Playoff Pasted

Times Staff Writer

The last time Marty Schottenheimer won a playoff game was in the 1993 season, when his Kansas City Chiefs, led by Joe Montana, beat Warren Moon's Houston Oilers in the Houston Astrodome.

So that came against a team that no longer exists, in a mothballed stadium, with two quarterbacks now in the Hall of Fame.

Yes, it has been quite a while.

Schottenheimer, now San Diego's coach, aims to end that streak of futility today when the Chargers play host to New England in an AFC divisional playoff game at Qualcomm Stadium. He has lost five consecutive playoff games, one with San Diego and four with Kansas City, making him the league's most notorious postseason pushover.

"They talk about the football gods," said Schottenheimer, 63, who is 5-12 in the playoffs as coach of the Cleveland Browns, Chiefs and Chargers. "You can go back and see all the different things that occurred, plays we made and plays we didn't make....I'm not uncomfortable talking about the fact that the playoff record is miserable."

In 21 seasons as a coach, including one season with the Washington Redskins, Schottenheimer has won 200 regular-season games. The other coaches who reached that milestone -- Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry and Curly Lambeau -- all won multiple Super Bowls or NFL titles. Schottenheimer's teams have never been to a Super Bowl.

Some of the games in which his team came up short were so epic, they're remembered simply by nicknames. There was "the Drive" in January 1987, when John Elway led Denver to victory over Cleveland in the AFC championship game. The next season came "the Fumble," when Browns running back Earnest Byner lost the ball at the goal line at Denver for another championship loss. There were the two seasons the top-seeded Chiefs became the one-and-done Chiefs.

Then, there were the Chargers two years ago. They played host to the New York Jets in a wild-card game and overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime. In the extra period, San Diego had a first down at the New York 22 and had a chance to turn a good-percentage field-goal try into an even easier one. The Chargers played it safe -- a maddening earmark of Schottenheimer's offensive strategy -- and ran it up the middle three times for a total of one yard. Then-rookie Nate Kaeding missed a 40-yard try, the Jets marched down the field and won with a field goal of their own, and the Schottenheimer curse lived on.

Schottenheimer's greatest regret from that game? He ran onto the field to confront the officials after punter Mike Scifres took a dive. The coach was flagged, and that 15-yard penalty helped the Jets set up a tying touchdown near the end of the first half. Asked recently by the Associated Press what he would change if he were to get one playoff mulligan, Schottenheimer referred to that moment.

"I'd stay the hell off the field," he said. "I violated a basic principle of mine, and that is, don't do anything that puts your football team in a position where that action has affected the outcome of the game. The bottom line is, that ain't your job. So I got a triple-bogey."

One of his former Browns, Doug Dieken, also uses a golf analogy in describing the concept of "Martyball," the derisive nickname for Schottenheimer's conservative style.

"It's like when you're getting to the 18th hole and you're up by one, and you hit an iron off the tee instead of going for it with a driver," said Dieken, a longtime left tackle who played half a season for Schottenheimer before being cut. He's now a radio analyst for Browns games.

To Schottenheimer, however, Martyball is a myth.

"I don't believe it to be true," he said. "The way we went about things may have appeared that way, may have manifested itself that way. But everything we ever did in terms of preparing to play and win was determined by one thing -- what is it the people you have do best? That's the critical question that must be accurately answered to be successful in coaching in this league.

"You can't go around doing things that your players aren't particularly suited to do."

Offensively, the 2006 Chargers do everything well. They led the NFL in points, touchdowns and red-zone efficiency. LaDainian Tomlinson was selected the league's most valuable player and set NFL season records in points, touchdowns and rushing touchdowns. Philip Rivers, in his first season as the starting quarterback, showed uncommon poise despite a couple of shaky games down the stretch. And San Diego closed the season with a 10-game winning streak.

Along the way, Schottenheimer was praised for letting his coaches coach. Specifically, he let his coordinators make a lot of decisions. With Cam Cameron overseeing the offense and Wade Phillips watching over the defense, the Chargers emerged as the league's most balanced team.

They also took some uncharacteristic risks, including a tricky handoff for a touchdown against Denver and a successful fake punt against Kansas City a week later. In fact, San Diego was one of only three teams to convert a fake punt this season.

"We'd been practicing and practicing it for so long," linebacker Donnie Edwards said. "Sometimes, Marty gets hesitant to put something like that in. Guys were kind of razzing him, like, 'Oh, yeah, let's go practice our fake punt again. The one that we never run.' Everyone was jawing at him. And before you know it, he was like, 'We're going to run it.'

"Marty's been able to change with the times."

Although he hasn't won a Super Bowl, Schottenheimer has won the respect of his players. They tend to be fiercely loyal to him and often bristle at the suggestion he's too starched, too by-the-book conservative. Like their coach, they're tired of hearing about Martyball.

"That's a dead issue," receiver Keenan McCardell said. "We're ready to put that in the garbage.... We understand that those are his teams of the past. We can make history. For him."

It remains to be seen whether that would be enough to save Schottenheimer's job. There's widespread speculation that he will be fired if the Chargers fall short of the Super Bowl, a notion only bolstered by his strained relationship with General Manager A.J. Smith over personnel moves. The coach has a year remaining on his contract at more than $3 million.

"I don't worry about it," Schottenheimer said. "I don't give it any thought at all. I'm a day-to-day guy.... Because at the end, wherever it happens to be, I'll have a career in this business that I'm proud of. I don't have to look at anybody else in the mirror except Marty Schottenheimer."



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Postseason blues

Only one team can be champion, so many good coaches have suffered a lot of postseason losses. A look at where Chargers Coach Marty Schottenheimer ranks on some ignominious lists:


Schottenheimer has a postseason winning percentage of .294 (5-12), seventh-lowest among coaches with at least five games. Only Don Shula and Tom Landry have lost more playoff games:

*--* Coach W L Don Shula 19 17 Tom Landry 20 16 Marty Schottenheimer 5 12 Bud Grant 10 12 Chuck Knox 7 11



Despite winning 200 regular-season games, Schottenheimer has never coached a game where he had a chance to take home a championship.

*--* Coach RSW Marty Schottenheimer 200 Chuck Knox 186 Jim Mora 125 Tony Dungy 114 Dennis Green 113 Don Coryell 111





The dirty dozen

Marty Schottenheimer's 12 postseason losses:

*--* Season Team Opponent, Score Round Comment 1985 Cleveland Miami, 23-21 AFC SF Miami rallied from 21-3 deficit, scored winner with 1:57 to play. 1986 Cleveland Denver, 23-20 AFC CH Only one drive is known as "the Drive" . . . 1987 Cleveland Denver, 38-33 AFC CH . . and only one fumble is known as "the Fumble." 1988 Cleveland Houston, 24-23 AFC WC Browns scored late, but two-point conversions not allowed. 1990 Kansas City Miami, 17-16 AFC WC Dolphins scored winner with 2:28 to play, capping 85-yard drive. 1991 Kansas City Buffalo 37-14 AFC SF Chiefs had beaten Bills during regular season, 33-6. 1992 Kansas City San Diego, 17-0 AFC WC A 54-yard scoring run broke up scoreless game in third quarter. 1993 Kansas City Buffalo, 30-13 AFC CH Bills knocked out Joe Montana, pulled away in fourth quarter. 1994 Kansas City Miami, 27-17 AFC WC After a 17-17 halftime tie, turnovers halted two Chiefs drives. 1995 Kansas City Indianapolis, 10-7 AFC SF Four turnovers, three missed field-goal tries led to upset loss. 1997 Kansas City Denver, 14-10 AFC SF Another drive: John Elway-led Broncos won with 2:28 to play. 2004 San Diego N.Y. Jets, 20-17 AFC WC Chargers tied score in final minute, then lost in overtime.




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