Analysis : Ortmayer Should Be Coach, Too

Times Staff Writer

Turns out the best candidate for the Chargers’ vacant head coaching job has been right in our midst all along.

He is one of owner Alex Spanos’ most trusted lieutenants. And he is a lifelong confidante of Steve Ortmayer, the team’s director of football operations.

“He” is Steve Ortmayer.



His nibs.

This is not a joke.

This is not to say Ortmayer will hire himself. He has denied from the beginning that he is a candidate. And he repeated that denial as recently as Wednesday night.

Asked what he thought about the idea of Ortmayer hiring Ortmayer, Spanos said: “I can’t even imagine anybody asking that question.”

But it is food for thought. And Ortmayer knows food almost as well as he knows football. Alas, he will probably be annoyed and surprised if and when he reads this. Distractions are not on his agenda these days.

It’s just that all the other top candidates are gone. Former Browns Coach Marty Schottenheimer will run the Chiefs in 1989. George Seifert, the former San Francisco defensive coordinator, will coach the 49ers next season.

Sure, Redskin assistant Dan Henning is still available. But nobody has yet accused him of being the next Vince Lombardi. Former Illinois Coach Mike White and Ron Lynn, the Charger defensive coordinator, have zero NFL head coaching experience between them. Which is not to suggest Lynn won’t be a winning head coach in the NFL sometime soon. Hiring him to replace Al Saunders would be less of a risk than even the Chargers think.

It’s just that Ortmayer knows infinitely more about the Chargers’ strengths and weaknesses than Henning or White. And if he names Lynn, overnight, he will have taken one of the top five assistants in the league and turned him into an inexperienced head coach.

There are lots of other reasons why Ortmayer is the best man for the job. To name a few:

--He knows how to get along with Spanos, a demanding man who has been wildly successful in private business but who, like many owners, can be moody when his $80 million investment loses to the $80 million investment of the owner sitting in the luxury box across the field.

--Nobody knows better than Ortmayer the style of football he wants for the players he has been drafting since taking over the team 2 years ago today.

--And nobody knows better than Ortmayer which current Charger players should return in 1989 and which should not. Ortmayer is one of the few NFL general managers who attends practice every day his schedule permits.

If the Chargers are as committed to continuity as they say, Ortmayer is the only logical choice. Lynn would stay in place. Highly respected special teams coach Wayne Sevier would stay in place. And Jerry Rhome, the offensive coordinator who had the Chargers running the ball as well as any team in the league at the end of 1988 despite a line comprising four free agents and a fourth-round rookie, would stay in place.

The obvious rebuttal is Ortmayer’s lack of head coaching experience. His critics say he coached only special teams in Kansas City before joining the Raider organization, for which he was nothing more than Al Davis’ in-house spy. But Mike Ditka was nothing more than a special teams coach in Dallas when the Bears hired him in 1982. Four years later, they were world champions.

And who will run the front office during the season, while Ortmayer is running from meetings to film sessions to practices to press conferences to TV shows to booster clubs 20 hours a day?

Well, maybe Ortmayer doesn’t have to be that kind of head coach. Maybe he can delegate a lot of the weekly coaching duties. Saunders failed as a supervisory-type coach. He should have been more hands-on. But Ortmayer would be the perfect hands- off coach. Moreover, he does not make rash decisions, a characteristic that would serve him well in the middle of a close game, late in the fourth quarter on a Sunday afternoon in December.

And maybe Ortmayer can delegate much of the front office work as well. San Francisco’s Bill Walsh served several productive years as the 49ers’ president and head coach, using John McVay as his chief administrator.

Sure, Ortmayer is the guy who traded Jim Lachey for John (400 Pounds Of) Clay and Napoleon (Beyond The Sea) McCallum. And sure, Ortmayer is the guy who brought us Barry Redden. Nobody’s perfect.

But the Chargers are still a team in transition from the Gene Klein-Don Coryell era. Which is why Ortmayer is the right guy for this time. Let him coach for a year or 2 or 3 with Lynn as his plainly identified eventual successor. This gives Lynn a chance to be groomed, and it gives the Chargers a chance to find the right guy to replace Lynn--maybe defensive line coach Gunther Cunningham.

This is not a joke, Steve. Hire yourself.