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Tolliver Trade Puts the Heat on John Friesz : Chargers: Beathard, Spanos contend they followed coaches’ recommendation.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Friesz picked up his morning newspaper, sat down for breakfast and swallowed hard after learning the Chargers’ future rests on his arm.

“Now that’s a scary thought,” said defensive lineman Burt Grossman.

After trading Billy Joe Tolliver to Atlanta on Wednesday for a draft pick, consider the Chargers murders’ row at quarterback: Friesz, who hasn’t played against the first-string this preseason, Bob Gagliano, who hasn’t played since Aug. 3 after throwing seven passes, and Jeff Graham, who has never been deemed worthy to suit up for an NFL regular-season game.

Do you think they misplaced Babe Laufenberg’s telephone number?

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The Chargers traded third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks for a second to pick Tolliver in the 1989 draft. They will receive a fourth-round pick from Atlanta at draft time next year if the Falcons do not have a fifth pick of their own. If Atlanta comes up with a fifth, it goes to San Diego rather than the fourth.

The party line at Chargers’ headquarters was this move was best for Tolliver. “I think this gives Billy an opportunity that’s refreshing for him with all that’s happened in this town,” General Manager Bobby Beathard said. “I don’t think it’s the place for Billy to be.”

The Chargers, however, invested the past two years, including this past exhibition season, in the development of Tolliver. But as quick as Beathard and Chargers owner Alex Spanos could say, “I told you so,” after Friday’s exhibition conflict with the Raiders, Tolliver was gone and Friesz was in.

Friesz completed 17 of 19 passes for 210 yards against the Raider reserves in the Chargers’ exhibition finale. Tolliver started and hit seven of 17 for 94 yards.

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After the Chargers promoted Friesz, they began shopping Tolliver. Phoenix said, “no thanks,” but the Falcons responded favorably.

“When Billy Joe Tolliver became available we jumped on him,” Atlanta Coach Jerry Glanville said. “It’s kinda surprising we were able to make the trade; I think we’re real fortunate.”

Tolliver will work behind starter Chris Miller and second-round pick Brett Favre. He will return to San Diego on Sept. 15 with the Falcons.

“I don’t think it will be that difficult coming back,” Tolliver said, “It’s not like I spent 10 years here and everybody loved me.”

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The Chargers should be so lucky to have as many fans as there were Billy Joe detractors. Beathard and Spanos were well-known charter members of the “Billy Joe Must Go” club for some time, but both denied having anything to do with Tolliver’s sudden departure.

“That’s the coaches,” Spanos said. “What happened is that’s what the coaches felt had to be done. That’s up to them.

“I had absolutely no role in this. I may get mad. I may get upset, but there’s no way I take a role in these kind of things.”

Beathard said, “What Dan Henning wanted to do was give each one the opportunity so we could properly evaluate them. Finally in the last preseason game that evaluation was made.

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“The decision (to trade Tolliver) wasn’t made to take pressure off Friesz. If they (coaches) had felt this would still be a very good situation to have Billy here in a backup role, we wouldn’t have made the trade.”

Coach Dan Henning, who has been a supporter of Tolliver’s, said he was in agreement with the trade, but he declined to offer further explanation.

“There are a number of reasons why Billy Joe Tolliver was traded,” Henning said, “but I’m not going to go into it at this point in time because my mind is on Pittsburgh.”

Tolliver, always the gentleman under the most trying circumstances, appeared at a morning press conference at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium with his son, Austin.

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“I think there’s been enough separation around here as far as management and coaches having different opinions,” Tolliver said, “and I think the important thing is now they’re on the same page, so good luck to them.

“I just hope the people of San Diego give him (Friesz) a little bit more of a chance, because right now the only people who deserve a winner here in San Diego are those guys in the locker room.”

In his two years here, Tolliver was 8-11 as starting quarterback. In that same span, the quarterbacks who started in his place were 4-9. After a crowd-pleasing exhibition-season start his rookie season, the fans turned on Tolliver and targeted him with their frustration.

“I think I did a pretty good job of it (shielding himself from the abuse), but there’s just other people around here who didn’t,” he said. “I’ve said all along I got more patience than other people around here, but it wasn’t my patience that mattered.

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“I’m just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s like Dan said, I’m definitely going to heaven; I’ve been through hell already.”

Friesz begins his journey into the unknown this week, and he has the owner’s endorsement.

“I’ll take it one game at a time, but I’ll tell you what, I like what I see,” Spanos said. “We have a young quarterback now, and I just foresee a better future for the Chargers beginning this week.

“I strongly believe we have a better ballclub than last year. I believe they’re going to go to Pittsburgh and play with intensity and emotion like they haven’t played in the last two or three weeks. I feel there are going to be some real positive things.

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“I think it’s because of the coaches. It’s the decisions I see them making. I feel good the way things are going.”

The Chargers have changed quarterbacks, however, they will go to Pittsburgh with the same offensive line and with the same wide receivers who betrayed Tolliver so often.

“It’s not just the quarterback; Billy Joe took the heat for it,” Friesz said, “but at one time or another all 10 other positions have broken down. I just hope the fans realize it’s all 11 guys; sometimes they think that quarterbacks are the entire key.”

You get the idea: Boo the whole team instead of just the quarterback.

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“I hope people’s expectations aren’t that John is going to go out there and throw 17 of 19,” Henning said, “and I also hope the expectations aren’t that he’s going to fall right on his fanny.”


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