Sunday, Chargers bosses and young quarterback Marcus Mariota will be in the same vicinity.
The last time that happened, the football world went stark-raving bonkers.
Long story short, when word leaked two winters ago that Chargers bosses planned a scouting trip to Oregon, where they would work Mariota out and dine with him two weeks before the 2015 NFL draft, media and fans said an epic trade was brewing.
The Bolts, the thinking went, would trade Philip Rivers to the Tennessee Titans. Just like that. Here’s Philip. Our franchise.
In return, San Diego would get draft picks. Why? So they could use Tennessee’s No. 2 pick on Mariota, the former Oregon star, and acquire other prospects.
Wow. Juicy stuff.
Meet Mike McCoy, Chargers head coach and resident de-bunker of speculation.
“There was never any discussion of trading anybody,” McCoy said this week. “That never even crossed our mind.”
By “anybody,” McCoy meant Rivers.
“We were not considering trading anybody,” the coach added.
Mariota, for his part, acknowledged to San Diego reporters this week that visions of lightning bolts weren’t dancing in his head as he dined with Chargers general manager Tom Telesco and McCoy in April 2015.
“Honestly, it was a quick deal,” Mariota said of the meeting. “It was something that kind of happened. They had talked to me about certain scenarios that possibly could happen. But, I wasn’t too concerned about it.”
San Diego held the No. 17 pick, and by the time Bolts leaders met with Mariota, Telesco would say after the draft, it was established in NFL circles that Mariota would be selected far sooner.
The Chargers did make a Draft Day trade, but it was to advance two picks to No. 15, where they selected Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.
Both Telesco and McCoy have said they appreciated Mariota working out for them so late in the process.
“Any time you have an opportunity to work out for a team, it’s an interview,” Mariota said. “We didn’t know how certain things were going to unfold. I just wanted to make sure that I did my best to present myself in the best way to any team.”
Mariota said he’s happy with how it turned out.
“I love Nashville, I love this organization,” he said. “I’m very fortunate that they gave me an opportunity to play here.”
Chargers connections to Mariota also include offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and Rivers.
Whisenhunt was Tennessee’s head coach when the Titans drafted Mariota second overall.
“He’s a great young player,” said Whisenhunt, who was fired last November after a 1-6 start. “He’s mentally very good, and works very hard at it. And, obviously, he can beat you throwing it and running it from what I’ve seen of him.”
When Mariota trained in Carlsbad before the draft, Rivers provided him pointers on footwork and other matters.
“He spent some time going through drops and being under center, talking ball and talking coverages – certain things he was seeing and that he had to go through when he was transitioning to the NFL,” said Mariota, who at Oregon directed a shotgun-heavy, up-tempo offense that seldom huddled. “So, I was very privileged to have that opportunity, and I look forward to playing against him on Sunday.”
Telesco and McCoy said that, even though they had no intention of trading Rivers, who was under contract through 2015 and could have been retained through at least 2017 via the franchise tag, the chance to work out a top-flight quarterback prospect was well worth the effort.
“Because when you watch film, from the outside, you can say, ‘Oh, this guy was open,’ – well, that may not have been in his progression,” said McCoy, a former college quarterback. “Or, he may not have been coached certain things.
“So, it’s always nice to go out and work the guy out,” the coach said. “You talk through the progressions and how they do things. And, really, you get to know a little about the person. Not just the athlete. But the person and what kind of guyw they are.”
Locking up their own quarterback, the Chargers would sign Rivers through 2019 and give him a no-trade clause, per the $83.25-million extension they issued in July 2015.
Since then, Rivers, 34, has missed no meaningful games. He has put impressive statistics for the most part, though the Chargers have gone 7-17.
Mariota, whom Whisenhunt named the starter entering the 2015 season, missed four games last years with a knee sprain and, in his 12 starts, directed the Titans to their only three victories.
This year, he has played every game. The Titans, led by a strong ground game and Mariota, who has completed 63.3 percent of his passes, compiled a 95.5 passer rating and averaged 6.9 yards per rush, have gone 4-4 to exceed their victory totals of either 2014 or 2015.
McCoy said the dinner in Oregon left him with an even more favorable opinion of Mariota, 23.
“A player who loves football,” he said. “Loves to prepare. Just wants to show up and work every day. He’s not one of those guys that wants to be on the podium, getting all the credit. He just wants to play and be with his teammates.”