Norv Turner is a really good guy. Nice man, smart coach. He's probably one of the greatest offensive play-callers of his generation.
Sadly, he is far too easily satisfied and, as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers, that's a problem.
The latest example came this week when Turner spoke was talking to the Boston-area media about this Sunday's showdown with the New England Patriots. On Wednesday, Turner was asked if it was frustrating to see Minnesota return the opening kickoff of the season for a touchdown against his Chargers after a horrendous 2010 campaign on special teams that led to a unit coaching change.
"No, because I've watched … our guys [and] what they've done since camp has started and I know the commitment we have made to the kicking game," Turner said. "One play isn't going to affect you one way or the other. Obviously, we've made some changes on our kickoff coverage with a couple of guys because it still comes down to players making plays.
"This is the National Football League and as I told our media: I watched Green Bay and New Orleans – they're the two returning Super Bowl champions in the last two years and one gave up a 108-yard kickoff return and one gave up an -yard punt return, and those are two extremely well coached teams."
Turner isn't factually incorrect, but the tone is all wrong. There is no urgency or angst. When Turner worked under Jimmy Johnson when the Dallas Cowboys had their loaded teams, Johnson was always applying the pressure to get the most out of people. Johnson was never satisfied. He never embraced good; he pushed for great.
Sadly, Turner hasn't learned that lesson, and one has to wonder if the Chargers will ever overcome New England in an important game. It may be only Week 2 and seemingly premature to discuss playoff scenarios and title runs. But if San Diego is ever going to get to where it wants to go, it has to begin winning meaningful games against the Patriots.
[ Related: The absurdly premature 2011 playoff picture: Week 2 ]
Over the past five years, New England has owned San Diego. In fact, the Patriots are both the reason why Turner is the head coach and why, by the end of this season, he could easily be back on the coaching hot seat.
Most people are well aware that New England ended San Diego's dream season in the 2006 playoffs with a stunning 24-21 win at San Diego. That game was like the climax of a Greek tragedy, then-Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer losing his mind when he went for it on fourth-and-11 in the first quarter and safety Marlon McCree(notes) losing the game when he didn't just fall down after a late fourth-quarter interception.
With that, a 14-2 season faded like the sun over the sand cliffs of Torrey Pines State Park, a great place in which, like the 2006 Chargers, not enough people are familiar. San Diego should have walked to a title that season. Instead, that squad is perhaps the greatest team to not reach the Super Bowl.
Weeks after that loss, Schottenheimer was gone after a management stare down between him and general manager A.J. Smith. Sadly, Schottenheimer's dismissal, which led to Turner's hiring, hasn't changed the Chargers. This is still one of the most great underachieving teams of NFL history.
Last season was yet another example: The team didn't even make the playoffs. The main cause was a 2-5 start that which included a comedy of special teams errors that led to four losses by a touchdown or less. It should be noted that the last of those five early-season losses was a 23-20 decision at home to New England.
Going back to the 2006 playoffs, the Patriots have won four of the past five games with the Chargers, including another playoff matchup in the 2007 AFC championship game. New England's one loss in this stretch was in 2008 when Tom Brady(notes) was hurt. In other words, the Chargers have yet to beat Brady with Philip Rivers(notes) as their quarterback.
The sad part is that that the Chargers have had the talent to dominate this series. In 2005, they went to New England and put a 41-17 beat down on the then-defending champions. Privately, New England coach Bill Belichick has told plenty of people that the Chargers are one of the most talented teams he has ever seen. Even as the talent has eroded the past couple of years, San Diego has more than enough to make a title run.
That's where Turner comes in. He is one of those coaches that doesn't want people to dislike him. He has gotten by on some terrific football smarts and a good-guy personality. It's worth noting that Turner is now in his 14th season as a head coach. In all that time, he has made one conference championship game.
Johnson, by contrast, won two Super Bowls (and laid the foundation for a third by Dallas) in only nine seasons as a head coach. Of course, Johnson wasn't afraid to be hated. In fact, he used the power of his personality to alternate between charming and overbearing. He could joke with someone at one moment and snap on them the next.
That doesn't make for someone with great staying power, as Johnson's short tenure in the NFL proves. But it does give a team a chance for greatness.
That takes us back to this week. This weekend's showdown in Foxboro is a proving ground for the team and Turner as well. This week is an opportunity for the Chargers to not only set themselves up for later in the season, it is a chance to vanquish a team they that it mentally has yet to beat.
Now is not the time for the Chargers to be simply satisfied with being a good team; it is time to push toward elite.
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- Norv Turner
- New England
- San Diego