Schottenheimer cheers former team’s loss
He screamed his lungs out in the crowded bar area of an Orlando restaurant, a scotch on the rocks in his right hand and a pigskin-sized knot in his gut.
For Marty Schottenheimer, watching the Jets battle the Chargers in an AFC divisional playoff clash Sunday was a nerve-wracking, emotional experience that the 66-year-old former coach shared with anyone in shouting range.
“I was an absolute wreck,” Schottenheimer recalled Monday, recounting the surreal splendor of seeing a Jets team for which his son, Brian, is the offensive coordinator defeat a San Diego squad he coached for five seasons before his controversial firing three years ago. “It was a terrific football game, and sitting in that restaurant, I wasn’t hiding my emotions or apologizing for my conduct.
“Man, I was wired. It’s like I was on drugs or something.”
Schottenheimer, who is in Orlando to coach the West team in next Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game, was so loud, proud and unbowed in his support of the Jets while watching with fellow coaches and event organizers that when New York clinched its 17-14 victory, a steady stream of random patrons at Maggiano’s came over to congratulate him.
“They were acting like I’d coached or played in the game,” Schottenheimer said. “I was doing what any fan would do, and then some. I have deep affection for many of the players and coaches that are in San Diego, but blood is thicker than water. My allegiance was clearly to Brian Schottenheimer.”
Fired by the Chargers after a devastating 2006 divisional-round playoff defeat to the New England Patriots, which followed a league-best 14-2 regular season, Schottenheimer swears Sunday’s jubilant reaction wasn’t driven by vengeance. While he remains baffled by the way he was shunned by San Diego’s general manager, A.J. Smith, during the latter part of his tenure, Schottenheimer insists he got over his dismissal long ago.
“Believe me, I have moved well beyond that,” he said. “It was almost another lifetime ago.”
Still, for the man who compiled a 200-126-1 regular season record in 21 years as an NFL head coach, yet infamously won just five of 18 playoff games, it was hard not to view Sunday’s result as some sort of a backhanded vindication.
Just as Schottenheimer presided over a pair of painful playoff defeats in San Diego – his AFC West champion Chargers suffered an overtime defeat to the Jets in an ’04 first-round game – his successor, Norv Turner (who deservedly signed a three-year contract extension Monday), showed that crushing home postseason upsets aren’t merely the domain of Martyball.
“The problem for me is, I lost 13 of them,” Schottenheimer said, laughing, in reference to his total number of postseason setbacks. “On the other hand, the positive side is that to be able to lose 13 of them, I had to get there a lot of times.”
If anything, the Jets’ victory demonstrated that Martyball – a physical, persistent rushing attack augmented by an aggressive, opportunistic defense – can be successful in that context. Brian Schottenheimer, who became the Jets coordinator in 2006 after spending four years as his father’s quarterbacks coach in San Diego, crafted a game plan that featured a heavy dose of running backs Shonn Greene(notes) (23 carries, 128 yards) and Thomas Jones(notes) (14 carries, 41 yards).
“That was Martyball, and it was good to see that it works,” former Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal(notes) said Monday. “If you stay consistent with it, and you run the ball with a purpose – and if you believe in the system and don’t make mistakes – it’s very effective. The Jets dictated the pace of that game, and they dictated the outcome.” Even though New York was held scoreless in the first half, the elder Schottenheimer was encouraged by the fact that the Chargers had managed only a touchdown to that point.
“I think seven was the more important number,” Schottenheimer said. “The Jets are who they are; they were going down that [ball-control] road and were going to be patient. That San Diego offense is outstanding – it had been marching up and down the field on everyone all year – and yet [the Jets] were still in the game. That was encouraging.”
In the end, perhaps some of the conspicuous heartbreaks the elder Schottenheimer suffered (The Drive, The Fumble) were balanced out by Brian’s good fortune.
“So many of those [playoff] games are determined by the bounce of the ball,” Schottenheimer said. “I’ve always referred to it as the football gods. It’s like the interception [Jets cornerback Darrelle] Revis got [Sunday] – yeah, he was in good position, but you’re telling me he’s supposed to be able to pick a ball off a guy [Vincent Jackson(notes)] who’s rolling on the ground? That was an act of God.”
Whereas Marty insists his coaching days are done – “I want to golf,” he said – Brian appears to have a bright NFL future. A year ago he was considered for the Jets’ head coaching job that went to Rex Ryan, and he recently withdrew his name from consideration for the Buffalo Bills’ opening because he’s enjoying his working relationship with Ryan and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes), among others.
Brian’s mother, Pat, attended Sunday’s game at Qualcomm, and Marty plans to join his wife in Indy for next Sunday’s AFC championship game. On Monday, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King reported that following the Jets’ victory, Brian Schottenheimer called his father from the bowels of Qualcomm and said, “Dad, this one’s for you.”
Marty Schottenheimer declined to discuss the conversation, but he did get choked up when asked what his son’s greatest professional triumph to date meant to him.
“It made me so proud,” he said.
He should be, without question.
I’ll leave you with questions – four, to be exact – beginning with the team that will represent an even greater challenge for the Jets on Sunday:
2. New Orleans Saints: Yo, Sean Payton – should another roster spot open up before Sunday, how off the chain would it be to see Joe Horn(notes) leading the home team onto the Superdome field with cell phone in hand?
3. Minnesota Vikings: After viewing a video of Brett Favre(notes) leading the Vikes in a rendition of this new “American Idol” sensation following Sunday’s victory over the Cowboys, will 49ers coach Mike Singletary sue for copyright infringement?