Chargers clicking with Butler as GM

ON THE NFL

October 07, 2001|By KEN MURRAY

Almost overnight, with a run of shrewd moves, John Butler has remade the San Diego Chargers from last year's patsies into this year's Cinderella team.

Since he was named general manager on Jan. 5, Butler has swapped the first pick in the draft, hired Norv Turner to be offensive coordinator, signed several players from his old team, the Buffalo Bills, including quarterback Doug Flutie, selected the premier college running back and retooled the organizational outlook.

"You don't want to play poker with John Butler right now," said Chargers president Dean Spanos.

Butler's deft touch has resulted in the Chargers' first 3-0 start in seven years going into today's game at Cleveland. They are the only unbeaten team in the AFC, not bad for a team that finished 1-15 a year ago, with its worst draft mistake ever (Ryan Leaf) at quarterback and no running game.

This year, the Chargers are respectable on offense with rookie LaDainian Tomlinson's running ability and Flutie's leadership. It's not by accident. Spanos watched Butler weave his spell during a five-day trip to Las Vegas, where they sat down with coach Mike Riley and salary gap guru Ed McGuire to map the future.

"We locked ourselves in at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas for one week and met for eight, nine hours a day, every day," Spanos said. "We went through every player on the roster, the front office, coaching, everything. John was trying to find out where we were, what he'd need going into the season. We never left the room."

Butler identified the need for two cornerbacks, a pass rusher and a new quarterback and filled them by adding cornerbacks Ryan McNeil from Dallas and Alex Moulden from New Orleans, and defensive end Marcellus Wiley and Flutie from Buffalo.

The day before the draft, he dealt the rights to quarterback Michael Vick to the Atlanta Falcons for two extra picks and kick returner Tim Dwight. Then he got Tomlinson and quarterback Drew Brees in the first 32 picks.

Tomlinson has given the Chargers the ability for a ball-control offense, and Flutie has given them an improvisational spark. San Diego pounded Washington, outscored Dallas and whipped Cincinnati with its new cast. In an era of quick turnarounds, the Chargers are set up for a playoff run.

"Anything is possible," Spanos said. "I think you can turn it around in one year. Look at Baltimore, the [St. Louis] Rams and Atlanta. None of those teams were playoff teams before going to the Super Bowl. And we were 8-8 two years ago."

Butler set the minimum goal of a winning season, but he wants more.

"John has said anything less than a winning season would be a disappointment," Spanos said. "I think with the moves we've made, it all lines up like that. I would be disappointed if we didn't get close [to the playoffs]."

Carolina's quagmire

In 1998 and again in 2000, Carolina's Ericsson Stadium was rated the No. 2 natural grass surface in the NFL in player surveys conducted by the NFLPA. But after last week, Ericsson has joined Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium in playing surface infamy.

Large chunks of sod began tearing up in the first quarter of the Panthers' 28-7 loss to Green Bay. By the end of the game, injuries and frustration were on the rise. Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan fractured his tibia chasing quarterback Brett Favre, and Carolina center Jeff Mitchell hurt his knee. Both players said the turf might have caused their injuries.

Green Bay lost nickel back Antuan Edwards for the season to a torn knee ligament when his foot got caught in the turf, as well. He declined to blame the field.

By the time the Panthers return home next week to face New Orleans, they'll have a new turf. The team began installing a new type of sod called Dura Turf last week. No current NFL field uses Dura Turf, however.

Doomsday in Dallas

The Dallas Cowboys endured the worst quarter of their 42-year history in a 40-18 loss at Philadelphia last week. In the second quarter, they lost four fumbles, had a punt blocked and were outscored 26-0. That eclipsed 24-point periods allowed against the Baltimore Colts in 1960 and the New York Giants in 1962.

In the span of 5:38, the Cowboys ran six plays and had four fumbles, a dropped pass by wide receiver Joey Galloway and a 6-yard rushing loss by Emmitt Smith. The drop ended a pass-catching streak of 75 games for Galloway.

"You'd like to stay positive," said safety George Teague. "But nothing good can come out of this. That was embarrassing."

Panning the crowd

Denver coach Mike Shanahan gently criticized his home fans in the wake of a 20-13 loss to the Ravens, saying crowd noise at Invesco Field didn't match the Broncos' old Mile High Stadium.

"It wasn't anywhere close," he said. "But even Mile High over the last couple of years wasn't as loud. I think people kind of expect you to win a little bit [more]."

Shanahan pointed to the fact the Ravens had no trouble with their snap count.

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