The easy answer is, “neither.” The more complicated answer is, “both.”
The reasons for not firing Turner are simple: The team is tied for the lead of their (admittedly weak) division and changing horses in mid stream is no guarantee of success. In addition, Turner is not only the head coach but also the offensive coordinator, so if you fire one you fire the other.
The reasons for not firing Smith are just as simple: he built a playoff-ready roster once, he can do it again. (And maybe he already has.)
But here’s what I think: I think the team is headed in the wrong direction and the only way to change that is to start over.
I hear you asking; “Is there a precedent for doing that in the middle of the season?”
In 1974, when Tommy Prothro took over as the Chargers' head coach, he assembled one of the greatest teams in Chargers history. The roster included names like Fouts, Joiner, Kelcher and Dean.
The problem was they couldn’t win.
The Chargers never made the playoffs on Prothro’s watch, never even posted a winning season.
Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, he was not fired.
But then, four games into the 1978 season and with a 1-3 record, Tommy Prothro did what is unthinkable today.
His replacement? Some guy they picked up off the street named Don Coryell.
Admittedly, the Chargers didn’t go to the playoffs that year and Coryell went 1-3 in his first four games. But then, somehow, he turned it around and the team won seven of their final eight. If Prothro had resigned just one week earlier, who knows what would have happened?
This is not to suggest there’s another Don Coryell hanging around the parking lot of the team’s Murphy Canyon offices, but team owner Dean Spanos didn’t even look. When he opted not to replace Smith and Turner earlier this year, he stated, “Bottom line, I believe these two men give us the best chance to get back to the playoffs.“
It’s easy to see where Spanos is coming from. Since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970, the Chargers have posted 14 winning seasons. 14. Six of those have come on Smith’s watch, three on Turner’s.
The Chargers also won a division title in 2008 with an 8-8 record and came up one game—one play—short of making the playoffs the past two years. Surely Turner can coax one more win out of these guys this year, right?
Well, if he didn’t do it then, what makes anyone think he will do it now?
For one thing, the Chargers play in one of the weakest (if not the weakest) divisions in the NFL, and coming out of the bye, they will play only one team with a winning record the rest of the way (Baltimore). So there’s a good chance they can win the division outright or, at the very least, grab a wild card spot.
Yes, it’s still conceivable the Chargers can finish 12-4 or 11-5 without divine intervention.
But is that your goal?
To go 11-5 because you play a bunch of patsies, only to get bounced out of the playoffs by a battle-hardened, playoff-ready team in the first round?
I don’t think so.
I think the goal is the Super Bowl, or at least fielding a team that can hold on to a 24-point halftime lead.
Which is why I think it’s time to send a message to the coaches, the players and especially the fans that mediocrity will not be tolerated. I think it’s time to turn this baby around and chart a new course.
You do that by firing everyone.