New York Marty Schottenheimer's guidance of one of the great turnarounds in NFL history won him the Associated Press 2004 NFL Coach of the Year award.
Schottenheimer took the San Diego Chargers from tailender to division champion, from a 4-12 embarrassment to a 12-4 playoff team. The 61-year-old, who also has worked in Cleveland, Kansas City and Washington, did his best work of an 18 1/2-season head-coaching career.
"There is a great sense of satisfaction when you're able to get things going in the right direction," said Schottenheimer, who received 271/2 of the 48 votes from a national panel of writers and broadcasters who cover pro football.
Before a 20-17 overtime loss Saturday night to the New York Jets in the first round of the playoffs, his third season in San Diego had been charmed. And perhaps a bit lucky, because Schottenheimer was looking for a different quarterback and hoped to go with first-round draft pick Philip Rivers. When Rivers held out for half of training camp, Schottenheimer stuck with Drew Brees. Brees wound up as Comeback Player of the Year and Schottenheimer became Coach of the Year for the first time.
His players say Schottenheimer's decision to form a players council and ease up in practices, as well as remodeling the locker room, made a big difference.
"I've seen it all year," said linebacker Donnie Edwards, who also played for Schottenheimer in Kansas City. "The way he's changed his coaching to understand the players and let the players understand the coaches -- so it's a two-way street now."
San Diego won nine of its last 10 games -- the loss was in overtime at AFC South champion Indianapolis -- and ran away with the AFC West. Schottenheimer is the first San Diego coach to win the award. He was trailed by Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher (141/2 votes), who led the Steelers to the league's best record, 15-1.