According to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, head coach Norv Turner may not be the only member of the San Diego Chargers organization about to lose his job unless the 4-7 franchise enjoys a miraculous turnaround down the stretch. Acee reports that sources are telling him of the increased chances that general manager A.J. Smith could be facing unemployment as well.
It's been the second straight disappointing season for the Chargers, and as much as Turner's in-game strategic gaffes are near the heart of the problem, it's been Smith's contentious relationships with many of his best players and insistence on trading up for players like Ryan Mathews and Eric Weddle — losing valuable depth picks in the process — that has set the Chargers on the wrong path since they went 13-3 in 2009.
"The decisions are not made," one team source told Acee, "but everything is lined up." Another source told Acee that "the needle on (Smith's possible firing) has moved from 50/50 to 75/25 (in favor)."
The Chargers narrowly lost the AFC West title in 2010 after Smith played hardball with several key players, including receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill, each of whom missed several games in contentious holdouts. More and more, it seemed that the personnel issues were less about the good of the team and more about Smith flexing his authority. The Chargers didn't have the same kind of passing attack without Jackson, a situation that was exacerbated by tight end Antonio Gates' injuries, though quarterback Philip Rivers made himself a legitimate NFL Most Valuable Player candidate by transcending the circumstances around him.
With McNeill missing the first part of the season before he signed a new contract, backup Brandyn Dombrowski was repeatedly abused by speed ends — a situation that continues this season through McNeill's injuries. And the lack of depth on the Chargers' roster led the franchise to have the worst special teams of the last decade, according to Football Outsiders' metrics. Letting running back Darren Sproles walk after the 2010 season backfired in a big way for Smith — Sproles has been one of the NFL's most effective players this season, and San Diego's offense hasn't caught up.
Smith had been an able and talented personnel executive when he first took over for the late John Butler in 2003, but recent drafts hadn't been quite as solid, either. Indications are that in the wake of a push to get a new stadium, team president Dean Spanos has felt the pressure from fans to execute a thorough housecleaning from the front office down.
It's not known where Turner, who has been the Chargers' head coach since 2007, might be a candidate of he's fired, but there are two very interesting possible destinations for Smith. Acee points out that Smith always had a good professional relationship with Oakland Raiders main man Al Davis, and as the Raiders organization looks to put everything back together in the wake of Davis' death in early October, poaching the former GM of a division rival would be a very Raider-ish move. It's also possible that if Billy Devaney is relieved of his duties as head of personnel with the St. Louis Rams, Smith could go there. And, as Acee points out, Devaney's history in the Chargers organization — he was the team's director of player personnel from 1990 through 2000.
None of this is written in stone just yet, but it certainly makes the Monday Night Football matchup between the Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars just a bit more interesting than it would seen to be based on the performances of the two teams (i.e., not very). The Jags fired head coach Jack Del Rio earlier this week, and based on the way San Diego's season is going, this could be the first 2011 matchup of teams that will look very different when the season is over.