As the Chargers season gets progressively worse, every coach has had their head on the chopping block but general manager Tom Telesco has flown under the radar. Coaches like Anthony Lynn, Gus Bradley, and George Stewart have rightfully taken the brunt of the damage. After the team’s debacle against the Bills, and now the Patriots, the need for coaching changes is as apparent as ever. But the evaluations shouldn’t stop there.
Heading into another pivotal off-season, it’s time to decide if Telesco has done a good enough job to be the guy going forward. The Chargers look like they have their franchise quarterback, and now the real work begins. If Lynn loses his job, the team needs to find a coach that can be trusted to maximize his potential. They also need to know their General Manager can build a competitive, healthy roster around their budding superstar.
To truly evaluate Telesco’s run, it’s important to look at the entire picture of what he’s brought to the Chargers. This includes the draft, free agency, and the two head coaching hires he has made. Telesco has been the General Manager now for eight off-seasons.
To break these down at once would be impossibly long so I’m breaking it down into two-season increments, four parts total. For the first part of this series, I will be focusing on the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Tom Telesco was hired during the 2013 off-season after the Chargers had relieved long-time general manager A.J. Smith. The team had missed the playoffs three straight seasons and had many strained relationships. During Smith’s tenure, the Chargers were really good. Smith built a team that had eight consecutive winning seasons and had less the seven wins only once. They also won five-straight AFC West titles. Telesco had some big shoes to fill.
Telesco had spent the previous 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, including time as the vice president of football operations. At the age of 40, he was the youngest general manager in franchise history. He rose fast through the Colts organization and was rumored in league circles as a wunderkind. Now he was tasked to take a talented Chargers team to the next level. The team had a Pro Bowl quarterback in Philip Rivers but a roster with clear deficiencies.
Telesco had substantial work to do, but first, he needed to find a new head coach. The Chargers had already fired Norv Turner and Telesco was given his first chance to make an impactful decision.
In January of 2013, Telesco hired Mike McCoy to be the next head coach of the Chargers. McCoy was previously the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator for five seasons. He was credited for getting the most out of quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow.
Telesco said he wanted an offensive-minded coach to try and get Philip Rivers back on track. In 2012 Rivers had an awful season throwing 15 interceptions and fumbling a league-high 15 times. McCoy also brought in offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to try and right the ship.
In 2013, there were eight head coaching hires and only one is still in place, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. It’s unclear whether the Chargers ownership would have been willing to pay up for an experienced coach like Reid. According to reports, Reid was supposed to have a visit with the Chargers but canceled after meeting with Chiefs brass. Hindsight is 20-20 but this was a big miss for Telesco.
After making his decision on McCoy, Telesco turned his attention to the draft and free agency. This is how the off-seasons went for Telesco over his first two seasons.
Free Agent Signings in 2013
CB Derek Cox – 4 Years – $20 Million
RB Danny Woodhead – 2 Years – $3.5 Million
DE Jarius Wynn – 1 Year – $745,000
OT Max Starks – 1 Year – $2 Million
TE Dallas Walker – 3 Years – $1.49 Million
OG Chad Rinehart – 1 Year – $1.25 Million
RB Ronnie Brown – 1 Year – $1 Million
In Telesco’s first free-agency he was tasked with making decisions on very impactful internal free agents. Familiar names like Shaun Phillips, Quentin Jammer, and Louis Vasquez all hit the open market. Jammer and Phillips were both on the wrong side of 30 and were moved on from. Vasquez was still young but Telesco was unable to retain him. He would end up being named to the 2013 All-Pro team and making the Pro-Bowl the same season. The kicker was that all three stayed in the division with the Denver Broncos.
Instead of prioritizing his players, Telesco ended up making a splash by signing top free agent cornerback Derek Cox. The Chargers spent big money here to try and replace Jammer, but it was a disaster. He was so bad for the Chargers in 2013 that he was cut after one year and would never play another NFL down. This was Telesco’s first big miss.
Another thing at the top of Telesco’s list was trying to find help for the oft-injured Ryan Mathews. Ronnie Brown was brought back after averaging 4.8 yards per carry his first year with the team. The best move, however, was bringing in former Patriots running back Danny Woodhead. Woodhead brought a different element to the Chargers offense and recorded 76 catches and six receiving touchdowns in 2013. This was the only truly impactful free agent signing of 2013.
None of the rest of the players signed in this period made a significant impact for the team. Rinehart would be the closest, starting 10 games for the team, at a pretty good value. Overall, it’s hard to say this was a good class considering they only hit on Woodhead.
The 2013 NFL Draft
Round 1 – Pick 11: D.J. Fluker, OL, Alabama
Round 2 – Pick 38: Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Round 3 – Pick 76: Keenan Allen, WR, California
Round 5 – Pick 145: Steve Williams, CB, California
Round 6 – Pick 279: Tourek Williams, EDGE, Florida International
Round 7 – Pick 221: Brad Sorenson, QB, Southern Utah
Out of this draft class, the only player left on the team is Keenan Allen. This was a great pick at great value and one of the steals of the draft. I don’t think any draft expert could have predicted what his career would turn into. This is the best non-first round draft pick of Telesco’s career.
The problem is that was the only good pick from this class for the Chargers. Telesco tried to beef up the line with D.J. Fluker who never excelled at either tackle or guard for the team. Some other first-round picks included DeAndre Hopkins, Xavier Rhodes, and Desmond Trufant. All of them went after Fluker.
The most egregious pick was Manti Te’o. The Chargers traded a 4th-round pick to move up and select the Notre Dame product. Te’o was awful in the middle of the Chargers defense and if they had stayed put, players like Travis Kelce, Terron Armstead, and Larry Warford would have been available.
2014 Free Agent Signings
RB Donald Brown – 3 Years – 10.5 Million
QB Kellen Clemens – 2 Years – 3 Million
LB Kavell Conner – 3 years – 2.7 Million
TE David Johnson – 2 Years – 1.65 Million
CB Brandon Flowers – 1 Year – 3 Million
LB Donald Butler – 7 Years – 51 Million
DB Darrell Stuckey – 4 Years – 7.6 Million
OG Chad Rinehart – 2 Years – 5.1 Million
This is another free agent class for Telesco that is somewhere on the border of forgettable and nightmarish. The Donald Butler contract is the one that hurts the most, but Donald Brown did his best to make it close.
Leading up to the new contract, Butler was a good player, but not anywhere near a 7-year contract good. Butler would go on to start just 27 games over the next three seasons before his release. He made it three years into a seven-year contract and was never the same player after the deal.
The Donald Brown deal never made sense. Telesco had ties with him in Indianapolis, but it wasn’t a huge need. He would limp through two seasons with the team averaging 3.1 yards per carry and scoring zero rushing touchdowns.
The one saving grace in this class was Brandon Flowers. On a great bargain contract, Flowers started 14 games with three interceptions and breaking up 10 passes. This was a good signing, it’s just hard to say it off-sets the bad ones.
The 2014 NFL Draft
Round 1 – Pick 25: Jason Verrett, CB, Texas Christian
Round 2 – Pick 50: Jeremiah Attaochu, EDGE, Georgia Tech
Round 3 – Pick 89: Chris Watt, OL, Notre Dame
Round 5 – Pick 156: Ryan Carrethers, DL, Arkansas State
Round 6 – Pick 201: Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
Round 7 – Pick 240: Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor
This was another tough draft class for Telesco. Not only are there no players from this class still on the team, but they also haven’t been since 2017. Marion Grice and Tevin Reese failed to even make the roster in 2014.
Jason Verrett was supremely talented but could never stay healthy. In his four seasons with the team, he played in only 25 of a possible 64 games. If you look at his career revival this season it’s easy to see why they selected him, but it can’t be considered a good pick.
Attaochu was supposed to pair up with Melvin Ingram to boost the Chargers pass-rush. He flashed with six sacks in his sophomore season but had just four combined in his other three seasons. Telesco traded a 4th-round pick to move up to get him, and once again trading up was a bad choice.
Both Chris Watt and Ryan Carrethers would be released before the end of their rookie deals. To pour salt into the wound, Trai Turner was selected just three picks after Watt, and this past offseason he traded Russell Okung to get him.
Through his first two drafts, Telesco only hit on the Keenan Allen pick. It was a great pick, but it’s telling that he is the only player on the roster to this day. Most of the players from these draft classes are no longer in the league.
You could argue that over his first two off-seasons Telesco brought in only three impact players. He hit big on Allen, Woodhead, and Flowers who all made immediate contributions. In the Draft, he had big misses on Te’o and Attaochu while giving up a fourth-round pick for each. It’s also hard to say that either first-round pick was a success.
On the field, the Chargers were an above-average team finishing 9-7 in each of these years. The 2013 team earned a Wild Card playoff berth and knocked off the Bengals in the first round. They would get knocked off in a close game to the Super Bowl-bound Broncos team the next week.
In 2014, the Chargers would finish with a winning record but lost three out of their last four games. Telesco would continue to build his roster over the next couple of seasons but the late-season lapse was an omen of things to come.
Part 2 coming soon…