The San Diego Chargers capped off a rough 2016 season by firing head coach Mike McCoy. Despite McCoy keeping an injury-riddled Chargers team in majority of games, it was the right choice to move on from the four-year head coach.
The Chargers finished the season at 5-11, which marked the first time since the 2000-2001 seasons where the Chargers finished with back-to-back losing records as well as in last place in the AFC West (4-12 in 2015).
However, 2016 wasn’t your normal season. The team was in nearly every game–and led in majority of those games–but could not find a way to win the close ones. America’s Finest City became America’s Heartbreak City. It’s fair to say that Chargers fans are in concussion protocol after slamming their heads against the wall following all the frustrating losses.
According to ESPN’s Eric Williams, the Chargers lost six games this season when they had a lead in the fourth quarter. The Bolts have also finished with a 7-17 record in games decided by eight points or fewer dating back to the 2015 season, per Williams.
And that’s a big reason why McCoy was fired. You have to give him a bit of credit, though, as McCoy’s Chargers had 21 players (including No. 1 receiver Keenan Allen, No. 1 cornerback Jason Verrett and third-down specialist Danny Woodhead) on injured reserve–and that’s not mentioning multiple key players missing time throughout the year due to injury/suspension/contract dispute.
But now it’s time to move on from the past and look towards the future–and the future looks bright for the Chargers. Bleacher Report’s Christopher Hansen is among a few analysts who believe the Chargers’ head-coaching vacancy is on the top of the list.
Chargers have the best HC job opening.
— Christopher Hansen (@ChrisHansenNFL) January 3, 2017
It got me thinking: Are the Chargers really that attractive of a team? If run right, the Chargers could bolt right back into the playoffs next year.
And why’s that? Well, the team is loaded with young talent. They have a franchise quarterback (though time is running out for Philip Rivers), running back, receiver and cornerback(s). They also have two threats at tight end with Hunter Henry, who caught eight touchdown passes as a rookie, and future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates, who says he’ll likely return for one more season. Not only that, but the Chargers have one of the better front sevens in the league, featured by phenom defensive end Joey Bosa, who led the Chargers (and all rookie defensive linemen) with 10.5 sacks–and he did it in 12 games.
The fact that the Chargers, who were badly injured early on, were in all but two games this season (Week 14 vs. Panthers and Week 17 vs. Chiefs), shows they have quality depth at most positions. You could argue that they only have two major weaknesses: Offensive line and safety.
The Chargers also hold the No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. They have a chance to grab a talent like LSU safety Jamal Adams, who could end up being the best pick available while also filling a huge need. Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams and pass-rusher Derek Barnett are popular choices as well. It’s too early to talk draft, but a good draft position for a good team (when healthy) could make the Chargers dangerous (should they hit on their picks like they did in 2016, of course).
That’s just a few things that stand out. So what’s not to like?
Well, the ownership is one of the most disliked in the league. They handle situations very poorly, including the way they pushed out All-Pro safety Eric Weddle and dealt with Bosa’s contract. Many fans want Dean Spanos and Co. to sell the team, but that’s not going to happen.
Another big issue: Where are the Chargers going to play in 2017? If they relocate to Los Angeles, will they have any fan base? Will a move two hours north even play a huge role in a candidate’s decision? Relocating seemed inevitable early on, but recent reports suggest that the Chargers might actually stay in San Diego.
One discussion among NFL owners re: possibly giving more money to Chargers for stadium is that less public funding might be the new reality.
— Kevin Acee (@sdutKevinAcee) January 4, 2017
In terms of future free agents, would moving (if it happens) hurt the team’s chances of adding quality players? The same relocation rumors came up last year, but the Chargers still brought in playmakers like Casey Hayward, who made his first Pro Bowl after leading the league in interceptions with seven. If a move to L.A. puts the Chargers in a bad place with fans, would a player even want to play for them–16 away games doesn’t sound fun.
Moving aside, can the Chargers even afford top players? Compared to the other teams looking for a new head coach (Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers), the Chargers have the least amount of cap space among the group, per Overthecap.com. As of now, the Bolts rank 27th in cap space ($22,718,159), but the team is sure to cut underperforming players in the offseason. Having money to play with could make-or-break a candidate’s decision.
With that said, I believe the actual talent on the roster outweighs the cons. Now, the Chargers need to find the right coach to bring the best out of this talented roster.
Dec 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia during the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field. The Patriots defeated the Broncos 16-3. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
And it looks like the franchise is already on a quest to change things up (finally). After hiring offensive-minded coaches from 2007-2016 (McCoy for the previous four years and former coach Norv Turner before that), the Chargers have requested permission to interview defensive coordinators Vance Joseph, Matt Patricia, Sean McDermott, Teryl Austin, Mike Smith and special teams coordinator Dave Toub. Of all the candidates, Smith is the only one with head-coaching experience, but the others on this list are exciting options.
Who do the Chargers need? They need an aggressive coach who plays not to lose; we already talked about how the team blew leads this season. They need a coach who will discipline players when mistakes happen; the Chargers had a takeaway in every game but one and finished with 28 total, tied for fourth-most in the league, but finished the season with the most giveaways (35). And finally, they need a coach who can toughen them up; Rivers agrees.
In general, the team needs to win games against the AFC West. The Chargers are 1-13 against divisional rivals since November 2014, per ESPN. They also need to protect their veteran quarterback by upgrading the offensive line. The Chargers have been in the top-16 in sacks allowed for three straight years. In 2013, when the team made the playoffs, they tied for fourth for the least amount of sacks allowed. And most importantly, they NEED to stay healthy.
All in all, the Chargers need a culture change, and it’s been needed for a while now. You can have a talented roster, but you’re nothing without a good head coach.
It’s time for the Chargers to find a true leader who can turn it all around. Us fans deserve it.