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BFTB Roundtable: What to do about the coaches?

Word is, Ken Whisenhunt will be gone next season. What should the team do regarding its coaching staff? Keep them all? And at what cost? The BFTB Staff answers these questions and more.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

We would all like to see the entire coaching staff retained for next year, especially Offensive coorinator Ken Whisenhunt, but word is he'll be gone next year for a head coaching job. There's a lot of hate towards defensive coordinator John Pagano, should he be fired? Or will he be another scapegoat to a poor defense?

We get this discussion off to a start with our Fearless Leader

John Gennaro

This question might as well be "Is the bad defense the fault of Pagano or the lack of talent?", but I'll bite anyway.
Pagano is in his 2nd year as Defensive Coordinator. His 2nd year of calling plays. He learned from Wade Phillips, Ted Cottrell, Ron Rivera and Greg Manusky. It would make sense if it took some time to figure out how to do things his own way and get good results from his defense, and the lack of talent (mostly due to injuries) hasn't helped that process much at all.

That being said, and I tweeted this out earlier, the Chargers a 5-2 this season when they score more than 20 points. The two games they lost were against the Texans (when the offense couldn't get a first down and the defense was gassed) and the Redskins (which, let's be honest, wasn't lost because of the defense). If Pagano said to Mike McCoy "This is one of the best offenses in the league. Get me 21 points and I'll deliver a win", with the talent on the current roster, would anyone criticize him for that? Would anyone think he was anything but smart?
He's had stretches, and games, where his playcalling and decision-making has been atrocious, but he ended last season by making adjustments that led to a weird stretch of dominant wins. He seems to be doing the same this year (7 defensive turnovers in the last 3 games!). That shows that he can learn, he can adjust, he can adapt. Once he shows that, is it really time to give up on him after his second year? That would look awfully reminiscent of the Eagles giving up on a young Sean McDermott, who now coaches one of the best defenses in the league in Carolina.

I stick with Pagano, give the money to Whisenhunt, and tell him that the offense needs to put up at least 21 points in each game. Defense used to win championships. Now, they're won by quarterbacks and the Chargers can't risk another backwards step for Philip Rivers.

I agree 100% with this. Let's not forget injuries, too. The defense was much different with Dwight Freeney rushing the QB...

John Kvandal

"Usually, the team with the most points wins the game." - John Madden

I hate to mess with a good thing, and the San Diego offense under the McCoy/Whiz duo is definitely a good thing (#2 in DVOA). However, something has to change when a defense is historically in the worst in the league. Sure, Pagano is missing some talent, but he is misusing the talent that he does have on the field in a gross manner. The All-Pro FS should not be playing ILB. CBs should not be giving a 10 yard cushion on 3rd-and-5 ...repeatedly.

Plug a guy like Rex or Wade in on the defensive side of the ball, and this team's record is entirely different. I am not saying that Rex or Wade would have fielded a dominant defense this season, but I feel comfortable saying they would have created more turnovers or stops when the team really needed it. I would love to see what one of them could do with players like Ingram/Freeney/Liuget/Reyes.

You beat Peyton Manning by taking the ball out of his hands, not by trying to outscore his offense (and hasn't Wade done pretty well against Manning?). The defense does not need to be the strength of the team, but it's currently the cement block around their feet.

While there are some good points here, I wonder about Weddle playing so close to the line of scrimmage. He played a lot of deep safety last year. Why is he not this year? Could it be because the front seven is so inept that Pagano feels forced to place his best defender down there to help out? Makes sense to me... Reyes and Liuget have regressed so much compared to last year.

Nick Shepherd

The easiest way to win games is to do what the opponent doesn't want you to do. That means keeping the #2 offense by DVOA together, no matter the cost. Sure, Pagano makes head-scratchingly terrible decisions at times, puts players in the wrong places, etc.
If you were to poll teams around the league, and ask them who they'd rather see leave the team between Pagano or Whisenhunt, the answer would be Whisenhunt by 100%. Opposing teams would love for the Chargers to roll the dice and let Whiz go. They'd love for us to hope that a replacement for big Whiz could keep Rivers playing at the same level instead of reverting back to Norvian levels of incompetence.
I mean, really, for the entire offseason about half this blog was preparing for the team having to move on from Rivers, who had suddenly become a turnover machine that could hope to manage a game, at best. Whiz has turned that guy into an MVP candidate.
Besides all that, with the team bringing back both Freeney and Ingram, the defense should drastically improve regardless of who is leading it. Keep Whiz, Spanos. Back up the money truck into his house, block the door and never let him go.

I wish it was that simple, Nick. I really do.

Jason Peters

Keep Whisenhunt all the way. For the Chargers to compete next season, all they need to do is keep the offense as good as it is and improve the defense to at least not-terrible. Keeping Whisenhunt is a key to keeping this offensive machine running well.

The Chargers don't need to bring in a premiere defensive coordinator to improve the defense (though it would certainly help). I do believe Pagano needs to go, but the Chargers can take the time to interview find a good coordinator who isn't expensive either. Depending on how the head coaching search goes, the Texans could clean house and some of their position coaches might be ready to move up to the next level, as an example.

A Texans coach? I wonder if he'd use the Wade Phillips defense Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers have shredded to pieces... No idea.

David Marver

I don't think many fans would disagree with the following statements:

- The issue with the Chargers' defense is lack of talent.

- The only issue with the Chargers' offense is lackluster red-zone performance.

- There is a huge issue with fourth down decision-making and clock management.

The obvious path forward, then, is to give more talent to whoever's in charge of the defense (Pagano), not meddle with the offense (McCoy, Whiz), and install a common sense manager to solve that final, pivotal coaching issue.
With the Chargers' ridiculous offense, going-for-it on a high percentage of fourth downs is a winning proposition. The math bears this out, and it'd probably help with attendance; not only would the team be better, but if the Chargers were going for it on most fourth downs, that'd be far more exciting football to watch than a team punting from field goal range when the right call is neither punt nor field goal.
I give that extra check to no one, so forward it into the stadium pool. It'd be a drop in the bucket, but I don't think any of the coaches truly deserve the raise quite yet.

Hit the nail on the head there. It makes sense to add a common sense manager, but that's why it will never happen.

Jeff Siniard

The whole idea you can pay Ken Whisenhunt enough money to turn down a head coaching position is pretty far fetched in my view. That said, if he doesn't get an offer he likes, it's certainly worth it to pay more to keep him here. There's no limit on what teams can pay assistant coaches, and Whiz would likely be in demand as an OC elsewhere (Pittsburgh, for instance?).

Either way, it would be in Dean Spanos' and Tom Telesco's best interest to keep the offensive staff intact - and more important than spending big bucks on a defensive coordinator. I don't remember which year it came out in a Football Outsiders almanac, but their data showed it was easier to maintain consistently good offense than defense. There's no reason to think (injuries aside) this staff can't continue to grow and develop players (esp. Allen, Green, Mathews, Fluker, and Troutman) while expanding the offensive system.

For that reason, and also given Telesco's IND experience (Tom Moore, Howard Mudd, Jim Caldwell, and Clyde Christensen were together for years), it makes more sense to me for the Chargers to lock up Frank Reich, Ollie Wilson, Fred Graves, and Joe D'Alessandris for as long as possible, and also to prevent them from going with Whiz should he get an head coaching position elsewhere.

Also, the last time the Chargers let a high profile assistant coach leave (Hudson Houck after 2004) for more money, it had an adverse effect on the affected unit (offensive line). It would be good to see Spanos learning from that mistake.

I find it hard for Spanos to learn anything from his mistakes... but we all want to see him make the right choices. Don't we, BFTB? Leave your comments below and tell us what you think!