Carson: "I wouldn't have made it without Schottenheimer"

Hall-of-Fame linebacker Harry Carson says he wouldn't have made it big in the NFL without the help of his first position coach, Marty Schottenheimer.

Marty Schottenheimer not only won 200 games in 21 years as an NFL head coach; he had only two seasons with more losses than wins, too – and the first was in his 15th year. Yet he seldom appears on Hall-of-Fame ballots, and blame it on one glaring omission in his resume.

He couldn’t win championships. Worse, he was 5-13 in the playoffs.

Nevertheless, he was a marvelous coach and teacher, and that's not me talking. It's Hall-of-Fame linebacker Harry Carson. Schottenheimer was his position coach with the New York Giants in 1976 when Carson, then a fourth-round draft choice out of South Carolina State, was shifted from defensive end – where he was so good he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame – to linebacker.

The rest, of course, you know.

“Had it not been for Marty, I would not have made it,” Carson said on a recent Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “When I was drafted to play with the Giants, Marty pulled me aside when I came into camp and asked me to consider playing linebacker. And I had never had any kind of experience playing linebacker … or playing standing up. I was accustomed to playing in a three-point stance.

(Harry Carson photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Harry Carson photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

“Plus, the other thing was … (and) it was not a small thing to understand … that playing linebacker at that time was to fill a position that, at that time, was mainly reserved for white guys because it was a ‘thinking man’s position.’ And for Marty to have so much confidence that I could make the transition … and he trusted me to make the transition … (was meaningful).

“I started midway through my rookie year, and I made the all-rookie team. And then I went on to master the middle linebacker position playing in the 4-3 defense. And then, to change defenses and go from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and then work under Bill Parcells and also Bill Belichick … it was hard for me to make the transition. But I was able to do it.

“But I give thanks to Marty because, had it not been for his insight and his ability to reach out and tap into me … (I would’ve been lost). The thing about Marty is he allowed me to utilize the athletic ability. He didn’t bog me down too much with trying to think too much about what to do on the field. Sometimes when you think too much that can be a detriment to you. Sometimes you just have to let a player go out and play. And that’s what he allowed me to do. I could talk all day about Marty.”

A former star linebacker himself, Schottenheimer last coached in the NFL in 2006 when he led the San Diego Chargers to the AFC West championship and a 14-2 record. But he was sacked by then-general manager A.J. Smith after losing in the playoffs to New England, never to coach in the NFL again. However, his 14 regular-season wins were the most in Chargers’ history, with the club having only two seasons with 10 or more wins since his departure – and none since 2009.

Schottenheimer’s greatest success, however, was in earlier stops at Cleveland and Kansas City – with the Browns twice reaching the AFC championship game, only to lose to Denver in successive seasons. He won three division titles in Cleveland and three in Kansas City but was only able to take the Chiefs to one conference championship game (1993) in his 10 years there.

However, as with the Giants, he produced a Hall-of-Fame linebacker in Kansas City: Derrick Thomas.

“I remember Derrick and I got together at Pro Bowl one year and we were talking about the similar things that we went through with Marty,” said Carson. “And we both talked about how great of a teacher he was and how he was able to work with us to make us good … and then make us even better at that position.

“A lot of people don’t think about guys like Marty having that insight and that quality of being able to teach, but he is probably the best teacher that I have ever been around.

“I know the knock on Marty is that he’s never won a championship, but, I tell you what: If you ask his players, it wasn’t because of Marty; it might’ve been because of something the players did. But once you stepped on the field you were ready to play because he had you in position. If you didn’t win, that was probably more on the players than the coach. Unfortunately, the coach has to take the responsibility.”