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A Fresh Look at the San Diego Chargers' History

By eschewing win totals, and using different types of win percentage, we can compare Chargers teams from 1960 all the way through to 2013.

Three different eras of Chargers football greatness
Three different eras of Chargers football greatness
Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

Earlier this season, I wrote an article analyzing Mike McCoy's performance as a Head Coach. You can read the whole post here, but the big takeaways were that McCoy's staff did a very good job preparing the 2013 Chargers on a game-by-game basis, while some of the situational decision making needed improvement.

One of the tools I used is the Pythagorean Projection, which is a metric used to measure team performance based on the points scored vs. the points allowed. The idea behind the Pythagorean Projection is to allow someone to determine actual performance, and mitigate the impact of "luck" (e.g. close wins and close losses, injuries, fumble recoveries, etc.) on measuring that performance.

Following the coaching article I mentioned above, I used the Pythagorean Projection to compare Chargers teams of recent vintage against Chargers teams from the AFL years, the Air Coryell era, or the Bobby Ross era.

*Please note that playoff data is not included in the data or graphs below.

Chargers' History in Wins

Here's what Chargers' history looks like when counting Actual Wins and Pythagorean Projection Wins


(click on graph to enlarge)

At a glance, it seems clear looking at this graph that the high water marks for the franchise were in 1979 and 2006, which would be the same conclusions drawn by most Chargers' fans with some knowledge of history.

However, we have to factor in that Chargers teams from 1960-1977 have a smaller sample size, due to a 14 game season. We also have to factor in the Chargers teams from 1982 and 1987 having smaller sample sizes due to work stoppages (9 game season in 1982, 15 game season in 1987).

Chargers' History by Win Percentage

To adjust for the shorter seasons from 1960-1977, 1982, and 1987, I have converted the Actual Wins into Actual Win Percentage, and Pythagorean Wins into Pythagorean Win Percentage. Here's what Chargers' history looks like using percentage instead of wins.


(click on graph to enlarge)

That's more like it.

Again, remembering that Pythagorean Win Percentage is a better tool for objectively judging a team, we can draw a few conclusions:

  • The 1961 Chargers were likely the best team in franchise history. They're the only Chargers team to finish with an Actual Win Percentage and Pythagorean Win Percentage above 80%.
  • The 1973 Chargers were likely the worst team in franchise history. The 2000 Chargers only finished with 1 win, but they should have won about 4 games that season.
  • Dan Henning was likely the worst coach in team history, as all 3 of his teams (1989-1991) Actual Win Percentage underperformed their Pythagorean Win Percentage (i.e. they won less games than would be expected).
  • No Chargers General Manager had a worse run than GM Harland Svare. None of his teams (1971-1975) posted a Actual Win Percentage or Pythagorean win Percentage above 45%. Cycling through 4 coaches in 5 seasons (Gillman, Svare, Ron Waller, Tommy Prothro) probably didn't help.
  • The 1994 Chargers, which reached Super Bowl XXIX, were probably the 2nd best team coached by Bobby Ross.
  • The 1963 Chargers, winners of the AFL Championship for that season, were probably the 2nd best team coached by Sid Gillman.
  • The 2004-2010 Chargers, headed by GM A.J. Smith and coached by Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner, were the most consistently successful era in franchise history.

In Closing

In the coming weeks, I plan on taking a look at different teams in franchise history. For now, I figured this would be a good way to re-introduce concepts and address any questions which come up. If any one has any requests for specific lookbacks, let me know in the comments section.