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Taking Stock of 2 Coaches and Their Roller-Coaster Seasons

Let me see if I understand this thing about coaches and how sometimes they are smart and sometimes they are stupid.

It seems to vary on a season-to-season, month-to-month and even week-to-week basis.

Maybe coaches should be evaluated like the stock market.

You know, the Dow Stolz is up today . . . and Saunders & Poor’s is down. That seems to be the way it is, at least this week.

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Denny Stolz, as I understand it, had lost all concept of coaching football in the weeks since San Diego State defeated Air Force in a rather exciting Sunday night game back in September.

Dow Stolz was on a nice high then, albeit his stock was tempered just a bit by a thrashing at the hands of UCLA a week earlier.

However, following the Air Force game, Dow Stolz plunged lower and lower during successive losses to Stanford, Oregon, Wyoming, Hawaii, Colorado State and Utah. Here was a coach who was obviously getting dumber by the week.

And along came Brigham Young University.

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Ominous.

SDSU coaches can hardly feel bullish about an encounter with BYU. Indeed, one of SDSU’s most respected coaches, Claude Gilbert, never recovered from a 63-14 loss to BYU on national television. He lasted 1 more tenuous year before he was fired.

Thus, Dow Stolz went into last Saturday night’s game with every likelihood he would be knocked clear off the graph, but came away instead with a stunning 27-15 victory.

Voila!

Denny Stolz was a genius once again . . . after all those weeks of stupidity.

Saunders & Poor’s, a.k.a. Al Saunders, might have accomplished similar reversal in fortune the next evening, when his Chargers also went against archrivals, in their case the Raiders. It did not work out quite so well, however, as the Charger offense once again cured insomnia during a 13-3 loss.

And so it is that Saunders & Poor’s continues to scrape along at the bottom of the index with a 2-8 record. He now has a 6-week stupid streak since the last time he was a genius.

With Stolz given a reprieve, it is as if all heat is now concentrated on Saunders. The local coaching hibachi is now a one-seater.

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At least this week. At least until this weekend.

Funny business, coaching.

Funny if you are not a coach.

What coaches have to do is isolate all such peripheral shenanigans and maintain both overall perspective and game-by-game concentration. And they have to hope the powers above them are able to do the same.

It has been said, for example, that the BYU game saved SDSU’s season and salvaged Stolz’s job, and neither should logically be the case. Neither a season nor a job can or should rest on the outcome of 1 game, either thumbs up or thumbs down.

The ultimate decisions involving the two local football programs are made by Thomas Day, SDSU’s president, and Alex Spanos, the Chargers’ owner.

In a sense, neither has to make a decision this year. Both coaches have 3 years remaining on their contracts. Silence represents continuity.

However, given the fact that this has not been a banner season for either team, the public seems to be clamoring for clarification about where these coaches stand.

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Spanos seemingly delivered a clarification Thursday, when he gave Saunders a wintry vote of confidence. Wintry is an appropriate description because (a) it was hardly a warm pat on the back and (b) the suggestion was that Saunders would not last the winter if the Chargers do not show marked improvement.

Stolz has gotten no such vote of confidence, but that’s fine because he doesn’t need one now. After all, Dow Stolz is on an upward curve after that victory over BYU.

Of course, all this can change over the weekend. Saunders might come home from Atlanta a hero, though it is hard to imagine a victory of heroic proportions over the Falcons, and Stolz could come home from Texas El Paso defeated and depressed.

Day and Spanos should rise above these week-to-week fluctuations. Fans can run to extremes, but these guys must detach themselves from the moment at hand and examine the bigger picture.

They must ponder whether these teams are really disappointments or merely playing at anticipated levels. I expected the Chargers to be 3-13 or 4-12, and they may be right on before it is over. I expected the Aztecs to be 5-6 or 6-5, and they will be off a bit. In neither case, given the best of fortune, could these teams have been considered even fringe championship contenders.

Can Al Saunders be expected to win with the talent he has been given? If the answer is no, then the answer is yes to the question of retaining him.

Does Dennis Stolz need another year to develop the talent he has recruited into a contender? If the answer is yes, the answer is no to the question of firing him.

Only Spanos and Day have the answers that matter.

In a sense, making a coaching change would be uncomfortable for both organizations.

San Diego State, for example, extended Stolz’s contract in the emotional aftermath of the 1986 Western Athletic Conference championship season, and would have to admit it made a mistake in doing so.

The Chargers hired a head coach without a day of head coaching experience at any level, and would have to admit they made a mistake in doing so.

In essence, the guys who did the hiring would be saying that they can be just as stupid as the guys they hired.

Funny business, hiring coaches.


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