Smith made it clear in December that he largely credited offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips with the Chargers' success.
Spanos and Smith said Jan. 17 when they announced the decision to retain Schottenheimer for a sixth year that they did so to maintain continuity after a season in which the Chargers had the league's best record.
That continuity was shattered, however, as both coordinators left for head coaching jobs – Cameron in Miami, Phillips in Dallas – and two of the team's position coaches became coordinators elsewhere as well.
The front-office tension built over the past few weeks, sources said, as Smith and Spanos disagreed with Schottenheimer's decision to allow linebackers coach Greg Manusky, tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski and assistant strength and conditioning coach Matt Schiotz to interview elsewhere. All three eventually took other jobs.
But, according to sources, the final straw occurred yesterday when Schottenheimer wanted to interview his brother Kurt for the defensive coordinator position. Spanos and Smith did not approve, but Schottenheimer held firm in asserting that he had the right to hire his own staff.
After that early afternoon meeting, Spanos returned to the Chargers' offices shortly before 5 p.m. and told Schottenheimer he was dismissing him.