The San Diego Charger’s somewhat unexpected playoff run came to an end yesterday night, and the players will be cleaning out their lockers. The team will finally be able to rest, after a hard-fought season, and spend time with their families. The players & coaches will pat each other on the back, say their goodbyes, and part ways. The unfortunate part of the business is that some of these men have become very close friends, and may not be playing on the same team in 2014. There are a lot of improvements to be made, and with that comes the releasing of players to free up roster spots. Some may come back to compete in OTA’s, but some will be cut loose for free agency.
One inevitable change, that we all knew was coming, is the departure of offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt is a somewhat polarizing person, as you love & hate him, all at the same time. The system he installed worked wonders for our team, and took us out of the darkness of the Norv Turner years. The improvement on offense can be directly attributed to Ken Whisenhunt, Frank Reich, and Joe D’Alessandris. The fact that this team made the playoffs, and made it to the divisional round, is largely due to Whisenhunt’s coaching. However, the fact that we inexplicably lost some close games, and lost the divisional round game in Denver, can also be directly blamed on Whisenhunt.
It is almost certain that Ken Whisenhunt will land a head coaching job very soon. As fans, we should appreciate what he was able to do, with so little on offense. We can also be thankful that his style of stubborn, conservative play calling will not be around, moving forward. I wish Whisenhunt the best, but I am also very relieved that he will be leaving. I am extremely excited to see who will be our new offensive play caller, whether we promote someone from within the organization, or we hire someone from outside of the organization. Whoever it is, there are some things that we all want to see done differently, and here is a list of qualifications that I would be looking for in a new offensive coordinator.
#1 – Must Have Youth:
When 50-something Ken Whisenhunt arrived, we all knew that there was a chance that he was a one-year rental. Because of the way he turned this offense around, he caught the attention of just about every team who fired their head coach. I want the next offensive coordinator to be on the younger end of the age spectrum, yet have a record of solid play calling, and a proven knowledge of the game. Even if they haven’t directly called the plays, I want them to have learned behind a professional OC, and be respected by his team. Not only would a younger coordinator have a more modern approach to the game, but it would fit perfectly with the youth movement this organization has started. A younger OC would be able to grow with the players, and wouldn’t be considered for any head coaching positions for the next few years, at least. This would create some stability in the locker room, rather than having to learn a new coordinator’s “style & personality” every other year.
#2 – Must Make On-The-Job Adjustments Quickly:
The biggest complaint I had on offense this year, is that when things obviously weren’t working, there was a clear hesitation to get away from the pre-determined game plan. We sat on our couches, and watched helplessly as they continued to stick with the passing attack, when the running game was working. Then, after weeks of watching in frustration, they admitted to themselves that there needed to be a change, and finally made the adjustment. Then, when teams got wise to it, or the key ingredients to that success fell to injury, Whisenhunt would stubbornly stick to the plan, despite obvious signs that it wasn’t working. There were a few games this season where making in game adjustments would probably have secured a win. Most notably this Sunday, when it took Whisenhunt 3 quarters to figure out that he needed to go more pass heavy, and we were eliminated from the playoffs. The new OC must be humble enough to abandon his game plan, no matter how bruised his ego may be, and switch to something that works, instead of beating a dead horse. He needs to immediately make these adjustments “in-game”, instead of slowly peppering them in over the course of 4-5 games… losing one or two games in the process. It’s OK to be wrong, but it’s not OK to be stubborn.
#3 – Must Avoid “Getting Cute”:
When the game is on the line, and something hasn’t worked numerous times before, we need an OC that won’t “get cute” with his play calling. When the running back is bulldozing everyone on the field, and gets you to the 20 yard line, there is no reason for you to suddenly yank him from the field, and switch to the passing game, to suit your own play calling tastes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! There is no need to tinker with something, unless the other team has figured it out, and is stopping you. When you are in the red-zone with half a yard to go, your power back should not be on the bench. Furthermore, you should NOT put your 5’ 9” running back in there, call two highly predictable passing plays after it doesn’t work, decide to kick a FG, and go to overtime, instead of winning the game. I can’t even believe that scenario happened. Nobody in their right mind would do such a thing. There were numerous times prior to that dreadful Washington Redskins goal-line series where similar red-zone plays were called, ending up in a FG, or no points at all. The new OC has to have guts, and not overthink himself into losing.
#4 – Must Be A Risk-Taker:
There were plenty of times this season where we thought that the play calling was as conservative as a G.O.P. convention. As fans, we would much rather have seen them take a chance, than play it safe. In fact, there were times when the coaching staff said things like “if we called the play the other way, and it failed, then you would be upset about that”. They are dead wrong about that. Most fans would never fault you for going for it on 4th & 1 on the opponent’s 37 yard line, when your defense hasn’t stopped anything all day. Nor would we fault you for running your power package 4 times in a row from inside the 5 yard line, with a victory on the line. The new OC needs to weigh the risk vs. reward aspect of the game, and go for the throat when the opponent is on their heels. Worrying about what the media will think should never enter their mind. Momentum plays a big role during the game, and “playing not to lose” will almost always end in a loss. Put the pedal to the metal, and KEEP IT THERE!
#5 – Must Command Authority:
Whoever the new OC is, has to be able to keep Philip Rivers in check. He also needs to be able to do things on his own, because we all know that McCoy is not the kind of guy who is going to step in, and take control when things are going wrong. When you put a power run-play package in, on a short-yardage goal line situation, you must let Rivers know that he can’t audible to a pass play on first down, simply because he likes to throw the ball to Gatesy. I always get this feeling that PR is trying to get guys like Gates “their touches”, because they are friends, when the right move would be to run a power play. He needs to let Philip know that if he does that, and fails miserably, that his play-changing privileges will be taken away. I saw this happen a few times this season. Giving Rivers the ability to call them like he sees them is a wonderful idea, and worked well for most of the season. But, Philip has a tendency to “get cute”, like Whisenhunt did. Having two guys agreeing on getting cute can be disastrous! The new OC, no matter how young & inexperienced he is, must be able to reel Rivers in, and put his foot down when needed, even if Rivers starts getting fired up about it.
#6 – Ability to Recognize Talent, and Groom New Players:
It took the majority of the season for Ken Whisenhunt to notice that Ladarius Green was a major mismatch in the passing game. Even after he recognized Green was a talented player, he seemed to use him sparingly and routinely put Gates in. I know it sounds like I am knocking Gates a lot here, but make no mistake about it.. I LOVE GATES. But, I don’t love him SO MUCH, or feel indebted to his past success, that I would keep an explosive player on the bench, so he could keep his starting role. At this stage in Gates career, I would like to see him used more in situational plays, rather than have him be the go-to-guy for PR on every single play. Too many times we see Philip go straight to Gates, when other guys were open downfield. The less PR’s “security blanket” is on the field, the more he will have to look to the other talented players on this team. Gate’s production this season did not warrant the amount of times Philip targeted him. He was dropping balls, giving up costly turnovers, looked slow, and was often double-teamed. Gates made some great plays, but the days of putting him out there (instead of grooming younger guys) are coming to a close.
#7- Must Build Trust With Players:
Whisenhunt would not trust Ryan Mathews for the first 5-6 games of the season, and effectively did the same thing Norv did.. run him between the 20’s. In my opinion, it was almost insulting to watch. Mathews would put in all of this hard work, and when it came time to reap the rewards, Whisenhunt would pull him out, and let Woodhead have the TD… or worse… not get the TD! The fact that Ryan never bitched about it ONCE impresses the heck out of me. THAT is being a team player. Can you imagine Mathews TD count, and yardage, had he not been blacklisted for the first third of the season? Do you think he might be in the pro-bowl now? Would we have been able to win some of those close games, and possibly take the division, or even top-seed? We will never know. Perhaps he would have just gotten injured faster. I still would have liked to have seen Mathews get his dues, instead of having to endlessly prove that he was “the guy”, before Whisenhunt FINALLY trusted him enough. We all saw it months before he gave him a shot. The new OC should be the one to see these things, long before we have a chance to notice it. Even if he misses it at first, we should not be talking about it for months, before the OC has noticed.
There are plenty of other qualifications that I would like our new OC to have. If you have any good ones that I am missing, please feel free to post them in the comments section below. One thing I can say is that change is good, especially in this situation. We need a new offensive coordinator to take this offense to the next level. We will be getting some players back from injury next season, moving on from other players, and adding some new toys. So far, Telesco & MCoy have done a bang up job of putting together a competent coaching staff. I can’t wait to see who the new coordinator will be, even if it ends up being one of our own. Let’s fix these problems, and get Charger Football back to where it once was, and beyond!
Keep Bolting Toward Excellence!