Now that the offseason is underway, what’s consuming your time right now?
“You really break the offseason up into three or four different segments. The first thing we do is a combination of self-scouting, which is evaluating our players and their performance, breaking it down by position. We have all the tape to look at. We look at what we did from the standpoint of our scheme, our tendencies. You self-scout throughout the year, but this gives you a chance to go back and look at everything you did. “We break it down every way we can. We have a big-play reel, a sack reel, a fumble reel, a pressure reel. Then we break all the runs down by run, by formation, by defensive front. It’s an ongoing, constant evaluation of looking at ourselves from the standpoint of our players and our scheme and looking at ways we can get better.
From a schematic standpoint, are you trying to get a better feel for what your team did well and what they didn’t do as well?
“The things you do well probably stay with you more than the things you didn’t do as well as you’d like to. There are a significant number of things. We were frustrated early in the year in terms of not getting as much production in the run game as we’d like. When you break it down statistically, we were one of the best teams in the league at avoiding negative plays. It wasn’t like we were having bad plays, we just weren’t getting as much production out of them.”
You’ve added six new coaches to your staff. What kind of adjustments do you have to make when you make changes to your coaching staff?
“There are two things you have to do when you have coaching changes: you have to get the new guys up to date in terms of what you’re doing. The other part is that everyone has different experiences to draw from. That’s why change is good. We have changes on the defensive staff so you’re asking the new guys to come in and learn what you’re doing but also have input. The changes we had with Rob Chudzinski and Mike Sullivan on the offensive staff, they have different experiences. They may say, ‘We did this in Cleveland and it was really good for us.’ You blend the two things together.”
Rob Chudzinski will carry the title of assistant head coach. What does that mean in terms of his responsibilities?
“We haven’t used that title because I’ve always felt if there was an opportunity to hire someone in that capacity, I’d like to use it. We have a number of guys on our staff that could have that title, such as Clarence Shelmon and Ron Rivera. Steve Crosby does a lot of things other than special teams so you could give him that title. With Rob, it was a chance for me to attract him to our staff. The things he’ll help me with are some of our planning, whether it be practice schedules or planning our installation stuff on offense. Then there are some staff responsibilities that we’ll lean on him for.”
When you think back on 2008, what stands out to you?
“The biggest thing is the way we finished. There were a lot of different things that happened to our football team that would have made it easy for guys to say, ‘We’re not going to go anywhere. This thing isn’t going to happen this year.’ I think they did a good job of hanging in there. The way we finished speaks volumes for the type of guys we have. “Early in the year we had chances to win a number of games that we didn’t finish. In over 20 years, I’ve only been in two or three games like the Carolina game where they make a miraculous play on the last play of the game. To have the game finish the way it did in Denver, we were disappointed at being 2-2. Realistically, you look at the way we played, and I know you are what your record is, but you could make the case that we should have been 4-0 by the way we physically played the games. “When we get into the mini camps, the Offseason Coaching Sessions and training camp, we’ll have a big emphasis on creating fourth-quarter situations, both offensively and defensively. Everyone thinks of four-minute or two-minute, but just those fourth quarter situations where the game is on the line. We’ll create more of those scenarios in practice for our guys.”
Are you optimistic that your defense can build on the way they played down the stretch of the season?
“I’m excited because there’s a foundation there to build on. I think there are a lot of things we did better and there are some things we need to improve on. I believe the combination of Ron and the way he worked with John Pagano, I think we have a chance to really grow as a defensive group.”
Can you give us an update on where Shawne Merriman is with his recovery from his September knee operation?
“Shawne is making great progress. He’s in another stage of the rehab now where he’s in here on a regular basis lifting. He’s in the training room on a regular basis. He’s where we’d like him to be at this point. It’s very similar to where Philip (Rivers) was last year at this point with the exception of the fact that Shawne plays a different position. What he’s going to be asked to do is different than what the quarterback is asked to do. “Shawne is further along from a time standpoint because Philip had his in February after the season and Shawne’s surgery was done in September. He’s in a similar mode in that he’s working hard to get to the point where when we get going in our offseason program and are out there in the field, he’s strong enough and far enough along in the rehab that he can go out with our athletic trainers and start having activity on the field.”
What role do the coaches play in draft preparations and free agency?
“We don’t have a large role in the draft, but certainly we’re involved in evaluating players. Our scouting staff and A.J. (Smith) do a great job of listening to the coaches’ evaluations. I think that’s helped the Chargers in the draft throughout the years and I think it will help us this year. We have not been a big player in free agency but a year ago we added some guys even as late as June that gave us strong contributions. L.J. Shelton started the first two games before Marcus McNeill was healthy. Jeremy Newberry added to us and started until Nick Hardwick was ready. We’re going to always be involved in free agency in terms of looking at players who might be able to help us.”
Do you and your staff wait until the summer to go on vacation or do you find some down time early in the offseason as well?
“We get away. I didn’t go to the game, but I spent a couple days in Tampa and getting down to the Super Bowl was good. We pick different times to get a long weekend or find a way to mentally get away. July is a time when there’s a good chunk of time where we get a good vacation.”