The 2015 NFL season was one of the worst in recent memory for The San Diego Chargers. Despite having one of the leagues top quarterbacks in Philip Rivers, the team managed to put up a dismal 4-12 record; their worst showing since the 2003 season.
The team has been in a pit of mediocrity for the last five years with very little bright spots. The brightest of all those spots, however, would be the offense in 2013 which was run by one Ken Whisenhunt.
That year, the Chargers finished with the 5th overall offense after finishing 31st the year before and managed to make it to the playoffs and even obtain a win in Cincinnati. This was Whisenhunt’s only year as the Chargers offensive coordinator and coincidentally, was their only playoff win since 2008. This success did not go unnoticed as Whisenhunt would end up landing a head coaching position with the Tennessee Titans the following year.
He saw little success as a head coach as he followed a 2-14 season with a 1-6 start to the 2015 season where he was then fired. While Whisenhunt was having his struggles in Tennessee, San Diego was seeing its fair share of issues as well as former offensive coordinator Frank Reich watched his rushing offense go from 13th to 31st out of 32 teams. With Reich seemingly having no solutions to the Chargers rushing woes, the bulk of the offense was put on Philip Rivers whom could only do so much with the limited weapons he had in the latter part of 2015. Reich was fired on January 4th, 2016 leaving a hole in the Chargers coaching staff that many speculated could be an opening for a reunion with Whisenhunt and on January 13th, General Manager Tom Telesco did just that.
The hiring of Ken Whisenhunt could pay huge dividends for The Bolts as their offense is in much need of a makeover. The play calling from Frank Reich was often times stale and predictable while Whisenhunt always seemed to have defenses guessing with his creativity. Ken should have little trouble mentally connecting with Rivers as the two of them saw great success in 2013 and both seemed to be on the same page when it came to what was best for the team. Though, what will be the bigger test is if Whisenhunt can make running back Melvin Gordon a true contributor to the offense.
Gordon had a very underwhelming season after San Diego took him in the first round of the 2015 draft. He rushed for 614 yards in 14 games with zero touchdowns. Fumbling became an issue for Gordon early on in the season and would lose carries as the season progressed; especially within the end zone. With Reich and head coach Mike McCoy losing trust in Gordon, it is possible that he lost trust in himself. He looked very tentative and hesitant in the runs he was making late in the year and never had a chance to get into the end zone after an injury against Miami ended his rookie campaign.
Whisenhunt has expressed excitement for the opportunity to work with Gordon and Gordon should be excited as well. There is no doubt Melvin Gordon has the physical abilities to get the job done in the NFL but it is the mental abilities that are in question. He can expect a much heavier workload this year with Whisenhunt calling the plays. He will also need to work on his pass catching which San Diego continues to need out of their running backs year after year.
As rough as Gordon’s season was, the collective effort of what was left of the offensive line was even more of a concern. Not only could the constantly changing mix of lineman not give Gordon decent holes to run through, they also left Philip Rivers with very little time to throw. This is something Rivers has unfortunately gotten used to over the years and if the organization wants any real chance of winning, they need to find a way to protect their QB and keep him off his back. They could look into free agency and sign a player like C Alex Mack from Cleveland who could option out of his contract this year. They could also look into the draft for help there as well. Either way, protecting Philip will be key in the coming years.
Another interesting possibility coming into 2016 is the chance that Mike McCoy could be losing his head coaching job during the season. Though he was signed to an extension this offseason, it’s very possible he is on a very short leash and could be fired if the team starts out poorly. By no means does he have an impressive track record as a head coach, but upper management may want to give him another shot with Rivers and company if things go astray early.
The Chargers have taken a good first step this offseason with the hiring of Whisenhunt. His playcalling will no doubt give the players every opportunity to succeed. If they take advantage of those opportunities, however, remains to be seen.