The Chargers’ disappointing first half of the 2019 season cost veteran offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt his job.
The team announced that Whisenhunt had been fired Monday night, one day after the offense again struggled to score and run the ball in a 17-16 victory at Chicago.
“This is not an easy decision and definitely not one that I take lightly,” coach Anthony Lynn said in a statement. “You win as a team, and you lose as a team. It’s never about just one person.
“At the end of the day, however, I simply felt a change was needed at this time. I want to thank Ken for his years of service to the Chargers organization and wish him nothing but the best moving forward.”
Whisenhunt, 57, was in fifth season overall and second stint as the team’s offensive coordinator. He was retained when Lynn took over as head coach before the 2017 season.
The Chargers did not announce an interim to take Whisenhunt’s place. Their next game is Sunday, at home, against Green Bay as they attempt to rebound from a 3-5 first half.
Whisenhunt was first hired by the Chargers before the 2013 season. He then spent the next two years as head coach in Tennessee before returning to the Chargers in 2016.
A year ago, the Chargers ranked tied for sixth in points and 11th in total yards among the NFL’s 32 teams. After eight games this season, the offense is 23rd in points and 17th in yards.
Even worse, the running game has nearly disappeared of late. Over their past four games, the Chargers have gained only 142 yards on 63 carries, an average of 2.2 yards per attempt.
No team in the Super Bowl era had gone four games in a row with fewer than 40 rushing yards until the Chargers reached that streak Sunday.
“I think that kind of comes on all of us - offensive line, tight ends, receivers, too - and then the quarterbacks and the running backs reading the holes and everything,” tight end Hunter Henry said of the lacking ground game. “It falls on all of us.”
The Chargers have had a particularly difficult time re-incorporating running back Melvin Gordon into the offense. He missed the first four games because of a contract dispute.
Since Gordon returned, running back Austin Ekeler’s role has been diminished enough that he has been unable to duplicate the sort of production he had earlier in the season.
With the trade deadline arriving at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Gordon’s name continues to be rumored as a potential target for other teams. He is in the final season of his rookie contract.
For the year, the Chargers are averaging 69.5 rushing yards, the second-lowest in franchise history through eight games. The 2000 team averaged 64.7 yards. That group finished 1-15.
On Sunday, during a game in which the Bears dominated possession, the Chargers attempted only 12 rushes among their 42 plays.
“Not enough,” Lynn said Monday afternoon, before Whisenhunt’s firing was made public. “Not enough at all. The run game hasn’t been good, by any means. Let’s get that straight.
“But that’s the encouraging part. I think that’s something that’s going to get better. In the second half of the season, if the rushing attack comes along, then I think that’s going to help our team tremendously.”
Lynn is a former NFL running back and well known advocate of establishing the ground game. He was the offensive coordinator in Buffalo in 2016, a season during which the Bills led the league in rushing.
He and Whisenhunt had some rocky moments the next year as the Chargers opened the season 0-4 and struggled with the running game. The situation eventually smoothed out as the Chargers rebounded to finish 9-7.
Among the other recent offensive issues, quarterback Philip Rivers has repeatedly lamented the Chargers’ inability to score.
Other than those two occasions, they have not topped 20 points in a game. They’re averaging 19.6 points and have scored six touchdowns in their past 42 possessions.
The Chargers have hurt themselves with crucial mistakes, turning the ball over five times in goal-to-go situations and having four touchdowns nullified by penalties.
Whisenhunt has been credited with helping Rivers reinvigorate his career in 2013, their first year together. That season, Rivers completed a career-high 69.5% of his passes and finished with 32 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
Whisenhunt has been coaching in the NFL since 1997, when he worked with the tight ends in Baltimore. He first became an offensive coordinator in 2004 with Pittsburgh.
In two stints as a head coach - first with Arizona and then Tennessee - he was 48-71 in parts of eight years. He was fired by the Titans midway through the 2015 season.
Last December, Whisenhunt was a candidate for the head coaching job at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, before Geoff Collins got the job.