Rivera, Phillips were the Bolts that got away

San Diego Chargers coach Ron Rivera

By Jay Paris

The Super Bowl teams are set.

The Super Bowl hype is reaching another gear.

The Super Bowl sidelines will be clogged with coaches giving Chargers fans a super dose of regret.

Carolina head coach Ron Rivera and Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips are the big fishes that got away.

Both have a jolt of the Bolts on their resumes and how again did these two whizzes escape town?

Much has been said about team owner Dean Spanos’ head-scratching decisions of late, and, please let’s not track everything that’s gone wrong.

But was there ever a bigger blunder than in the aftermath of the 2006 season? When the Chargers were at their dysfunctional best? Or is it worst?

The Chargers finished a 14-2 season, a campaign which ended with a face-plant in the playoffs. That 24-21 loss to the Patriots is all too painful to this day.

What was nearly as worse as Marlon McCree not finding a chunk of turf to fall on after his key interception, was the Chargers’ brass picking off sensibility.

First it said coach Marty Schottenheimer’s job was safe. That could be argued either way, although canning a coach with a 14-2 mark — we know about his playoff pratfalls — still raises eyebrows.

But with that verdict reached, Philips, the Chargers’ defensive coordinator and a hot commodity on the coaching market, reached for the phone. When the Cowboys called, Phillips did a giddy-up to Dallas hoping to replace ex-head coach Bill Parcells.

Phillips was among 10 candidates, which included Dallas offensive coordinator Norv Turner and Ron Rivera, recently let go as the Bears’ defensive coordinator.

In a weird intersection of coaches moving, Phillips was tabbed as the Cowboys head coach and Rivera was hired as San Diego’s inside linebackers coach. One year later, Rivera was named the Chargers’ defensive coordinator.

What turned this into an intersection featuring a car wreck, was that Spanos circled back on Schottenheimer. 

With the urging of then-general manager A.J. Smith, Schottenheimer was fired a month after being told he was returning.

So instead of the Chargers being able to turn to Phillips, he had already been lassoed by the Cowboys. The Chargers hired Turner and we know what that brought.

Under Turner, Rivera embarked on a sensational four-year run with the Chargers, from 2007-2010. Anyone coming in contact with him always reached the same conclusion: he was going to be a fine head coach. It wasn’t just his schemes, but the way the former linebacker on the Bears 1985 Super Bowl winning team connected with the players.

Rivera’s coaching in the 2010 season is hard to believe. His Chargers defense finished with the NFL’s No. 1 ranking and was in the top five in 11 different categories. What made it amazing was that Rivera orchestrated that production minus a single Pro Bowl defensive player.

Wow is right. Others around the league noticed and the Chargers paid the price.

Carolina selected Rivera as its head coach in 2011 and a week from Sunday, he’ll be the second Hispanic head coach of a Super Bowl team.

All of this is super for Phillips — the son of Bum is among the NFL’s classiest acts.

All of this is super for Rivera — a good man, and who’s wife, Stephanie, was a dynamite girls prep basketball coach when they were locals.

All of this is a reminder that Chargers coaches often mimic Chargers players: They become stars in San Diego, but win championships elsewhere.

+ Contact Jay Paris at jparis@bcaradio.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jparis_sports

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