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Winning is priority for Spanos
SAN DIEGO – Chargers President Dean Spanos answered fan questions for about 5,000 season ticket holders during a 50-minute conference call Tuesday.
Spanos gave insight on everything from the decision to retain General Manager A.J. Smith and Head Coach Norv Turner to the current state of the San Diego stadium project and offseason free agency.
Through a number of topics, Spanos’ thoughts returned to one thing: winning.
“We’re trying our best and we are committed to do whatever it’s going to take to get us back to the playoffs,” Spanos said. “Everybody cares over here. We really want to win, too. I really feel confident that we’re going in the right direction. (But) we can’t win without you.”
Spanos sympathized with a fan base passionate about the Chargers returning to postseason play. Asked about blackouts – San Diego had two this season – Spanos repeated a phrase that summarizes his feeling on what will fill the seats at Qualcomm Stadium for 2012 and give credence to his recent decisions: “The net bottom line is we have to go out and we have to win next year.
“I’m as big a fan as all of you are and I want to win as bad as you, I promise you. Our whole family is committed to doing whatever it’s going to take to get us to the playoffs and back to the Super Bowl again.”
Asked on numerous occasions in previous years about the team’s draft-first philosophy, Spanos reiterated the significance in finding value and squeezing the most out of the salary cap with the goal of winning, but gave his strongest statements yet indicating the Chargers will not stand pat in free agency.
“We’re going to have to be more proactive in free agency. We may make some changes in terms of how we look at some of these players,” Spanos said. “There’s no doubt we have to fill some voids and we are going to do that.
“We’re really going to have to take a hard look at (free agency) this year. I’m putting a lot of emphasis on that and I don’t know exactly how that’s going to play out until we meet. But there’s going to surely be some opportunities out there.”
Spanos also said the status of free agent Vincent Jackson, a Pro Bowl alternate at receiver in two of the last three seasons, will be a priority when the team’s leadership discusses the plan for shaping the 2012 roster at an annual post-Super Bowl summit. The league year does not begin until March 13, but Spanos expects the organization to be in contact with Jackson’s agents as soon as the Chargers know their plan of action.
“Of course Vincent is the type of player you want to have. He’s an outstanding football player and you can’t have too many of those,” Spanos said. “But it also takes two parties to come together. You have to weigh the economics also. If you sign a marquee player and one of your highest-priced players that could affect four or five other players you want to sign. If you’re not smart in what you do you could end up with not enough good players on the team. Those are the types of things that we’re going to discuss.
“But don’t let there be any doubt in your mind that he’s the type of player we’d like to have and we’re going to do everything we can to make things work out.”
Spanos has not had formal discussions with Smith and Turner about player personnel needs and emphasized he rarely pulls rank to block or force moves, but felt comfortable enough to give his personal opinion to ticket holders.
“I really believe that in this year’s draft and possibly in free agency we need to get a big-time pass rusher. An outside linebacker similar to Shawne Merriman when he was here and possibly a really, really great safety,” Spanos said, also mentioning the left side of the offensive line as a potential need. “Those two positions I think we really need to focus on and we are zeroing in on those two positions.
“I think we have a good front three (on defense) right now. I think we have some good young cornerbacks and they’re maturing. I think that’s hopefully going to start to have an effect this coming season.”
STADIUM UPDATE: Spanos reiterated the team currently is working on a proposal to finance a potential San Diego stadium on the much-discussed East Village site.
He called San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and the city council “cooperative” and expressed the importance of teamwork in getting such a large project done in a manner that benefits everyone.
“We need to come up with a financing plan and that’s what we’re in the process of trying to figure out now. How are we going to pay for this thing? That’s the key,” Spanos said. “I know that the mayor is committed to coming up with a solution that’s good for the taxpayers, whether you’re a fan or not. It has to be a win-win for both parties. And I think we’ve made a lot of progress.”
Spanos also was asked to explain whether he’s committed to keeping the team in San Diego.
“We’ve been working on this project down here for 10 years now. I’m as committed as I’ve ever been. It’s been a very difficult, long and tedious process. We’re not there yet,” Spanos said.
“I’ve been here 26 years of my life, which is almost half. I have no desire to leave and I’m committed to make sure that we stay here and my family loves it here, so I want to say that first and foremost.”
Spanos referenced the downtown growth many attribute to PETCO Park, which opened in 2004 and hosts Padres games, as a strong example of how sports facilities can boost the city of San Diego.
“We’re committed to keep working down here to come up with a financing plan to get this thing done,” Spanos said.
CONFIDENCE IN LEADERSHIP: Earlier this offseason, Spanos spoke at length of his decision to retain Smith and Turner.
He went into more detail about what he feels are public misperceptions of the two men Tuesday.
“They think he’s a mean guy,” Spanos said of Smith with a chuckle. “He’s really not.
“A.J. is very black-and-white. There are no shades of gray with him. I think he rubs a lot of people the wrong way because of that. But he’s very to the point. There’s no ‘B.S.ing’ around with him, which really makes it easy for me and everyone else in the organization to deal with.
“He’s been successful here. I know he can do it again.”
Spanos also conceded Turner is “probably not the best” in front of a camera, but is paid to help the team win football games.
“You ask any of the players about motivation and they’ll all tell you that he does a good job,” Spanos said.
The organization’s president did say he expects better player personnel decisions and better coaching in 2012.