In the second of what is expected to be a series of moves which likely will have heavy impact on the defensive portion of the coaching staff, the Chargers have released Marv Braden, special teams coach for the past five years.
Former special teams star Hank Bauer, an assistant coach since 1983, is thought to have the inside track as Braden’s replacement, although no successor is likely to be named for a week or more.
The staff shakeup began last week when the Chargers announced the extension of Don Coryell’s contract as head coach and the promotion of Al Saunders to assistant head coach.
There are strong indications that defensive backfield coach Jim Wagstaff and linebacker coach Chuck Weber will join Braden on the list of those who won’t be back in 1986.
Defensive coordinator Dave Adolph, who almost certainly will remain with the organization, may keep his job or take over the vacancy left by Weber. In that case, a new defensive coordinator would be sought. Marion Campbell, recently deposed as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, has been mentioned as a possibility.
Another name that has surfaced is Bud Carson, who is defensive coordinator of the New York Jets. The Chargers would have to seek the Jets’ permission before contacting him.
Adolph replaced Tom Bass as defensive coordinator a month into the season and is highly thought of by owner Alex Spanos.
“There’s some uncertainty right now,” a team source said. “Some of these decisions haven’t been finalized yet. The coaches have been given the week off, and it probably will be next week, at the earliest, before all of this is settled.”
The only member of the defensive coaching platoon who is virtually certain to remain in the same position is line coach Gunther Cunningham, who joined the team a year ago. Like Saunders, he is young and intense and made a favorable impression with his enthusiasm.
Spanos, who has vowed to make the team’s defense a No. 1 priority this year, has delegated Saunders to serve as liaison with the coaching staff and handle administrative details.
In commenting on the dismissal of Braden, Saunders said, “Marv is an excellent coach and did a great deal for the Chargers, but our feeling is that we needed to make a change.”
Through no fault of Braden, the Chargers had to do without veteran kicker Rolf Benirschke, who missed virtually the entire season with a groin injury.
In his place, Bob Thomas had a respectable year, but received much of the fallout from an overtime game in Denver when the Broncos blocked two field goals and returned the second for the game-winning touchdown.
An announcement on Braden’s replacement may not come for several weeks, but Bauer is thought to be the leading candidate.
Bauer retired in 1983 after six seasons as a running back and leader of the Charger special teams.
Wagstaff appears to be in jeopardy after a season in which the San Diego secondary allowed 4,293 passing yards, the highest total in the NFL. Wagstaff, after a meeting with Saunders, indicated he wasn’t optimistic.
Weber’s linebacking corps was something of a disappointment. Billy Ray Smith and Woody Lowe performed well, but Linden King and Mike Green did not match the levels they reached in recent seasons.
The Chargers last week announced that Ernie Zampese, who had held the title of assistant head coach, would henceforth be designated as offensive coordinator. Coryell stressed the move was in no sense a demotion for Zampese, the chief plotter of offensive strategy.