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CHARGER ANALYSIS : Henning’s Position is Safe--For Now

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Raise your hand.

How many of you think the decision to stick with Charger Coach Dan Henning this season--win or lose--is just one more mental error?

Put ‘em down.

How many of you believe the Charger brass is really going to stand by their man all year?

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No need to raise both hands.

Now be honest: How many of you think Henning won’t survive this weekend if the Chargers lose their home opener to Atlanta?

You haven’t been paying attention.

Offensive coordinator Ted Tollner was dismissed, defensive coordinator Ron Lynn has been under fire, and George Allen passed away.

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So although owner Alex Spanos’ impatient track record has led to speculation in every major sports publication, including the pages of Tuesday’s USA Today, that Henning’s job is in immediate jeopardy, there is no one available to replace him.

“I didn’t realize there was a lot of concern or speculation about this being a game-to-game thing with Dan,” General Manager Bobby Beathard said.

One question: Why is the smartest man in the NFL playing dumb?

“I can tell you this: It isn’t game-to-game with Dan,” Beathard said. “He’s going to be here.

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“There is no doubt in my mind he’s going to be here the whole year. I’ve talked to Mr. Spanos and he really wants to see Dan do well. He likes the guy.”

Spanos liked Al Saunders, too, and Al Saunders was dismissed after compiling a 17-22 record as head coach of the Chargers.

Henning’s record with the Chargers is 12-22, and alert the authorities if you find anyone who thinks Henning can still match Saunders’ record.

Spanos, however, said Tuesday he will back Beathard all the way, and Beathard supports Henning.

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“Just by Dan’s ability to make the decisions last week and two weeks ago with Billy Joe Tolliver and Ted Tollner shows me something,” Spanos said. “It could not have been easy for him, but I love the fact he made the decisions that he thought had to be made and then moved on.

“We’re behind him. He’s got other pressures to concern himself with, and I want him to know Bobby and I are on the same wavelength.”

Despite all the speculation, and in some cases the outcry for Henning’s dismissal, Beathard said he has received only one letter this year regarding his team.

“Somebody wanted us to pick up (quarterback) Anthony Dilweg,” Beathard said. “That’s it.”

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In the rush to buy season tickets before the first home game, some people may have misplaced his address: Mr. Bobby Beathard, P.O. Box 609609, San Diego, Calif., 92160.

“I hear those radio shows and I understand that with each loss there are some people who think we’re closer to getting rid of Dan,” Beathard said, “but I don’t think our decision can be made because of what we hear. We have to make decisions that are best for the Chargers.

“I think the guy’s a heckuva coach. If we give him the right things to work with, he’s good. I don’t think changing mid-stream helps anything at all. There have been so many changes here. If you do make changes, there is a right time for them. I’d like to see where we never have to make any changes. But sometimes you have to.”

The expiration date on the Chargers’ vote of confidence in Dan Henning is Dec. 22, 1991. The Chargers will have wrapped up the season, and based on early returns, they will probably do so with a losing record.

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Unfortunately, that will come as a great surprise and disappointment to Spanos and Beathard. Both disliked Tolliver intensely, and as if they are still trying to prove their point, they have gotten carried away in their praise and expectations for John Friesz.

But Henning has to play with the inexperienced Friesz at quarterback, and history indicates it will be a losing proposition this year. Throw in an overrated defense, and who is at fault here?

“I still think we can be a pretty good team,” Beathard said. “I’m discouraged and disappointed with the start of the season, but not to the point of throwing in the towel and thinking we can’t do anything. I think anybody in the organization that feels that way is letting us down.

“I don’t have good answers for the fans. When you say, ‘Be patient,’ that’s not a good answer. People like to see things happen, and that kind of makes them think you’re doing something. But now is not the time to make big changes.”

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Henning’s tenure has been marked by nothing but change. Steve Ortmayer hired Henning, and selected the personnel to play for him, and then he was fired.

Beathard arrived, didn’t think much of Ortmayer’s personnel, and the housecleaning continues. Of the 47 players on the 1989 roster for Henning’s first game here, only 16 remain.

The man has not been given the opportunity to be successful in San Diego. His 22-41-1 record in Atlanta condemned him as a loser upon his arrival, and his decision to play Tolliver invited uneducated criticism.

He has held his ground under the most trying of circumstances, and he has refused to make excuses. He has a poor record in games decided by seven or fewer points (4-15), but try and remain competitive at this level with Jim McMahon, David Archer, Tolliver, Mark Vlasic, Bob Gagliano and Friesz at quarterback.

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He is making preparations to play the third game in only his third season at the helm here. And now he has earned a vote of confidence from his superiors, but more likely, it’s only a stay of execution.


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