He’s back in town and facing the biggest decision of his career, the future of the family business, the San Diego Chargers.
Dean Spanos, gifted the operation of the franchise by his father in the mid-1990s, is cut from a different cloth. The father Alex was a self-made man, who started in business selling sandwiches to migrant workers in the Central California valleys, to building a construction empire.
He was bold, competitive, somewhat abrasive, and successful.
Son Dean received great things by virtue of that family, including the title to run the team his father purchased in 1984. Dean has been benevolent in San Diego to charities, much like Alex has bankrolled so much good in their hometown community of Stockton.
Alex, befriended by Al Davis, knew nothing of running a professional sports franchise, and had little knowledge of what he was purchasing from Gene Klien, a team on its last legs, Dan Fouts’ legs, in the waning years of the Air Coryell era. It was a painful rebuild.
But Alex knew people, and he put in place Bobby Beathard, Super Bowl architect from says in Miami and Washington, and that begat Bobby Ross as coach, which brought a Super Bowl team to this city.
Dean knows more about pro football thanks to his tenured time serving under the father. He has seen the bad, the cyclical part of sports, seen the good, the Martyball era, tasted the bad, Ryan Leaf to Norv Turner.
But now he is facing the decision of a lifetime, not just a decision about the business part of football, but a decision that will impact the Spanos name, and his legacy. Stay in San Diego and find a way to get a Stadium built, or seek out the riches, and move to Los Angeles where the dollars are mightier.
Spanos is back in town, diving into the analysis of what was proposed by the Stadium Task Force group, trying to compare apples to oranges, what other owners got from their cities to what he is being offered to stay in San Diego. He knows real estate, he knows values, he knows revenue streams.
What Dean Spanos doesn’t know is how to make the right decision, for when faced with key decisions, he hasn’t done well.
It’s right there in the history book. He refused to get in the middle of the Beathard-Ross dispute over coaching staffs, let Ross quit and saw the franchise fall apart in the Kevin Gilbride era.
It took the intervention of the then still-healthy Alex, to straight out that mess, by mandating the hiring, strange as it was at that point, of the much disliked Marty Schottenheimer. It headed the team in the right direction.
But then, after watching John Butler’s life snuffed out by cancer, and the reigns given to incoming GM-AJ Smith, Dean failed to make the right decision a second time. AJ and Marty operated at different ends of the spectrum in philosophy and personality. The owner let the GM-run off the coach. Thus the arrival of Norv Turner, and the return of mediocrity.
Spanos went outside his limited knowledge circle, to get input when he finally cleaned house. The consultants delivered GM-Tom Telesco and Coach Mike McCoy and they have embarked on a drive to shore up the franchise in the final days of Philip River’s great career.
Now Dean faces an ultimate challenge. Stay-or-Go. His hire of Mark Fabiani as his point man, hasn’t brought much success, unless you feel venom scores you points. The franchise theory that they tried for 14-years to build a stadium, carries little credibility, in that all they did was float ideas, present schemes, build it here, put it down there, give my my luxury house, here are the plans, pay for it.
It was a hollow attempt to get something done, while Americans lay face down in the gutter after 9-11, the collapse of the Global economy, near bankruptcy in San Diego over the pension dispute, incompetent mayors, then Wall Street. San Diego was paralyzed, and the Spanos’ expected a near destitute city, in a country going thru bad times, to give a rich man a stadium.
For the first time in a long time the other side, Mayor Kevin Faulconer has delivered something with dollar signs attached to it. A game plan of ideas of how his people, in business and with football experience, think this can get done. Like any blueprint, it will be reworked. But for once, there’s something there to negotiate off of, not just some glitzy picture, with a note “give me what I want and pay for it”.
It’s convenient, and I have, to rail against Spanos, saying he wants to stay in San Diego, while spending all those resources, and hiring all those people to work on the Carson project. He utters he wants to take care of his family in the future. Yes you can by owning a football franchise. Or he could sell that $84M investment for probably $800M now and have the generations in Stockton and San Diego live happily ever after.
Let’s give Dean this next window of a couple of months to see is the two sides can find the working finances in the middle to get a deal done. He deserves to be treated fairly in the next couple of months to show he can be a team player with the city and county, rather than just a man demanding a corporate welfare check.
When was the last time he made the right decision though? Not Beathard-Ross, not AJ-Martyball. Maybe the ‘third time will be magic.’ Or maybe it will be ‘strike three-you’re out;.
Big decision coming. Whether he likes it or not, Dean Spanos legacy in his adopted home town will be written one of two ways. We call it Spanos Field in Mission Valley for keeping the franchise here, or we watch him and the Mayflower moving vans leave in the middle of the night for Los Angeles.
This community remembers fondly Barron Hilton and the Coryell-Klein era. At stake is what they will say about the Spanos family name. No amount of money donated can change how the community feels if you make a bad choice. Just ask John Moores.
There will be plenty of time to salute him with praise or sully him personally-professionally. Hoping he makes the right decision for the town and team. Fearing he will make another Spanos decision, based on past track record. This time, Alex the father, can no longer help out, as dementia has taken over his life.
For all this community has given him, it’s right for San Diego Chargers fans to use the Jerry McGuire movie quote “Show Me the Money”.
Dean will say it is strictly business. Every football fan in this community, who bought his tickets and his jerseys, will call, it very personal.