Sports Update: Chargers, Aztecs, Padres Latest
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. The Union-Tribune quotes Charger running back LaDainian Tomlinson as saying ‘it's way too early to panic.’ But just using the word panic after so much has been written about the great expectations for this Chargers season is not a good sign. The Chargers had a bye week last weekend after a painful loss to Pittsburgh, which left them with a 2-2 record. Next Monday night's game against division rivals the Denver Broncos is a big one for the team. Some say it could change the direction of the season. Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton, longtime sports talk show host, is here to assess the season so far for the Chargers, and the SDSU Aztecs. We may even have some time to talk about the search for the Padres new general manager. Hacksaw, good morning and welcome back.
LEE “HACKSAW” HAMILTON (Sports Talk Show Host): Yeah, good morning, Maureen. I don’t know if panic is the correct word but chaos might be a better fitting word right now as the – what’s happened to this NFL football team.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. Well, let’s break this down a little, Hacksaw. The Chargers play the undefeated Broncos Monday night, as I said. How important is this game for the Bolts?
HAMILTON: Well, it’s very critical if San Diego thinks it’s going to be in the running for first place in the AFC West because the Broncos are 5-0 already. If they win, they go to 6-0 and San Diego falls to 2-3, and that’s an awful big hill to run up because the Chargers still have a lot of tough games to be played. If they cannot win they’ll probably be nothing more than a team in the wildcard hunt and that also causes problems because they’ve already lost some games in the AFC, a tie-breaker of potential games, so they’re just not playing very good football right now. To me, it’s a critical, must-win game. They’ve got to put a winning streak together because they still have some real tough games ahead on their schedule.
CAVANAUGH: Now, as you say, you’re – from your viewpoint, you are not impressed with the play you’ve seen from the Chargers so far this year. Talk to me a little bit more about that and about the injuries the team has suffered.
HAMILTON: Well, the injuries have really decimated this team, and that’s the reason they are where they are right now behind the eight ball. They had a very good training camp, came out of training camp for the most very healthy and promptly, in the first two weeks of the season, suffered ten significant injuries, and the most crippling was their star defensive tackle Jamal Williams, who makes everything happen defensively, makes everybody around him better. He’s gone with a torn bicep and gone for the year, and they’ve not been able to replace him. They lost their backup defensive tackle. Ryan Bingham has also gone down with a shoulder injury. He’s gone for the year. And, of course, Shawne Merriman, their outside linebacker who’s a tremendous pass rusher, has not come back completely from surgery for torn knee ligaments and is only a shell of himself. So they’ve lost significant people on the defensive side of the football, and now their defense is very pedestrian. It gets pushed all over the field. They can’t get off the field. So that’s what’s happened to this team. Offensively, they’re hitting on all cylinders. They are a vibrant, explosive offensive team but there’s too much being put on the shoulders of the quarterback Philip Rivers. They can’t run the football because of problems on their offensive line. It’s strictly becoming a one-dimension football team in which they throw and throw and throw and they also expose that quarterback to hits, and if they can’t run it, my fear is he’s going to go down and get hurt because he’s taken a lot of wicked shots through the first four or five weeks of the season.
CAVANAUGH: Now is head coach Norv Turner on the hotseat?
HAMILTON: I think the coach is on the hotseat and I think the general manager’s about to be put on the hotseat. A.J. Smith, the general manager, is very outspoken. It is his team. He has built this the way he wants it. It has underachieved for the third year in a row that had a very slow start. They’ve been able to rally this thing the last couple of years by playing very well down the stretch but at this point I don’t think they can play very well down the stretch because of the missing components to the team. The other thing is that Smith, who’s had a pretty good track record of acquiring players, has not drafted well in the last couple of years and ignored some warning signs to go get insurance policy help at defensive tackle or in the offensive line. And now they’re in trouble because of the injuries to those two most critical positions, so he’s a little bit on the hotseat. The coach is probably on the hotter seat because he’s not a dynamic guy. He’s not a tremendous fiery presence on the sideline. Norv Turner’s a very good offensive mind. I don’t know that he’s a very good coach. You know, a couple years ago when they hit the eject button on Marty Schottenheimer, this team was 14-2. Well, they’ve gone from 14 wins to 11 wins to 8 wins last season, and now they’re staggering again. That sure seems to me that the arrow’s pointing down, so, yes, to answer your question, he’s on the hotseat, too.
CAVANAUGH: Now the chaos that you referred to in your opening remarks, I think have (sic) something to do with what’s going on internally. Chargers GM, A.J. Smith, as you referred to, ripped the team in the media last week and said…
HAMILTON: Well, he came out publicly and he told a couple of select reporters that he met with that the team was soft, he was angry at them for too much freelancing, that – He insinuated that they weren’t working real hard. And they’ve been pushed all over the field. In their four games defensively, they’ve really been hammered. Given up lots of yards, given up points, really struggled. And – But, of course, indirectly this is his fault. He did not construct the roster or add to the roster at the positions he needed to add to. I was bothered by his public rip job on the team. Really what you need to do is, you need to go into that team meeting room and you need to tell those players to their face what you think is going on. You don’t need to sell it to the media and embarrass the players in the media. He runs the risk of losing the locker room by doing what he did. Shawne Merriman, the outspoken linebacker, promptly replied the very next day by saying, A.J. Smith’s comments were not warranted and they are not welcome in this locker room. And I think the big issue that – and the risk that A.J. runs is like rolling a piece of barbed wire down the hallway. He, you know, he gave a public vote of confidence to Norv Turner and the coaching staff, he said this is not about the coaches, this is not about the scheme, this is about you, the players. Well, in doing that, it mean – it’s like rolling barbed wire down the hallway, you know, he and the coaches are upstairs looking down at the players and saying it’s all your fault. My theory is, football, you win as a team, you lose as a team, and you fix it as a team. And I’ve said on the talk shows I’m doing now on XX1090 in the afternoons, I really firmly believe that A.J. Smith has now established a we versus them attitude, and we, of the players downstairs, them is not only the opponent next weekend but now them’s become their general manager. I think he’s created a real mess for himself.
CAVANAUGH: And, as you say, what we have to do is look for Monday night because that could change things.
HAMILTON: Well, Denver’s 5-0. They did not play very many tough teams early and I kept saying, well, wait until they play somebody. Well, they did play somebody. They beat Dallas and they punched New England in the mouth last Sunday so their 5-0 is legitimate. We’ll see. We’ll see if San Diego can turn this thing. It’s going to have to come from Philip Rivers and the offense; it probably won’t come from the defense. I almost get the sense from talking to the fans that the only way the Chargers are going to have a great season is if it’s like the Dan Fouts era of yesteryear where Fouts throws for tons of yards and they win games 51-41 because I don’t think defensively they’re going to be able to stop people. And like I said, Maureen, they got 12 more weeks of the season…
HAMILTON: …to play. This is not a good sign.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton, and let’s move on to the Aztecs. The SDSU Aztecs play conference rival and number 18 ranked BYU Saturday night. What are the lead storylines heading into this Aztecs home game?
HAMILTON: Well, there was such excitement and you and I talked about this, I think, back in late summer as the football season was starting when I made my last appearance on KPBS…
HAMILTON: …to talk sports. I was really excited with the arrival of Brady Hoke, the head coach, and the two key coordinators that he brought onboard, Al Borges and Rocky Long to run the offense and defense. But they’ve really staggered out of the gate. It’s a very unimpressive 2-3 season. They lost to an Idaho team that I find hard to believe they could lose to. They’ve really struggled. They got whacked by Air Force Academy. As hard as they’re working, it’s just – I guess we need patience. It takes time to flip a system and do things radically different, and they are doing a lot of things different. This is not going to be easy. I was with Brady yesterday and I just flat out asked him, I said, is this BYU game a litmus test, a credibility check, for where you are? He said, no, no, I don’t want you to go there with that, that this is just the next game on the schedule. Well, that’s not true. If they go out and if they get smoked 56-7…
HAMILTON: …and that conceivably could happen, if they get killed by Brigham Young, then you say nothing’s improved. Now if they’re a competitive 33-31 loser and they’re right in the ballgame, then I’d say, yeah, they’re making some great progress. BYU is nationally ranked.
HAMILTON: It would take a stunning set of circumstances for the Aztecs to beat this guy. But I think at the end of the day, how well do they play, can they hang in there? And I do think it’s a credibility check as to whether they’re really making progress. And they’ve still got a lot of tough games within their own conference to play, not only BYU but Utah, Colorado State, TCU so I’d hate to think the season’s going to go south on them, but this is kind of a crossroads game to see how much more they’ve improved.
CAVANAUGH: You know, speaking of the Aztecs’ new coach, Brady Hoke, I read he finally signed a formal contract with SDSU just on Tuesday, so I wonder what is that about? Is it normal for a new coach to work without a contract for 10 months?
HAMILTON: Well, I think you work with a handshake agreement and every – I think that the reason for the delay was, quote, fine print. Last time I looked at a contract, my one page offer sheet turned into 18 pages…
HAMILTON: …and it took forever for lawyers to solve it. They got it solved. I don’t think there was ever an issue, it just – It just takes time.
CAVANAUGH: So what – As you look at them, you sound like you’re really still on the fence about this Aztec team.
HAMILTON: Well, I’m not on the fence about the coaching staff. I think given time, these are three coaches at the top of the chain of command that are very impressive and they have a very good track record. But, again, they inherited a substandard roster, they have made radical changes, and what they’re doing offensively and defensively, it just takes time. And I think you probably need to give them two to three years of recruiting their types of players. I hope they’ll flip it. You know, Brady Hoke was at Ball State in Indiana and in one stretch of time that team was 1-25. By the time he left last year, they were 12-0. Now, unfortunately, they’re 0-6 this season since he’s gone and players have graduated but he’s got the ability to turn it around. I was hoping it would come at a faster pace but, you know, maybe I was expecting too much.
CAVANAUGH: Well, Padres baseball is either a long time ago or a long way away, no matter how you look at it. But we haven’t talked to you since this season ended and the team decided to fire long time general manager Kevin Towers. Hacksaw, what are your thoughts on the Padres season and the dismissal of Towers?
HAMILTON: Well, if we talked back in July, it was horrific. You know, this was a team that had lost 20 of 24, they had a lot of injuries. They were making no progress at all. They got healthy. They traded the ace of the pitching staff, Jake Peavy. They got four pretty good young pitchers in that trade. They made a number of other deals. By the time they were done, they had imported seven new, young pitchers, and they brought up virtually everybody at the top of the farm system, threw them out on the field, and those kids were very competitive. They played very well. I was stunned that they hit the eject button on Kevin Towers. I know the new owner Jeff Moorad comes in with his own philosophy, his own theory, and you know the phrase: New broom sweeps clean.
HAMILTON: But I think that Towers had done a really good job in very trying circumstances in San Diego. You know, you win four divisions. They did get the team to the World Series. This is a limited market, limited payroll. We went through some ownership strife with the transition from John Moores on to Jeff Moorad and yet he stayed the course and I think he’s done a good job, and he leaves behind now a vastly improved farm system. I was just – I was stunned that they removed him. He had only a year to go on his contract and they just wanted to go a different direction. I’m disappointed for Kevin but he’s going to wind up with another job, I would assume, very, very quickly and probably in a better set of circumstances. But I think it’s all systems go. I think Padre fans who saw this team—and remember, at one point they had lost 20 of 24—at the end of the year, they won 35 of their last 53, playing a very, very young team. So if they go out into the marketplace and can add one or two role players, you know, I could – it might have the ability to put them very close to being a pennant contender, and that’s what you want. It’s going to be very interesting. I feel a lot better about Padre baseball now than I did prior. And we’ll see if the community comes back. Their attendance plunged by about a half million. It went from 2.4 million down to about 1.9 million, so they – You know, they’ve got to make some moves in this off season to add to the good collection of young players they have.
CAVANAUGH: Hello there. Hacksaw, are you on the line with me?
HAMILTON: I am.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, well let me ask you real quick, finally, do you know of any frontrunners for the Towers position on the Padres team?
HAMILTON: Well, they’re interviewing, I would say, five to seven hot, young general managers. And I think that the lead one is the right hand man with the Boston Red Sox. His name is Jed Hoyer, assistant general manager to Theo Epstein. Epstein used to be here in San Diego. I think Hoyer’s a hot candidate. They’re looking at an assistant general manager in the New York Yankees organization. I will think – I think it’s going to be a young guy that is not a former player but a young guy who’s come up through the scouting ranks that puts a lot of emphasis on statistics and things of that nature. And I think the job’s going to be filled probably within the next ten days.
CAVANAUGH: Lee, so much good information. Thanks so much.
HAMILTON: Maureen, we’ll talk to you again. Have a good day.
CAVANAUGH: You, too. I’ve been speaking with Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton, long time sports talk show host, working at XX1090 here in San Diego. And you’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS. Coming up, make climate change predictions more accurate and more accessible, well, speaking with one scientist who’s working on that as These Days continues here on KPBS.