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Chargers’ Waiting Game Backfires – Here Comes Norv

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In all honesty, I really wish I didn't have to write this type of article again, but when the material keeps falling into your lap, you can't just let it sit there.

The San Diego Chargers are in the midst of what could equally be considered a sudden rebuilding or a freefall, or hell, even both. They finished their tiresome, globe-trotting, one week search for a new coach by hiring the guy the Cowboys didn't want – Norval Turner.

First, let's not forget to mention how we got here. The Chargers had a phenomenal season, rattling off win after win on their way to a 14-2 record and the top seed in the playoffs… only to be run off the field by those lowly New England Patriots, 24-21.

Anyone who was familiar with Marty Schottenheimer's coaching track record was not in the least bit surprised at this result, since it was Marty's 13th loss in 18 career postseason appearances. Unfortunately, the crowd who was shocked by this included the San Diego brass who hired him.

Perhaps they were thinking, "with all the talent we have stockpiled on this team, what could he possibly screw up?" They apparently ignored the fact that Schottenheimer had done the exact same thing twice in Kansas City (in '95 and '97), and that he had failed to win a playoff game after winning the division with almost the exact same team just two years prior. Marty had a long history of losing because he was playing not to, rather than playing to win.

Enough about him, though, the point is that there shouldn't have been a single eyebrow raised when the 2006 season ended the way it did, nor should there have been a moment wasted in using that result as a "straw that broke the camels back" opportunity to send Marty packing, especially when they had a great replacement candidate sitting in the offensive coordinator's seat, one Cam Cameron.

So the Chargers decided to capitalize on this opportunity by waiting, watching Cameron get hired by the Miami Dolphins, waiting some more, and finally watching Wade Phillips walk on East to take the Dallas Cowboys coaching vacancy.

All this waiting accomplished one thing: it forced San Diego management to make fools of themselves.

First, it meant that Schottenheimer had to be fired. It had long been speculated, and eventually confirmed, that somewhere between part and most of the Chargers' sustained success during the season was due to Marty ceding a fair amount of the decision-making and play-calling to his assistants (namely letting Cameron run the offense). So obviously, if Marty had a disappointing season, and a good chunk of the success he did have was the doing of coaches that were no longer with the team, then there was obviously no point in keeping Marty around. Logically, they released him from his obligations of coaching.

 Of course, this led to the Chargers getting egg on their face. All those people not named Chargers management who were familiar with Marty and weren't surprised with what happened clamored that San Diego had hesitated in making what to many was an obvious move. The Chargers knew this was true, and knew they had to be quick in tabbing the next head coach.

So the organization looked at who was left (which was not a lot, but not zero, either) and they hired… Ron Rivera! Alright!

Except, hang on, oh no. They hired him to be linebackers coach. Norval Turner is the head ball coach.

I'm going to let go the fact that Rivera (in spite of what he might say) cannot possibly be happy about a) not being retained by Chicago and b) not even getting rehired as a coordinator. I'll worry about Turner for now.

Is good old Norval the answer? Well, probably not, but I suppose that depends on who you ask. Yahoo! columnist Jason Cole mentioned that Turner's reputation was never that of a bad coach, but rather as "a coach [who] hasn't been able to deal with problem personalities." He states that Turner's failings in Washington and Oakland can be traced to owner Dan Snyder and, well, coaching in Oakland.

I will give Turner the benefit of the doubt with Oakland, which is where coaches apparently go to be crushed under the thumb of Al Davis and die. So that is a two season, 9-23 mark generously expunged from his record, bring him from an execrable 58-82-1 record (.411 win pct.) all the way up to a merely pungent 49-59-1 record (.450 win pct).

So we graciously ignore Oakland, and Turner's record as a coach is still terrible. Was Snyder that difficult to deal with? Actually, no. Turner coached seven seasons in Washington (#7 was abbreviated due to that whole "getting fired" thing), and five of those seasons were before Snyder bought the team, and in those five seasons he compiled a 32-47-1 record. Very unspectacular. 

In the Redskins' first season under Snyder's ownership, Turner won 10 games for the first time, and the team went to the playoffs for the first time in seven years. That was quite a convergence, that '99 season. He had two young, star offensive players emerge the same year (Michael Westbrook and Stephen Davis), brought in a highly successful free-agent quarterback in Brad Johnson, and had one of the best defenses in the league.

In 2000, the team played almost the entire season without Michael Westbrook because of injury, nor could Brad Johnson stay healthy, and the team was 7-6 when Norval was released, though those six losses were by a combined 23 points. Turner was perhaps let go a bit prematurely, but that is hardly surprising considering what we know now about Snyder's perpetually itchy trigger finger.

Okay, so Turner wasn't awful in Washington (once he actually had some talent to work with),what else can we tack on his resume?

  • He was the offensive coordinator for the original "America's Team" Cowboys that won back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1990s.
  • He was the Chargers' offensive coordinator in 2001, which happened to be the rookie year of both Drew Brees and LaDanian Tomlinson. The Chargers offense wasn't great, but they didn't have much talent aside from LT.
  • He was the offensive coordinator in Miami for the '02-03 seasons, where the offense as a whole was rather mediocre, though who can be surprised when he had Jay Fiedler under center.
  • He was the offensive coordinator last season in San Fransisco for the emergence of Frank Gore and returned the 49ers running game to the league's upper echelon for the first time in a few years.

Alright, Norval is quite obviously an offensive whiz. So what? As I pointed out with the Son of a Bum last time, being a great coordinator doesn't preclude greatness as a coach, but it doesn't guarantee it in any way, either.

Norv has had less success than Wade in his previous head coaching jobs, which would lead me to give him a lesser vote of confidence, but I will hold out. He obviously knows how to capitalize on talent offensively, and he has it in abundance in Sand Diego. On the other side of the ball, he has two coordinators (essentially, with Ted Cottrell and Rivera) who should keep the defense from slipping a notch. So there just may be hope yet.

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  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ Elliott

    RJ’s prediction:

    San Diego will not go 14-2 next season. Nor will they finish close to that. 10-6 seems more likely. Second place, good enough for a Wild Card spot, behind division-winner Denver. Or maybe third place, behind Denver and KC…

    But they’ll do better than Oakland!