The situation called for a move straight out of the Martyball textbook as the San Diego Chargers' 74-yard, game-opening drive came down to fourth and goal at the Buffalo 1-yard line on Sunday.
What to do? What to do?
Martyball dictates: Take the field goal and take it now.
It turns out there's a new edition of Martyball and this one commanded the Chargers to go for the touchdown. Tailback LaDainian Tomlinson took the handoff from quarterback Drew Brees and vaulted over the defensive line for the first touchdown in a 48-10 victory.
Afterward, Coach Marty Schottenheimer played down the call, one of the Chargers' two successful fourth-down conversions in the game, and the seeming demise of the conservative, grind-it-out style of play that has marked his coaching career.
"That was really an easy decision for me, to be honest with you," Schottenheimer said. "I made the decision before third down. You can do things like that when you have the ball down in [their] end of the field."
Still, the decision came as something of a shock. After all, this was 62-year-old Marty Schottenheimer. "Maybe," quarterback Drew Brees said with a grin, "times are changing."
For Schottenheimer, they certainly are. He and the Chargers (6-4) face the Washington Redskins (5-5) on Sunday at FedEx Field in a crucial game for both teams. Schottenheimer arrives as the coach of the defending AFC West champion, a team that has won four of its last five games.
He is far removed from 2001, the single season he spent in Washington, leading the Redskins to an 8-8 record before being dismissed by owner Daniel Snyder. He will be making his first coaching appearance in Washington since then and is the second coach to have been fired by Snyder to face the Redskins in the last two weeks. Oakland's Norv Turner beat Washington, 16-13, last week.
"He's loosened up a little bit," Brees said of Schottenheimer. "When he came here, he was a great coach, one of the best in the game. Now he's even better. We've learned from him. He's learned from us."
A former NFL linebacker, Schottenheimer is the NFL's winningest active coach with 188 victories that rank eighth on the all-time list. He made his mark as head coach of the Cleveland Browns (1984-1988) and Kansas City Chiefs (1989-1998), where he became known for his authoritative, controlling style, his work ethic and an all-consuming commitment to winning.
" 'Expect to win.' That's up in our locker room in our facility here," said Schottenheimer's 32 year-old son Brian, San Diego's quarterbacks coach. "It was up in Washington, in Kansas City. . . . And that's all about the attitude of the squad. . . . Any time you step out on the field, you need to expect to win. He's always preached that."
For 15 years, during the regular season, Schottenheimer's teams did precisely that. But in 11 postseason appearances, he became known more for how he lost. He experienced every imaginable variation of defeat: John Elway's name-making drive in 1987; Earnest Byner's fumble in 1988; Nick Lowery's failed 52-yard field goal against Miami in 1991; Joe Montana's third-quarter concussion against Buffalo in the 1994 AFC title game; Lin Elliott's three failed field goals against Indianapolis in 1996.
After a 7-9 finish with Kansas City in 1998 -- at that point, his worst as a head coach -- Schottenheimer stepped away from the sidelines, working as a television analyst for a couple seasons.
He returned to coaching with Washington in 2001 and, after a disappointing start -- he lost his first five games, including his debut against San Diego -- led the Redskins to an 8-8 finish. Of course, that was same record Washington had compiled the previous year under Turner (7-6 before being fired) and interim coach Terry Robiskie (1-2).
"Unfortunately, it didn't end the way I would have liked it because I thought we'd really finally gotten the thing turned around," Schottenheimer said. "And I've said and I believe that it was as good a coaching job as we've ever done."
What Schottenheimer did not know then was that his hardships were only beginning.
After signing with San Diego in 2002, he struggled through another 8-8 season. He was adamant that the Chargers would improve in 2003, but instead they finished 4-12 and rumors of his dismissal were rampant.
"The [second] year was miserable," Schottenheimer said. "I was so disappointed that we didn't play better."
No one knew Schottenheimer's pain better than his son. Brian, who calls his father "Marty when I'm talking about him, and coach when I'm talking to him," spent his boyhood on the sidelines with Schottenheimer, sharing in his most heartbreaking defeats.
The 2003 season, Brian said, was an eye-opening one for his father. "He went, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a second. Something's wrong,' " he said. "And I think he just completely looked at every facet of this organization, starting with himself, from top to bottom, and decided, 'Hey, I need to make some changes.' And was willing to make some changes. I think that's hard for someone that's had the type of success that he's had over the length of period that he's had."
The changes began with, of all things, the layout of San Diego's locker room.
"It was kind of a locker room that was done in sections," Brian said. "And all the players, they had these little sections where they hung out, but you really couldn't see all your teammates. It was kind of divided."
The room was transformed into a single open space "where guys could see each other, and guys could hang out together, and guys would be held accountable and have to look each other in the eye if things weren't going right."
The Chargers made changes in personnel, releasing wide receiver David Boston and defensive end Marcellus Wiley -- talented but ultimately divisive presences.
Said Brian, "His philosophy is that it's people that win for you, not players."
Schottenheimer reached out to his team, forming a leadership council of 12 players who would meet with him at least once a month to discuss the team's concerns.
It made a difference.
"I heard so many things about him before I got here. I was a little nervous at first," said wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who arrived from Tampa Bay midway through the 2004 season. "But after I got here and just started talking to him, and seeing what he expected out of players. . . . I enjoy a person that loves the game, that's so intense. Because you've got to have intensity in this game to either coach it or play it. And I enjoy that."
Schottenheimer also decided to rely more on his assistants, delegating more duties. Change "was the theme of the 2004 season," Brian Schottenheimer said. "It's time to change. . . . He presented it to the team. Hey, the Chargers have been a poor franchise for a number of seasons. It's time to change. . . . And the team just kind of bought into that."
As training camp began, the Schottenheimers faced a different challenge: Brian was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. With his son ailing, Schottenheimer found help in an unlikely place. Snyder, his former boss in Washington, is a thyroid cancer survivor.
"Dan told me . . . 'Marty, if you're going to have cancer, this is the kind you want to have because it's relatively treatable,' " Schottenheimer said. Snyder contacted doctors who had treated him at the Mayo Clinic.
"I was very, very grateful for what Dan was able and willing to do," Schottenheimer said. "Brian is doing terrific now."
With Brian healthy, the Schottenheimers focused on football. The running of Tomlinson, the quarterbacking of Brees and the emergence of tight end Antonio Gates made the Chargers the surprise of 2004. They finished 12-4 and won the divisional title, losing in overtime to the New York Jets in a wild-card playoff game.
"Our football team kind of turned the corner," said Schottenheimer, who was named NFL coach of the year. "We really kind of got the quality people that we wanted. [General manager] A.J. Smith really did a great job of getting the right kinds of people in place for us. We made plays last year in a timely fashion."
And now, midway through his 20th season, Schottenheimer remains driven by the same things that attracted him to coaching in the first place.
"I do this for one reason," he said. "I love the opportunity to interact with the players, and teach the players, and work with the coaches. That's the motivation that I bring. I wasn't a very good player, and as a result, I couldn't get a lot of things done on the field wearing a uniform. . . . You live vicariously through your players, the way they perform, and when they perform well, you feel really good about it because you know you had a part in that."
That may motivate Schottenheimer more than a Super Bowl ring, according to Brian. He recalls the morning of Jan. 6, 1991, when the Schottenheimer family was eating breakfast at a Kansas City eatery; the night before, his father, then with the Chiefs, had suffered a devastating 17-16 loss to the Miami Dolphins in the AFC wild-card game. A group of 30-something men sat down at a nearby table, unaware that Schottenheimer was just feet away.
"All of a sudden, they start talking about the game," Brian said. " 'Marty Schottenheimer's a bum. We'll never win a championship with him.' "
The Schottenheimers finished breakfast, and as they headed for the exit, Marty stopped to speak to his detractors.
" 'Hi. Marty Schottenheimer,' " Brian recalled his father saying. " 'All I can do is the best that I can. When I go to bed at night, I put my head down on the pillow, and, if I've done the best I can, I'm very comfortable, and I sleep a good night's rest.' "