As he does every year, General Manager Tom Telesco fielded questions from the media on the state of the Chargers.
The GM spoke for over 40 minutes on a litany of important areas regarding the team, providing insight into personnel and what to look for in the future. Here are some of the top takeaways.
- Telesco began his press conference announcing the team has extended the contract of Head Coach Mike McCoy. His deal was originally set to run through next season, and the Bolts added an additional year to retain him through 2017:
"We have a belief in Mike and a confidence in him. Part of that is the extension. If you want to be a stable winning organization, you have to weather a couple storms. Obviously this year was a big storm, but I think we had to look at it in terms of big picture rather than just this year. We had to look at it over three years, and Mike took us to a winning record two years in a row. Eighteen wins over two years, he took us to the playoffs and won a road playoff game which is difficult in this league. We know we're disappointed in this year, but Mike is someone we want to build around, so we thought that was important to get that done."
- It's safe to assume that Eric Weddle has played his last snap as a Charger. Telesco made it clear that with what the safety has had to say over the past year, it is most likely in the best interest of everyone involved to part ways:
"Things don't always go perfectly in this business, unfortunately. Sometimes, when you're 4-12, things get magnified,too…He's stated he's ready to move on, and for all parties involved, that's probably the best case."
- By now most know that the team fined Weddle for remaining on the field during halftime against the Miami Dolphins instead of joining his teammates and coaches in the locker room. The GM outlined why that was a major detriment to the Bolts, and would be to every organization in professional sports:
"For us (in football), and probably for basketball and hockey, halftime is important. That's where the coaches are preparing for the second half. It's a critical part of our in game preparation….We got together as a group, obviously myself, Mike, (Defensive Coordinator) John Pagano and (Secondary Coach) Ron Milus (to decide the fine). Halftime is important to us. It's a big part of in game preparation. We fined him and we moved on."
- Meanwhile, the team aims to bring back tight end Antonio Gates. The future Hall of Famer is an unrestricted free agent, but Telesco is hopeful they will come to a contract in the near future to retain his services:
"We'd love to have Antonio back. At the appropriate time, we'll be in touch with Antonio and his agents. We'd like him to finish here."
- While the entire leadership group was behind parting ways with six assistant coaches earlier this week, it was McCoy's decision in the end. The GM also gave insight into why five of those six coaches let go were on offense:
"We all talked about it. In the end it is the head coach, but I am behind him 100%. Those are difficult changes to make, and obviously most were on one side of the ball. I love those guys. They are a great group of coaches, but this is a tough business. As far as where we went on that side of the ball, we're just looking for a little bit of a change, a little bit of a different direction and a little bit different philosophy."
- A driving force in making those decisions is to jumpstart a rushing attack that has lagged the past two seasons. The Chargers ranked 31st in the NFL running the ball, and Telesco explained how that was a main reason in making a change at offensive coordinator:
"We want to be a little bit more balanced on offense. Whoever we end up hiring, obviously we want someone who can teach and communicate. Someone with a proven system, but also someone who has some flexibility to blend in what we've done already with this staff here. Not unlike when we first got here. We blended some of the things that Norv Turner's offense did very well into what we do."
- While it is McCoy's decision in the end, Telesco wouldn't be against it if the head coach opted to call plays in 2016. He has not called plays since taking over in 2013:
"I'm not opposed to it. It would be up to Mike. I know he's very good at it, and it's probably something he'll think about in the offseason. I don't know which way he'll go, but if that was what he wanted to do, I wouldn't oppose that."
- The Bolts were a beat up bunch in 2015, suffering a litany of injuries that has become all too common across the NFL. What was uncommon was the amount that hit the offensive line. Telesco specified that was an area of concern, and something the team plans to research in the offseason:
*"(Injuries are) something we've talked about. We have to look at everything all the way down. Our strength and conditioning staff I think do a tremendous job. But that doesn't mean we won't take a look at it either and try to figure out where we may be missing something. I think as a whole, if you (take) out the offensive line, I think most of our injuries to the rest of the team are pretty much on par with where they would be across the league. Now, offensive line to me has been different. That's been uncommon. So that is something we've already started looking at, and it's not going to be just one thing. I can guarantee you that. But that is the one I'm a little concerned with – why so much at the one position?" *
- When trying to improve upon a 4-12 season, it's important that everyone can admit their own shortcomings. Refusing to have an ego, Telesco fessed up to his mistakes as he sets down a path to get it right this offseason. One of those areas he fell short was in improving the return game as the signing of Jacoby Jones backfired on the Bolts:
"Last year going into this year, our huge emphasis was a lack of field position last year. I thought Jacoby Jones was going to fix that. Obviously I missed on that, and I missed pretty badly. That affected all of special teams. That affected our whole team, because this is a field position game. Our hidden yardage was just killing us….That as a group, we have to get better there. If there was one thing that really contributed this year was our special teams, and field position just wasn't where it had to be."
- Another factor in a losing season is players having down years. While a number of recent additions missed time due to injury and posted substandard seasons, Telesco explained how the team isn't giving up on them:
"It's certainly disappointing, but the book is not closed for some of those players. Each player has a unique circumstance. Orlando (Franklin) hadn't been hurt in four years in Denver, but it happened here. Like I said, the book is not closed on these players, either. When you are 4-12, it usually means a number of players didn't play up to expectations. That is as much on me as anybody, but we also know we can get these players back to where they were, too."
- One player the team wanted more of this season was Brandon Flowers. Despite a down year, the Chargers expect to see him play more like he did in 2014 when 2016 rolls around:
"He had an uneven year this year. I thought he had some moments he played really well. He really did. This is the same guy we had seen before. In practice he played very well. He had some uneven moments early in the year, had some injuries here and there, but he's one of those players we need to get back to where he was the year before. He can help us. Brandon is a smart (corner with) ball skills. He'll tackle. His key and diagnose has always been very good. That's what he lives on. He was a little inconsistent this year but we're not giving up on him. I can tell you that. He works and he's a good kid. We need a little more consistency there, and he knows that."
- As a result of finishing 4-12, the Bolts will draft third overall. It is an important pick as Telesco joked if they have too many high picks in future years, he likely won't be the man making the selections. The team will have high picks in every round as the GM stressed the significance of this year's offseason, especially combined with a good amount of cap room for free agents:
"Having an early pick in round one, and each round, is helpful. We'll have a (compensatory) pick as well, though I'm not sure where it is going to be. So we have a high pick in each round, we'll have a comp pick and we do have some cap flexibility which we've been working on to get to this point. (We) have some cap room. So we have a lot of things going for us. Moving forward, you've got to put the right plan together."
- While the GM praised a young core on defense and the continued excellence of Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, he explained how losing so many close games indicated to him they are still a couple impact players away from being where they want to be. Telesco took full responsibility for that, explaining how it is at the forefront of his mind entering the offseason:
"When you have nine losses of one score games, that pretty much means to me that we are a playmaker or two short of making that play to finish. That's on me. That's the way I look at it. So we've got to keep adding and keep getting better."
- Although nothing is set in stone, it is most likely that Special Teams Assistant Craig Aukerman takes over in the third phase of the game. He was in charge of special teams after the team mutually parted ways with Special Teams Coordinator Kevin Spencer in early December:
"I thought Craig Aukerman did a very good job late in the year. I was excited about that…. He's really good. He's a younger coach, but he's really good. We are discussing (options), but I think the plan is that we are going to go with Craig moving forward. He's really proven to do a very good job for us."
- There remains uncertainty regarding the Chargers stadium situation. Regardless of where they play, what matters to Telesco is doing what is necessary to put a winning product on the field:
"I just know wherever we are, we have to win. Winning sells. That's the only goal."
- Telesco highlighted the team's linebackers as a bright spot from the season. Led by the insertion of Denzel Perryman into the starting lineup, the young corps came together down the stretch as the Bolts are encouraged they'll take another leap forward in 2016:
"I thought Donald (Butler) played pretty well early in the year, but Denzel passed him. If there are some bright spots from this season, our linebacking corps both inside and outside played very well, and played well late. That was the exciting part. A lot of that defense I saw in the preseason and training camp, I thought that was going to be us during the season. Unfortunately, early in the year we just didn't play to that level. For whatever reason, we just weren't very consistent. But as the year went on, I thought John Pagano and his staff did a very good job with those guys. I saw some really positive signs from that whole linebacking corps. Denzel really came in, for a rookie who missed some time early which is difficult, played some really good football for us. I think he's got a great, great future here."