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Team’s Effort is Exemplary, Henning Says : Chargers: Coach won’t discuss specifics of whether he will return.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dan Henning, though stopping short of declaring he should be retained as Chargers’ coach, talked like a man who believes he deserves a chance to finish what he started.

“The team has maintained its attitude and its desire,” he said at his Monday press conference. “I think that speaks for itself. That’s a difficult thing under any conditions, but under the present conditions, it’s exemplary.

“To go through as much changeover as we’ve gone through, you would expect to have some lack of production through lack of continuity, but when it starts to come together, I think it ought to be recognized.”

But when asked if he deserved to be rehired, Henning hedged.

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“That’s somebody else’s decision,” he said. “I’ve got the Denver Broncos to concern myself with right now.”

General Manager Bobby Beathard said he will concern himself with Henning’s future when the season ends. But he said continuity will be one of the factors he will consider.

“You have to weigh everything,” Beathard said. “But you could make a case that continuity means a lot.”

“I don’t think there’s going to be a large turnover in personnel. We’re laying the foundation. We just have to add to it.”

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While laying the foundation under Henning the last three seasons, the Chargers have gone 16-31. But Henning contends that his tenure has been composed of two phases.

The first, under General Manager Steve Ortmayer in 1989, was built around experienced players with athletic ability.

“The general manager (Ortmayer) didn’t like to play young players,” Henning said.

But Henning said the plan has changed drastically since Beathard took over in January, 1990.

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“The plan starting in 1990 is that we needed to change a great deal of player personnel and start to work in younger players,” Henning said. “We didn’t hedge on our plan. We went with it.

“But in the meantime, there’s going to be some growing pains. We’ve been through some of that. It’s been a struggle. We’ve continued to identify players and given them experience in the meantime. It’s been a grind to do that.”

Henning said the plan to go with youth--the Chargers started six players Sunday with fewer than two years of NFL experience--takes its toll.

“When you’re not putting a proven product out there, sometimes you’re putting potential out there,” he said. “Potential comes through sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of identifying some that will and some that won’t.”

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Despite the Chargers’ 4-11 record, their worst since 1986, Henning said the team does not need a major overhaul.

“The team’s got a chance to be good,” he said. “The overall difference is that if it continues along this line, it could be good without needing the quick fix year in and year out.”

Beathard said he was encouraged by Sunday’s 38-30 victory over Miami, but he’s reluctant to get carried away.

“When we play like we did in the fourth quarter, maybe you think differently about the team than you did earlier,” Beathard said. “But then you look back at some of the other games, and you wonder where has that been. We’re still kind of a mystery.”

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It appears Billy Ray Smith’s calf injury will keep him out of Sunday’s game against Denver at Jack Murphy Stadium. Henning said Smith’s injury is the same one that put him on injured reserve in 1988.

Henning hinted that nagging injuries this season to Smith and Henry Rolling might cause the team to make changes at the outside linebacker position.

“We went into the season hoping that between the two of them, Henry and Billy would be able to hold up, but at different times they’ve been injured and a couple times together,” he said. “It puts a real strain on that strong linebacker position.

“We really need a bigger, stronger guy. Those two are good football players over there, but they’re both of the 230-, 233-pound range and that position is being manned in this league by a lot bigger guys.”

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The Chargers take-away margin is plus-three, fifth in the AFC. They did not commit a turnover against the Dolphins, but their defense recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass.

The Chargers have recovered nine fumbles and intercepted 18 passes. They have turned the ball over 13 times by interception and 11 by fumble.


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