Francisco after a 10-6 season in 2002. The 49ers are 20-44 since.

But the best example of justice served came in Detroit. The Lions fired coach Potsy Clark following an 8-4 season in 1936, a year after he led them to the championship. After missing the playoffs the next three seasons, the Lions rehired Clark in 1940.

Sticking with grass — Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field was rated the worst of the NFL’s 19 grass fields (not counting the since-replaced surface in New England’s Gillette Stadium) in a players association survey. However, the Steelers have no plans to make changes.

“You’re looking for beauty rather than practicality,” Steelers owner Dan Rooney said. “We have the best field as far as traction that you can have. You didn’t see anybody slip or very few slips during the year. Our field is fine. I have no complaints about our field.”

The Steelers installed grass at Heinz after they left the artificial turf of Three Rivers Stadium in 2001. In 2003, they put in DD GrassMaster, which contains grass with synthetic fibers to help anchor the surface. They resurfaced the field again in 2005. The University of Pittsburgh plays its home games at Heinz, which also plays host to high school title games and occasional concerts.

Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium was rated the NFL’s top grass field. Seattle’s Qwest Field was rated the top artificial surface with soon-to-be replaced Giants Stadium, shared by the Giants and Jets, as the worst. The Washington Redskins’ FedEx Field ranked sixth among the grass fields and 13th overall in the surface rankings.

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