When the San Diego Chargers hired Norv Turner, it was not that hard to view it as a cushy gig: he had LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers, and a strong offense, as well as a talented defense. He inherited a team that had gone 14-2 the previous season. Turner was hired to win in the playoffs.
Of course, what has since defined his tenure there is unfulfilled expectations. Previous to his arrival in San Diego was the departure of Drew Brees, which although something he had no control over, cast a shadow on the Chargers when Brees led the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl victory in Super Bowl XLIV. Of course, what he did have control over was the team, which never made the Super Bowl as many assumed they were primed to do.
Of course, a lot of things are out of his hands; he was just the head coach, and probably didn’t have a lot of control over personnel decisions (especially considering that his predecessor was fired for trying exert control over them).Turner’s decision to emphasis the throwing game led to the eventual departure of Tomlinson, who wanted an increase in the running game, and whose production had decreased, as well as increased difficulties for Rivers, who suddenly had more of the weight on his shoulders.
Turner’s Chargers have become well known for their slow starts every season, with part of the humor from their detractors being their inability of the last few years to pull themselves out of the hole they dug for themselves. This only adds to the complication of being expected to win playoff games, something exacerbated by the relatively successful play of Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ defense, and the team’s overall inability to be successful in January.
This year, however, has been a wealth of disappointment, with the Chargers being effectively knocked out of the playoffs already, and there are lot of moments that show that the team, as current managed and coached, could use a new perspective. Several key mistakes at key moments in key games effectively cost them their season, and eventually you reach the point that after several years, perhaps the players just aren’t responding the same, or dare I say, the coach has lost his touch.
However, remember those personnel decisions? Those are controlled by A.J. Smith, the general manager, who hitched his wagon to Norv Turner when he hired him. The decision to let LaDainian Tomlinson go? That was Smith, and he has spent the last two seasons trying to find a replacement, to no avail. Ultimately, the team’s performance is a reflection of his management, and the team’s inability to consistently make the playoffs (a la perennial contenders like the Patriots, Colts, Packers, and Saints post-2006) with that much talent on board does not look good for him.
It’s been reported that Dean Spanos will fire both coach and GM at the end of the season, with many wondering if a Philip Rivers trade is soon to follow. Personally, I think that both Norv Turner and A.J. Smith have had plenty of time, and should ownership decide to let them go, it would be a good decision. It would allow for a new offense that would permit Rivers to throw less (which isn’t an insult; even elite quarterbacks need a balanced offense). Of course, if they want to start over, then they will need to find a trade partner, which shouldn’t be too difficult.
Philip Rivers is a good quarterback. He has had great years, but not consistently great years. A fresh start for him might be good; it might alleviate much of the pressure on him. Norv Turner could also benefit from a return to a coordinator’s position, where he can re-calibrate his offensive schemes. Finally, A.J. Smith will land on his feet; most good NFL executives do.