A pro with cons

Winning ways, playoff woes define Schottenheimer

January 13, 2008|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Sun reporter

Marty Schottenheimer is the opposite of all that the Ravens seem to want in a head coach. He is old, narrow-minded and stubborn - a tired retread who has bounced around the NFL, irritating owners and players with his arrogant style and old-school tactics.

Schottenheimer, 64, is the antithesis of all the young up-and-comers on the Ravens' wish list. But the Ravens appear interested - Schottenheimer's agent confirmed Friday that the two sides have spoken - because his system works. His teams win football games.

Just not the big ones.

In 21 seasons as an NFL coach, Schottenheimer has won 200 regular-season games, sixth best all time. His teams have made the playoffs on 13 occasions. But he is winless in his past six postseason appearances, 5-13 overall in the playoffs, and he has never reached the Super Bowl.

"Coach Roadblock," one general manager called him. A reporter wrote: "Marty Shot-himself-in-the-foot-heimer." More than one newspaper has called the coach "a long Schott" to ever win a championship.

Schottenheimer bristles at criticism that he cannot win the big one.

"It is what it is," he said last year, before his 14-2 San Diego Chargers team lost its playoff opener at home. "But, hey, I'll tell you what, we've won a lot of games to put ourselves in position to take a crack at [the Super Bowl].

"Going to the playoffs is not a birthright."

Colleagues say the knock on Schottenheimer is unfair - that some of his teams in Cleveland and Kansas City were overachievers that shouldn't have made the playoffs. They say he takes broken franchises and gets them purring again with all of the fanfare of Mr. Good- wrench.

"Marty could probably take any team in the NFL and make it better," said Joe Pendry, who coached with Schottenheimer for nine years in Cleveland, Kansas City and Washington. "He's demanding. He's intelligent. He's proven. He knows how to win."

Just not the big ones.

"OK, that one game has never happened for Marty, but he has done things that a lot of folks can't," Pendry said. "He gets you to the playoffs."

Could Schottenheimer, fired by every team he has coached, fix the aging Ravens? Would his boot-camp regimen and obsessive demeanor alienate the veterans?

At the Washington Redskins' training camp in 2001, the coach withheld breakfast from players who arrived 30 seconds late and put alarms in their dorms to catch those breaking curfew.

Washington lost its first nine games - including four in the preseason - but finished a respectable 8-8 in the regular season.

"I am of the opinion that 99 percent of the young men I work with want structure," he once said. "They may complain about it, but ... deep inside they want structure."

Every club he has coached lagged before he arrived and sagged once he left. Schottenheimer has had two losing seasons in a career that began in 1984.

"As an NFL coach, he is timeless," said Brian Brennan, a wide receiver who played for Schottenheimer in Cleveland from 1984 through 1988. "His 14-2 record [in San Diego in 2006] speaks volumes that the game has not passed him by.

"He is very much the perfectionist. He knows what the right guard does on every play and what the L-4 on the kickoff team does on every play.

"On the golf course, he'll hit the ball 280 yards and then say, `If my arm was in, the ball would have gone 290.'"

A linebacker at the University of Pittsburgh, Schottenheimer was a fourth-round pick of the Baltimore Colts in the 1965 draft but chose to play in the American Football League. He began his NFL career in 1975 as a New York Giants assistant and became the Browns' head coach nine years later.

"If he sticks his nose in the ring, hire him," said Dave Adolph, a Schottenheimer assistant in Cleveland and Kansas City. "Does Baltimore have outstanding players? It does. Will Marty give them a blueprint for winning? Absolutely. Will they then shut up? They will."

Meticulous to a fault, Schottenheimer demands no less from his charges.

"He is a very tedious coach," Adolph said. "Everything has to be done right. I remember [the coaches] watching game film for hours as Marty talked the techniques of football - like how a cornerback should line up, which foot is forward and what hand is up. He loves all of that.

"The man is a great student of the game. There's no one to match him out there."

Until playoff time. That, critics say, is when Schottenheimer's game plan seems to morph from one of trying to win to trying not to lose.

"I can't pinpoint the cause of it," said Felix Wright, a former safety who played for Schottenheimer in Cleveland and Kansas City. "Marty's teams are always prepared. We worked on tackling every day, like we were playing a game. That can wear you out. Maybe we were tired by the playoffs.

"I know people get frustrated [by Schottenheimer's postseason record], but if you can win 10 or more games every year, you'll keep the fans in their seats.

"As long as you're in the party, the playoffs are a bonus."

After being out of football for a year, Schottenheimer hasn't indicated whether he'll return.

"I would never say never about coaching again because ... if I don't have to make a decision, I'm not going to make one," he told The San Diego Union-Tribune in September. "But the likelihood of me returning is, I would think, on the south side of 50 percent.

"It's just timing. The league is changing ... ."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

Marty Schottenheimer

Age: 64

College: Pittsburgh

Position: linebacker

Playing career: Buffalo Bills (1965-1968), Boston Patriots (1969-1970)

Coaching record (regular season): 200-126-1

Cleveland Browns (1984-1988): 44-27

Kansas City Chiefs (1989-1998): 101-58-1

Washington Redskins (2001): 8-8

San Diego Chargers (2002-2006): 47-33

Coaching record (postseason): 5-13

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