Norv Turner kept his job as head coach of the San Diego Chargers largely because he had the support of general manager A.J. Smith and his franchise quarterback Philip Rivers. With the team staggering to a 4-8 record, it now seems all but certain that Turner and Smith will be fired at the end of the season.
The fate of general manager A.J. Smith was not always linked to Turner. Had Turner been fired at the conclusion of the 2011 season, there was a good chance Smith would have survived and allowed to hire another head coach.
Smith has made many mistakes, but none bigger than supporting Turner at the end of last season. Smith was stubborn and failed to make the decision that would have given him a couple more years in San Diego. Smith was given a spot on the last lifeboat and he chose to go down on the Titanic.
Smith compounded his error with an offseason spending spree under the guise that he was giving Turner the pieces to make a Super Bowl run, when he was really trying to conceal his own shortcomings as general manager.
Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego reports that plans are already in motion to dismiss Turner and Smith at the end of the season and although Team President Dean Spanos denied the report, there’s little reason not to believe its accuracy.
The team had to deny the report so Smith and Turner could remain in place for the final four games. Acee is also one of the most well-connected and respected journalists in San Diego. This move should come as no surprise to Smith or Turner—both men knew what was at stake this season.
Smith’s plan backfired in a big way and now the head coach that has been described as ‘soft’ is going to hit the unemployment line with the ‘prickly’ general manager. If the Chargers were a cactus then San Diego might have had a winning combination.
The vast majority of Chargers fans have wanted Turner fired for years, but he kept his job largely because of Smith. It took a dismal year and numerous offseason errors for the ownership group to realize that Smith was the bigger problem.
For the past few years, just about everyone was so fixated on Turner’s poor performance that Smith’s poor performance flew under the radar. The 2012 season changed that and his departure will give the Chargers a fresh start.
Most fans will celebrate these firings, but it comes with the reality that the Chargers are not a good football team, and a new regime will have work to do. Smith almost totally ignored the offensive side of the ball for years and relied on Rivers and Turner to get the job done despite diminishing talent.
It’s a start, but the celebration will be short-lived if Spanos doesn’t hit on the hiring of his next general manager. Per Acee’s report, the hire will be likely be Jimmy Raye III, who is currently the team’s Director of Player Personnel and has been with the team for 17 seasons.
Raye comes from a football family and he reportedly interviewed for the general manager position with the Chicago Bears in January. Raye has worked his way up the food chain in San Diego and probably deserves a legitimate chance, but he was also one of the key members of Smith’s staff and is at least partially responsible for some of the team’s poor decisions.
The bigger problem is that Raye might always be looking over his shoulder as the owner’s son—John Spanos—who would likely take Raye’s old job after serving as the team’s Director of College Scouting. Acee says the younger Spanos has been in line to take over the Chargers’ football operations, but not until the expiration of Smith’s contract after the 2014 season.
Raye or any other general manager candidate deserves a legitimate chance at the job without worrying that Dean Spanos will hastily fire him and give his son the job. That move, as well as promoting his own son, could be seen as hypocritical because nepotism was reportedly one of the reasons Spanos fired Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season.
Schottenheimer reportedly mentioned hiring his brother Kurt as defensive coordinator after mentioning current defensive coordinator John Pagano, who was then an assistant linebackers coach. Oddly enough, Pagano has probably been the best defensive coordinator in San Diego since Wade Phillips, despite some issues stopping 4th-and-29.
Spanos is apparently against having relatives on the same coaching staff, but doesn’t apply the same logic to his front-office hires. There is also this nugget via ProFootballTalk from last November citing a source with knowledge of the situation:
“John Spanos will never serve as the Chargers’ general manager,” the source said. “Some day in the future he may be in a position over all of the team’s football operations and be responsible for hiring a general manager, but that’s well down the road and he will never be the team’s general manager.”
Maybe not in title, but with his background in player personnel and with the ability to hire a general manager, John Spanos would be the de facto general manager in the same way that John Elway is Denver as the Broncos’ Executive Vice President of Football Operations. This fact alone makes the job as general manager of the Chargers unappealing to outsiders.
Firing Smith and Turner is a great start, but the Chargers now have a long way to go.