Chargers' Riley Told He'll Be Back

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Mike Riley will be back as coach of the San Diego Chargers next season, with a mandate to avoid repeating the worst season in franchise history.

Chargers president Dean Spanos ended weeks of speculation Saturday when he said during a team meeting in Charlotte, N.C., that Riley will be back in 2001.

Spanos said the Chargers, who are an NFL-worst 1-13, were "very happy" after he assured them Riley would be back.

"I basically said, 'Look, there's been a lot of questions as to the status of our coach,"' Spanos said in a telephone interview from Charlotte, where the Chargers play the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. "He's going to be here."

Spanos had given Riley the news Thursday night, after which Riley withdrew from consideration for the then-vacant Southern california coaching job. USC hired former NFL coach Pete Carroll on Friday.

Spanos "told me I would be here and that he wanted me to be here," Riley said by telephone. "Obviously I felt great about it. That was kind of a defining moment for me and our team to go forward as I hoped we would."

Until that point, Spanos had never assured the coach that he would be back next season, even though Riley has three years left on a guaranteed $3.75 million, five-year contract.

Riley is 9-21 in two seasons in San Diego, and this season is the worst in the Chargers' 41-year history. Spanos said earlier in the week that the disastrous season hasn't been all Riley's fault, citing the team's poor drafts over the last several years and its unsettled quarterback situation, where Ryan Leaf continues to struggle.

Spanos said he and Riley have already begun to evaluate the team and the organization.

"I like everything we've talked about so far, his plan and his approach to go forward," Spanos said. "That convinced me."

Said Riley: "I'm willing to continue to look at every aspect of this so we don't have this kind of situation again."

The Chargers became a national joke as they lost their first 11 games. They beat Kansas City 17-16 on Nov. 26, but quickly reverted to form with poor play and numerous turnovers in losing to San Francisco and Baltimore.

Riley said Leaf, prone to turnovers and injuries, is expected to be back, but he's hinted at other developments at quarterback.

Riley also is expected to have to make changes on his staff, but neither he nor Spanos would discuss that on Saturday.

Spanos is expected to hire a general manager in the offseason. After Beathard retird, Spanos instituted a three-headed hierarchy that hasn't worked.

Riley said earlier in the week that changes needed to made in the front office.

"I think we need real definition of what people are going to do in the organization, whether it's bringing in a new general manager or defining responsibility or planning," he said on Monday. "That is what my biggest concern is, the biggest goal, someone I can go to football-wise from our staff and have input and talk to."

Spanos' pronouncement ended a wild week for Riley.

Knowing that he could be fired by Spanos after the season, he remained in the running for USC job, even though Spanos said he wouldn't release Riley from his contract should he be offered the position.

On Wednesday night, the team's flagship TV station reported that Riley would be fired, then quickly retracted the story, saying it had been duped by a caller.

"It has been a roller-coaster, for sure," Riley said. "None of it's been bad. I've said I haven't been worried about it, but it was a little bit of a personal distraction."

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