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Schottzy gives Smith ammo to fire him

Last month, in a phone interview before his team's visit to Buffalo, Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith told me about the pyramid of responsibility he had learned as a Bills scout under Bill Polian and Marv Levy.

"When people step out of that arena and have an opinion on everything else, that's when I have a problem," Smith said. "What is your little circle in that pyramid? There's a lot of people who think they know everything."

It was clear that Smith was talking about his non-existent relationship with Marty Schottenheimer, who Smith felt had strayed from his spot on the pyramid by meddling in personnel matters.

After that conversation, I had no doubt that Smith was waiting for a chance to fire his coach, and that there would be hell to pay if the Chargers didn't win in the playoffs.

Well, Schottenheimer is in deep trouble now. Sunday, he put a couple of bullets in the GM's gun when the top-seeded Chargers lost at home to the Patriots, 24-21.

Team President Dean Spanos will decide Schottenheimer's fate this week. Smith's recommendation will be a big factor. It's hard to imagine the GM giving his estranged coach a thumbs-up.

They ought to fire Schottenheimer. Sure, he led the Chargers to a 14-2 record in the regular season. He has 200 career wins, the most of any active coach. LaDainian Tomlinson, the MVP running back, said the players were responsible for the loss and that Schottenheimer "didn't have any control over it."

That's ridiculous. The NFL is a coaches' league. Coaches have enormous control. As any Bills fan could tell you, they prove themselves on game day, in the crucial moments, when they make the snap decisions that decide games.

Schottenheimer is 5-13 in the postseason. He has lost six in a row, a league record. The last four have been at home, three as the top overall seed in the AFC. Only once has Schottenheimer beaten a higher seed. Seven of his 13 playoff losses have been by three or fewer points.

He lived down to his reputation Sunday, making enough poor decisions to cost his team the game. Late in the first half, the Chargers went on fourth-and-11, passing up a 47-yard field goal attempt. Philip Rivers was sacked and the Pats wound up getting a field goal.

The worst gaffe came late in the game, after Marlon McCree fumbled the ball away to the Pats after an interception. Schottenheimer threw a challenge flag, though replays clearly showed he had no chance of a reversal. It was a waste of a timeout, a sign of panic.

The timeout would have come in handy later when San Diego was forced to attempt a 54-yard field goal with eight seconds left. Schottenheimer could have run one more play and tried to get his team closer for the potential tying kick, but he didn't have the guts.

Smith and Spanos have every right to be angry. This was their year. They had the best talent in football. The window was open. The question was whether a career playoff failure could get them through it.

Not every mistake was Marty's. The Chargers had two dumb personal fouls, two fumbles and countless dropped passes. The one pass they should have dropped -- McCree's fourth-down interception -- turned the game around.

Still, when teams play dumb it's a reflection of the coach. That's the way it works. It's no coincidence that the Patriots are 12-1 in the playoffs under Bill Belichick. You can't anoint Belichick a genius for winning all the big games and dismiss it as bad luck when Schottenheimer's teams always find a way to lose.

Schottenheimer lost the power struggle with his GM. He lost another playoff game. He can consider himself lucky if he doesn't lose his job.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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