You can take the Chargers out of San Diego, but you can’t take the Chargers out of the Chargers.
Days after unveiling and promptly retiring the most reviled logo in Los Angeles sports history, the new head coach of the perpetually bumbling franchise opened his introductory news conference Tuesday at the StubHub Center with an unfortunate slip of the tongue.
“I am so proud to be the head coach of the San Di . . .” Anthony Lynn started.
He caught himself.
“Uh . . . L.A. Chargers,” he said. “Oops.”
On the bright side, Lynn might have inadvertently come up with the team’s unofficial motto: Oops.
Chargers ownership failed in its attempt to extort the taxpayers of San Diego for the cost of a new stadium and exercised the nuclear option by moving the team to Los Angeles. But now what?
Listening to some of the team’s executives, it was unclear how much they had thought beyond following through on their longstanding threat to ditch San Diego. There are significant obstacles here. Are the Chargers ready to take them on?
John Spanos, the grandson of owner Alex Spanos and the president of football operations, was still looking back, unable to resist taking another swipe at the team’s former hometown.
“On a personal level, for me, I’m actually really excited about having a nice, big Jumbotron where we can really clearly see the scoreboard and replays, so that our coach can decide quickly whether or not he wants to challenge a play,” he said.
The news conference itself wasn’t particularly well-planned. Standing on the concourse level of the StubHub Center, Lynn had to speak over a persistent chorus of whistling and shouting from the field behind him. Draft-eligible players were preparing for the NFL Players Assn. Collegiate Bowl on Saturday.
Chargers executives attempted to sell the temporary move into the 30,000-seat soccer stadium in Carson as a plus. Yes, it will be interesting to watch an NFL game in what looks like the home of a Texas high school team. You know what else was interesting? The Dodgers’ playing an exhibition game in the Coliseum in 2008. It was fun for one game, but that didn’t create any widespread demand for more. The gimmick had run its course.
It’s hard for a newcomer to develop a fan base in this market. It’s harder when only 30,000 fans can watch the team in person every other week. It’s even harder when the team is perceived as an enemy.
The Raiders remain the city’s most popular team. The Chargers are their division rivals. However, when asked if a rebranding of the franchise was considered, John Spanos replied, “I don’t believe that it was.”
A possible reason why: Spanos said he is hopeful some fans in San Diego will continue to support the team in Carson. It’s a questionable hedge. The fans down there are really upset.
This is the backdrop against which the Chargers are working. And the clock is ticking. In two years, they will move into a new stadium in Inglewood they will share with the Rams. They have until then to convince people in this city to invest thousands of dollars into personal-seat licenses and season tickets.
Then again, the Chargers could be in worse trouble. They could be the Rams.
The Rams have a considerably worse team. They will be short on premium draft picks this year, courtesy of the trade that positioned them to select Jared Goff. They had a one-year head start on the Chargers in this market, but spent that year winning only four games.
There are also valid questions about the power of the Rams brand here. There’s a generation of the population that thinks of them as the team in Anaheim. If the Raiders were the Dodgers, the Rams were the Angels.
But if the Rams are the Angels, who are the Chargers? The Oakland Athletics?
Lynn’s first task will be to develop the new identity of the Chargers, who themselves are coming off a five-win season. He started last season as a running backs coach for the Buffalo Bills, but certainly has the necessary personality to reshape a culture, as he projected a high degree of confidence and likeability after his San Diego-Los Angeles mix-up.
“We’re going to be tough, we’re going to be disciplined on the football field,” Lynn said. “We’re going to play smart situational football.”
Lynn confirmed Ken Whisenhunt will remain the team’s offensive coordinator, ensuring 35-year-old quarterback Philip Rivers won’t have to learn a new offense. He said the team has interviewed former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley for the vacancy at defensive coordinator.
Lynn promised results and he promised them soon.
“I think we have an opportunity to start fast,” he said. “This is not a rebuilding project. This is not a two-year transition.”
The Chargers can’t afford for this to be that. Because if it is, they could one day look back on their decision to move, to become a tenant of the Rams, and say the word Lynn made famous on this day.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez