When the Chargers introduced their new head football coach Thursday afternoon, I didn't know what to expect.
OK, maybe I did know what to expect.
All the scouting reports, after all, on Robert Joseph (Bobby) Ross suggested this was a man with values forged from a military background. Discipline would be his forte.
With that thought in mind, I expected him to stride briskly to the podium wearing pearl-handled pistols and carrying a blood-stained riding crop. He might even be wearing camouflage battle fatigues, presumably blue and gold.
This would be what the Chargers would need, of course. They would need a coach who would not let them lose. They would need a guy whose force of personality would drive the ball through the uprights or into the end zone in the final minutes of those frustratingly close games.
Bobby Ross, military man, was approaching the podium.
He was accompanied by owner Alex Spanos, gold turtleneck, and General Manager Bobby Beathard, blue sweater. Welcome to laid back San Diego, Gen. Ross. Or is it Col. Ross . . . or what?
Just plain Coach Ross, thank you. He was a bit over-dressed, at least in the company he was keeping, with a blue blazer, tie and gray slacks. I forgot to check for combat boots.
In truth, it would seem Ross's military background may have been just a bit overblown. He did earn a degree in English and history from the Virginia Military Institute, and that experience undoubtedly did something for his approach to discipline. However, Benedictine (Richmond, Va.) High School may have had a lot of do with disciplinary attitudes as well, if those Benedictines are the same as some I've encountered.
It became obvious very quickly that this was no George Patton. This was ol' Bobby Ross, Suthun boy, fresh from Joe-Jah Tech. He was bone in Richmond and nevah has ventured too fah no-ath of the Mason-Dixon Line for too long.
Ross did spend four years, 1978 through 1981, as an assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs. He drew from that experience to reflect on his historical knowledge of his new organization.
"I'm very familiar with it from my experience in Kansas City," he said. "I know of the strengths and abilities and I'm looking forward to the challenge ahead."
I hate to say it, Bobby, but those Chargers are not these Chargers. Those Chargers lit up scoreboards and electrified the community. Those were the glory days. You inherit guys who are currently watching their ninth consecutive post-season from the comfort of reclining chairs. Your challenge is to get these guys back to being those guys you remember.
I really think he understands that.
He arrived a few days ago to meet with Spanos and Beathard and brought with him four pages of questions. Hopefully, he was talking four pages of small print. There may be that many questions on the offensive line (or defensive backfield) alone.
When he returned, to take the job, he brought four suitcases. That's much more like it. I assume his clothes are coming later.
What the Chargers are getting is a coach who pays close attention to details. This is not a big picture guy. If this guy was running Desert Storm, for example, he would specifically assign the driver to each tank and the pilot to each plane. Or he would at least know who they were.
"I won't have a list of big things and little things," he said. "They'll all be big things."
This guy will know what is going on.
"I'll be totally involved," he said. "I won't be a coach who calls the plays, but I'll know what's being called. If I don't like it, I'll change it. I'll know what's going on in all aspects of the game."
When you see him wearing a headset on the sideline, don't jokingly wonder whether he is listening to Rod Stewart or Garth Brooks. His headset will have two channels--offense and defense--and he will be in tune with both of them.
Naturally, Charger fans will be eager to know if this is the guy who can finally bring their heroes back to the days of Don Coryell. The only thing we can say they have in common, now at least, is a bit of a lisp. Comparisons beyond that are certainly premature, but that's a start.
Asked what he would ask of Charger fans, Ross said: "Be patient."
He hesitated and smiled.
"They probably won't buy that," he said, "so I won't say that. Don't put that down. I guess I would ask that they support us and get behind us . . . Don't make judgments too soon, good or bad. This isn't a quick fix."
"I guess maybe what I'm saying is be patient."
It always comes to that. There is something about press conferences to introduce new coaches. They come full circle. They come back to patience.
That is not a very popular word among Charger fans.