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Chargers make change at top

Times Staff Writer

The San Diego Chargers, who could be the NFL’s most talented team, are now last in line for a head coach.

Only weeks after assuring Marty Schottenheimer his job was safe, the Chargers fired him Monday, citing his “dysfunctional” relationship with A.J. Smith, the team’s general manager.

“The situation had become untenable,” Chargers owner Dean Spanos said in a conference call Monday night. “They couldn’t get along. It had reached a point where it was irreparable, and we decided to move on.”

Schottenheimer, who had a year remaining on his contract, was informed of the decision a few hours earlier. It came less than a month after his team fell apart in a divisional playoff loss to New England that ruined San Diego’s NFL-best 14-2 season.

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After that, Schottenheimer’s top two assistants became head coaches, with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron taking over in Miami, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips replacing Bill Parcells in Dallas.

It’s unlikely the Chargers would choose to fire their coach this late without a replacement in mind. A possible candidate is USC’s Pete Carroll, who interviewed with the Dolphins in January and whose name has come up in connection with other NFL vacancies.

Should he decide to leave the Trojans -- Carroll has consistently said he is staying -- the timing would tantalize conspiracy theorists. Last week, USC landed another stellar recruiting class after rumors of Carroll’s imminent departure had cooled. Also, assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian, who backed out of an expected offer to become coach of the Oakland Raiders, is positioned to succeed Carroll at USC, or perhaps join him as offensive coordinator in San Diego.

Not everything points to Carroll’s leaving college football for the Chargers. He reportedly wants personnel control of a franchise; Smith has that with the Chargers.

Carroll could not be reached for comment.

Asked about the USC coach on Monday, Spanos said neither he nor Smith had spoken to Carroll.

Said Smith: “I do have a list of names, considerations. I’m going to run them by Dean Spanos, we’ll decide who we’re going to contact, and then we’ll find out if they’re interested. If they’re interested, we’ll proceed setting up an interview process.”

Other potential candidates include Ron Rivera, Chicago’s defensive coordinator; Mike Martz, Detroit’s offensive coordinator, and Jim Mora, the recently fired Atlanta coach.

Smith said there was no timetable to make a hire but he didn’t “see it taking more than a couple weeks.”

Schottenheimer and Smith had been at odds since 2005, apparently over personnel decisions by the general manager.

“At the very beginning when I was hired in 2003 ... we worked together and everything was fine,” Smith said. “After that, let me just say it started to go in a different direction. I don’t want to get into specifics.

“We both wanted to win a world championship very badly. That’s obvious. It’s just that my approach may have been a little bit different than his, and I think Dean tired of this constant dialogue.”

Schottenheimer told ESPN.com that he didn’t know how his relationship with Smith deteriorated to the point that it did.

“Every time I tried to get an explanation of why there was such a bad reaction, he always had the same rebuttal ... he didn’t want to talk about it,” Schottenheimer told the website.

Spanos said Monday’s decision “is something that’s been progressing throughout the month and something that I’ve been thinking about for the last several days. It’s sort of been a negative work in progress, if you will, and a very difficult situation.”

The move underscores the pressure coaches are under to not only win during the regular season but in the playoffs. Schottenheimer is 5-13 in the postseason, and his teams have been one and done six consecutive times, two of those coming with the Chargers.

Last month, three days after the 24-21 loss to the Patriots, Spanos announced Schottenheimer would be around for at least the final season of his contract.

“You saw the game -- you can’t blame that on the coach,” Spanos said at the time. “That is baloney.”

Schottenheimer, who is due to receive a $3-million buyout for his final season, had declined the team’s offer last month of a $4.5-million, one-year extension through 2008, with a club-option buyout of $1 million.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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Elite company

Marty Schottenheimer is one of seven coaches who have won more than 200 games in the NFL (through 2006 season):

*--* COACH (TEAMS) W L T PCT. Don Shula (Baltimore, Miami) 347 173 6 665 George Halas (Chicago) 324 151 31 671 Tom Landry (Dallas) 270 178 6 601 Curly Lambeau (Green Bay, Washington, Chicago) 229 134 22 623 Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh) 209 156 1 572 Marty Schottenheimer (Cleveland, K.C., Wash., San 205 139 1 596 Diego) Dan Reeves (Denver, N.Y. Giants, Atlanta) 201 174 2 536 Chuck Knox (L.A. Rams, Buffalo, Seattle) 193 158 1 550 Bill Parcells (N.Y. Giants, New England, N.Y. 183 137 1 572 Jets, Dallas)

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Source: Associated Press


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