The timing of Marty Schottenheimer's firing couldn't have been worse.
Two of the best candidates -- offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips -- already left San Diego for other head coaching jobs in Miami and Dallas, respectively. Three other key assistants are also gone. Scrambling at this late date to put together a head coaching search won't be easy. General manager A.J. Smith will be looking to find a head coach he can get along with, something that didn't happen for the past four years with Schottenheimer.
As we saw in the Miami and Dallas coaching searches, don't expect many big names. Dolphins coach Wayne Huizenga tried to make a splash when he visited USC coach Pete Carroll while he was on vacation in Costa Rica, but that didn't amount to anything more than just an interesting job interview. Expect the Chargers to hire an NFL assistant, preferably with some head coaching experience.
Here are some of the names bound to surface as the Chargers search for Schottenheimer's replacement.
Ron Rivera, defensive coordinator, Chicago Bears: Rivera will get one of the first calls from Smith. Rivera and Cameron were considered the hot assistant coaches. Success made it more difficult for Rivera. Like most coaches who coach in the Super Bowl, it's hard for them to get serious consideration for head coaching jobs. The Cowboys were well along the way to hiring Wade Phillips or Norv Turner, so Rivera didn't really have much of a chance for the Cowboys' job. Now, he's got a legitimate shot at this one. Although he's a 4-3 coach, he could come in and learn the 3-4. That shouldn't be hard. He's a good coach and was an NFL linebacker.
Jim Haslett, defensive coordinator, St. Louis Rams: A.J. Smith was in the Bills' organization during their top years. Haslett was a longtime Buffalo player and had great respect within the organization. Haslett isn't as married to the 4-3 defense as other coaches who might be interviewed. He ran the 3-4 when he coordinated the Steelers defense and played in the 3-4.
Norv Turner, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers: Turner just signed an extension with the 49ers, but he was the Chargers' offensive coordinator in 2001. Turner finished second to Wade Phillips in Dallas, but the Chargers are a better team on paper. It's not out of the question for the Chargers to do what the Cowboys were considering. They could hire Turner to be head coach and handle the development of Philip Rivers and also outbid the Bears to get Rivera as the defensive coordinator. Rivera's contract with the Bears runs out at the end of the month.
Jim Mora, assistant head coach, Seattle Seahawks: Mora always will be in the mix for a number of jobs. He's a bright, young coach and he learned from three years as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Mora is happy now that he is relocating to Seattle, but who wouldn't be tempted by a 14-win team that is in the hunt for a Super Bowl?
Jim Caldwell, assistant head coach, Indianapolis Colts: Caldwell interviewed for a couple of jobs, and he probably doesn't get enough credit for Indianapolis' success. He has a great relationship with Peyton Manning and he's a good coach.
Mike Singletary, assistant head coach, San Francisco 49ers: With each interview, Singletary keeps getting closer to an inevitable head coaching job. He's a good teacher. That became clear when he was miked up during the Senior Bowl. It's a shame he didn't get a coordinator job to further his development, but Singletary seems to have a head coaching job in his future. It's just a matter of when.
Ted Cottrell, former defensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills: This might be a blast from the past, but Cottrell was on Schottenheimer's list to come and help the defense. Cottrell has a background with Smith from the Buffalo days. He's also still a good coach.
Pete Carroll, USC head coach: Not happening. Even though Carroll would love to coach a West Coast NFL team, this doesn't appear to be the time. First, Carroll wants to have control of the front office and the coaching staff. Why would he leave the Trojans for anything less?
Bill Callahan, Nebraska head coach: This might be a long shot but it deserves some consideration. Callahan coached in the AFC West and he was successful. The Raiders went to a Super Bowl under his watch. He can bring a good staff on offense and defense.
Bill Cowher, former head coach, Pittsburgh Steelers : Cowher is sitting out 2007 and possibly 2008. Plus, he's one of Schottenheimer's best friends. For those reasons alone, he wouldn't come to San Diego.
Jimmy Johnson, former head coach, Cowboys and Dolphins: Johnson prefers the beach, but he does have a great relationship with Dean Spanos. Spanos will certainly call him. Johnson will take the call, put on more sunscreen and go back to the boat.
Mike Martz, offensive coordinator, Detroit Lions: Martz has one of the best offensive minds in football. He'd love to move to the west coast and would love to get the chance to work with Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.