Debating Whether Norv Turner Should Stay or Go

Ross WarnerContributor IIINovember 6, 2012

Photo Courtesy Of The Darren Smith Show
Photo Courtesy Of The Darren Smith Show

Honestly, I don’t think this is really a topic for debate.  I believe that Norv Turner should have been fired after last season.  In 2010 and 2011, the San Diego Chargers dug themselves into big holes.  They finally got out but lost the one game that would have gotten them into the postseason.

In 2010, they lost to a Bengals team that had done nothing all season.  Last year, they were embarrassed by the Lions as Detroit clinched their first playoff berth in ages.  After the 2010 season, special teams coach Steve Crosby was fired.  The organization rationalized that this change, along with a healthy Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates, would be the remedy for success.

After starting 4-1, the Chargers lost six in a row last season.  The “thinking” going into this year was that a new defensive coordinator along with a quarterback not throwing more than 20 interceptions would result in a return to the playoffs. 

Thus far, John Pagano’s defense hasn’t fared much better than Greg Manusky’s.  They surrendered long drives t just against the Falcons, Saints and BroncosKansas City was able to put together a series of 3rd-and-long conversions last Thursday before they allowed missed field goals and turnovers to derail themselves.  Sound familiar?

It should, because these have been the Chargers under Norv.  Marty Schottenheimer preached all the right things but could not get the team to execute in January.  That’s part of the coach’s job, when last I checked.  In Norv’s first season, the Chargers started 1-3 but showed both grit and poise in the playoffs and made it to the AFC title game. 

Injuries to Rivers, Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson and a loss to the previously undefeated Patriots seemed like an acceptable excuse for losing.  In 2008, the Chargers were at 4-8 after Thanksgiving.  The calls for Norv’s head began again, but the team won the division and upset the Colts in the Wild Card Round.

In 2009, the Chargers were 2-3 after losing to a 6-0 Denver team on Monday night.  Calls for Norv to be replaced by the game’s color man, Jon Gruden, were deafening.  But they emerged from the bye with a 11-game winning streak and won the division.  Before the playoffs, Dean Spanos gave Norv a big vote of confidence and a contract extension.

Another playoff meltdown led to the purgatory that Charger fans are in to this day.

Much has been made of Norv's responsibility as offensive playcaller.  Union-Tribune columnist Nick Canepa was one of many writers who wondered aloud who would assume those duties if he was fired.  I think the argument that he's too valuable as offensive coordinator is pretty shoddy.

If Norv was truly a "genius" with Dallas in the early 1990s or with Miami is debatable.  But do you truly believe that he's done such a great job with the Chargers?  I would argue that he vacillates between predictable and needlessly "cute."  The times that he avoids the obvious calls are often the times that the obvious call is exactly what is needed.

It doesn't matter whether Norv is truly the milquetoast leader in the locker room as he appears to be on the sidelines. What matters is how the team plays on his watch.  This year's Chargers appeared to be better on paper than last year's.  However, they've seemed to be just as bad when faced with adversity.

I would argue that Norv doesn't make good adjustments, or any at all, in these spots.  But beyond that, the team doesn't seem to be able to regroup after an in-game setback.

The one thing his defenders always point to is his development of quarterbacks.  When Alex Smith regressed after Norv left San Francisco, Turner's influence was touted.  Look at what has happened to the quarterback Norv has been with since 2007.

For better or worse, the fate of the Chargers is tied to Philip Rivers and Norv Turner.  If you don't think that Norv's presence has affected Rivers, then I would ask you for the reason Norv is still the coach.  

Kevin Acee seems to be half-joking when he refers to Norv as "his guy."  Up until the playoff loss to the Jets, you could make a case that Norv had led the Chargers as far as any coach other than Bobby Ross had.  But the aforementioned loss to the Jets proved that they hadn't really learned anything from their past January meltdowns.  As Jim Trotter points out, they've been slipping back ever since.

If Dean Spanos is truly concerned with eating the remaining year of Norv's contract or of not finding someone better, then he truly is playing scared.  The same could be said about retaining AJ Smith, although that is a subject for another column.  Spanos should look at the banners in the stands last Thursday.  Maybe he should consider that making the move could actually get this team to play up to whatever potential it still has.

He needs to dare to be great, rather than stick with a coach (and his team) that simply stays above sea level.  As Peter Gibbons said in Office Space, performing under the threat of dismissal will only get someone to work just hard enough not to get fired.