The San Diego Chargers gave up on a coach who couldn't win in the playoffs for a guy who has done even less in the postseason as a head coach.
If that doesn't make a lot of sense, the following statement probably will seem odd as well.
Norv Turner has a very good chance to win a Super Bowl as the Chargers' new coach. Turner was introduced in San Diego on Monday, exactly a week after the Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer to solve the organization's "dysfunctional" situation, as owner Dean Spanos put it at the time.
Schottenheimer had survived to that point despite a 5-14 record in the playoffs, but he couldn't last as he started to lose his coaching staff. Coordinators Cam Cameron and Wade Phillips were hired away as head coaches in Miami and Dallas, respectively. When Schottenheimer and general manager A.J. Smith clashed yet again over hiring Ted Cottrell as the defensive coordinator to replace Phillips, the situation became untenable.
Now comes Turner, who in nearly nine seasons with Washington and Oakland made the playoffs once. Then again, being in Oakland should count as a coaching mulligan.
So why is it that Turner will have a strong chance to win where Schottenheimer could not?
The simple answer is talent, both on offense and defense. The Chargers, who had 11 players make the Pro Bowl, are loaded. Moreover, their talent matches what Turner likes to do. He is a run-first coach who loves to run a quick-strike passing attack that gets rid of the ball quickly.
With the combination of running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the league's MVP, quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates, Turner has the most talented collection of players on his side since his days as the offensive coordinator in Dallas. That was when he had Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin and aided a team that won three titles in four years.
As Turner said last month, talent is what wins.
"Look, everybody at this level is a good coach," Turner said. "The difference is having star players and getting your star players to perform at that level. There's no big secret to all of this. The players are the ones who have to perform."
Turner, who spent the 2001 season in San Diego as offensive coordinator, can call plays. He did it effectively in Dallas and his offenses in the past have consistently produced good running games, as running backs such as Terry Allen, Stephen Davis, Tomlinson, Ricky Williams and Frank Gore will attest.
The more complex reason why Turner works well in San Diego is that he's a non-confrontational person on a public level. Turner's greatest failing as a coach to this point is that he hasn't been able to deal with problem personalities.
Whether that was with Washington owner Dan Snyder or with Oakland players such as Randy Moss and Jerry Porter, Turner generally has not handled confrontation effectively. That is particularly true when faced with manipulative people who are hard to control.
Turner was great when he dealt with Aikman because Aikman was all about winning. With Moss or Porter, it's sometimes hard to figure out what their goals are. In San Diego, Turner will have a group of players who are similarly focused on winning, such as Tomlinson and Rivers, who is the son of a coach.
The other element to Turner's style is that he won't have problems with general manager A.J. Smith. Unlike so many coaches, Turner has no overt desire to pick players, negotiate contracts, make trades or run the draft. Just get him good players and he'll be fine.
Turner's hiring virtually ensures that Smith will stay. It had been theorized by some people in the media that Smith was in trouble with Spanos because of the troubled relationship with Schottenheimer.
Chargers spokesman Bill Johnston, who speaks with Spanos regularly, called that speculation "ridiculous" last week. Moreover, Smith is the architect who put much of this team together, including the trade that yielded Rivers, linebacker Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding.
As anybody in the NFL will tell you, teams shouldn't get rid of guys who know how to pick players. Further proof that Smith has staying power is that Cottrell was hired as the defensive coordinator.
Finally, it goes against Spanos' nature to fire Smith. The problems between Smith and Schottenheimer became public more than a year ago and eventually got to the point that Spanos had to call them in for a lecture on how to play nice. Yet Spanos didn’t take any truly harsh measure then.
Spanos is not an owner who wants to interfere with the daily operations of his team. He is generally non-confrontational and more concerned with bigger issues, such as how the Chargers will finally get a new stadium.
Unfortunately, what Spanos is learning is that the key to getting a new stadium is having a lot of success on the field. Now, he must hope that Turner can produce the success he wants.
- Norv Turner
- Marty Schottenheimer
- Emmitt Smith