Marty Schottenheimer, who won 200 regular-season games with four NFL teams thanks to his "Martyball" brand of smashmouth football but regularly fell short in the playoffs, has died. He was 77.
Schottenheimer died Monday night in Charlotte, North Carolina, his family said through Bob Moore, a former Kansas City Chiefs publicist. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2014. He was moved to a hospice on Jan. 30.
His success was rooted in "Martyball," a conservative approach that featured a strong running game and tough defense. He hated the Raiders and loved the mantra "One play at a time," which he'd holler at his players in the pre-kickoff huddle.
Winning in the regular season was never a problem. Schottenheimer's teams won 10 or more games 11 times, including a 14-2 record with the Chargers in 2006 that earned them the AFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
It's what happened in January that haunted Schottenheimer, who was just 5-13 in the postseason.
His playoff demons followed him to the end of his career.
In his final game, on Jan. 14, 2007, Schottenheimer's Chargers, featuring NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson and a supporting cast of Pro Bowlers, imploded with mind-numbing mistakes and lost a home divisional playoff game to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 24-21.
A month later, owner Dean Spanos stunned the NFL when he fired Schottenheimer due to a personality clash between the coach and strong-willed general manager A.J. Smith. Schottenheimer and Smith hadn't spoken for about two years.
A breaking point for Spanos -- head of the family-owned team -- came when Schottenheimer wanted to hire his brother, Kurt, as defensive coordinator after Wade Phillips was hired away as Dallas Cowboys head coach. Kurt Schottenheimer had been on his brother's previous staffs, and Marty Schottenheimer's son, Brian, had been Chargers quarterbacks coach from 2002 to '05.
Schottenheimer then moved to North Carolina to spend time with his family and golf.
Schottenheimer was 44-27 with Cleveland from 1984 to '88; 101-58-1 with Kansas City from 1989 to '98; 8-8 with Washington in 2001 and 47-33 with the Chargers from 2002 to '06.
Schottenheimer never made it to the Super Bowl, either as a player or coach. He was a backup linebacker for the Buffalo Bills when they lost the 1966 AFL Championship Game to Kansas City, which then played the Green Bay Packers in the first Super Bowl.
"We express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of former Bills linebacker and NFL head coach Marty Schottenheimer who passed away at age 77," the Bills tweeted.
As a coach, his playoff losses were epic and mystifying.
His Browns twice came tantalizingly close to earning Super Bowl berths, only to have them ripped away by "The Drive" and "The Fumble" in consecutive AFC Championship Games against personal nemesis John Elway and the Denver Broncos.
In the 1986 AFC Championship Game at Cleveland, Elway led the Broncos 98 yards in 15 plays to tie the score on a 5-yard pass to Mark Jackson with 37 seconds left in regulation. Denver won in overtime on Rich Karlis' 33-yard field goal.
A year later, with the Browns trailing the Broncos 38-31 with 1:12 left at Denver, Earnest Byner fumbled on the Broncos' 3-yard line. The Broncos won 38-33 after taking an intentional safety.
"As a head coach, he led the organization to four playoff appearances and three divisional titles, but it was his tough, hard-nosed, never give up the fight attitude the team embodied that endeared him to Browns fans and often led to thrilling victories," the Browns said in a statement.
Schottenheimer's Chiefs reached the AFC title game in 1993 but lost at Buffalo. Two of his Chiefs teams went 13-3 and locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs before shockingly flaming out in the divisional round.
"When Marty arrived in 1989, he reinvigorated what was then a struggling franchise and quickly turned the Chiefs into a consistent winner," Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said in a statement. "Marty's teams made Chiefs football a proud part of Kansas City's identity once again, and the team's resurgence forged a powerful bond with a new generation of fans who created the legendary home-field advantage at Arrowhead Stadium.
"Marty will always hold a special place in the history of the Chiefs, and he will be dearly missed by all of us who were blessed to call him a friend."
The Chargers thought they had a Super Bowl-caliber team in 2006, but Schottenheimer's career ended with a brutal playoff loss to the Patriots. In the first quarter, Schottenheimer insisted on going for it on fourth-and-11 from the Patriots' 30-yard line. Mike Vrabel strip-sacked Philip Rivers and New England recovered.
The biggest pratfall, though, and one that still haunts Chargers fans, came with San Diego leading 21-13 with just more than six minutes to play. Marlon McCree intercepted Brady and instead of going to the ground, tried to run and was hit and fumbled, with the Patriots recovering. New England rallied for the win.
Schottenheimer seemingly survived another playoff failure, only to be fired a month later.
After winning just 12 games in Schottenheimer's first two seasons, the Chargers went 12-4 in 2004 behind Tomlinson and a rejuvenated Drew Brees to end an eight-year playoff drought.
But they lost a home divisional game to the New York Jets in overtime. Schottenheimer, named The Associated Press Coach of the Year earlier that day, was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for running onto the field to argue with the referees in the second quarter.
In overtime, the Chargers had a first down at the Jets' 22, but Schottenheimer went conservative and called three straight runs up the middle by Tomlinson to set up a 40-yard field goal attempt by Nate Kaeding, who missed. The Jets then moved down the field for the winning field goal.
Tomlinson, now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, called Schottenheimer "the best coach I ever had."
"I never went into a game with Marty as coach feeling like I wasn't fully prepared to win," Tomlinson said. "He really wanted you to understand every detail of the game plan. I considered him a true All-American man. He was a great father figure, and I was fortunate that my wife and I got to know he and [his wife] Pat beyond the typical player and coach relationship. He was a well-rounded human being. He cared more about the man than the athlete. I will remember him more for the life lessons that he taught me."
"You couldn't outwork him. You couldn't out-prepare him. And you certainly always knew exactly where you stood with him," Spanos, the Chargers' owner and chairman, said in a statement. "I am grateful that he was our head coach for five seasons, and I am even more fortunate to have been able to call him a friend."
Brees, now with the New Orleans Saints, had his first NFL success while playing under Schottenheimer in San Diego, and took to social media to share his thoughts.
Schottenheimer was born on Sept. 23, 1943, in Canonsburg, a small town outside Pittsburgh. He played at Pitt before a six-year pro career with the Bills and Patriots.
He is survived by his wife, Pat, two children, Kristin and Brian, and four grandchildren.
Brian Schottenheimer recently reached agreement to become the Jacksonville Jaguars' passing-game coordinator, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter, after previously serving as offensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks.
The family said the funeral will be private, with a service celebrating his life to be scheduled later.
"We know he is looking down on us from heaven and smiling," his daughter said. "We are so incredibly proud of the man he was and how he lived his life."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.