A Super Staff? San Diego Charger Coaches Look to Bring a Championship

Eric GomezAnalyst IMay 27, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 13:  (L-R) Inside linebackers coach, Ron Rivera and Stephen Cooper #54 of the San Diego Chargers talk during a stop in play against the Indianapolis Colts during their AFC Divisional Playoff game at the RCA Dome on January 13, 2008 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Sid Gillman started the franchise off with a bang.

After Gillman, Don Coryell couldn’t do it, despite the vaunted aerial attack. Bobby Ross got close, but was eventually denied. Marty Schottenheimer stayed true to his poor postseason reputation.

And now, Norv Turner has stepped in.

The San Diego Chargers trophy case remains the same. No Lombardi trophy.

This year, Turner will go into his third year as San Diego head coach, the first coach to win a playoff game for the Chargers since 1994.

Inheriting a team rich in talent, Turner’s teams have been a fixture in the postseason but have failed to fulfill the objective.

Despite rising through the ranks as a gifted, Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator in Dallas, and mounting a somewhat successful tenure as head coach in Washington, Turner himself is dragging a reputation of his own.

A lack of success in Oakland furthered the suspicion that Turner is better suited as a coordinator and not a coach. Under the light that casts doubt unto his head coaching abilities, Turner certainly has a leg to stand on if he wishes to make excuses for his time in San Diego.

In the 2007-08 season, his star running back, quarterback and All-Pro tight end suffered injuries in the playoffs. Still, the team soldiered on without them, having the misfortune of facing a 17-0 team in the conference championship.

The next year, injuries claimed his star linebacker, hampered his best cornerback and nagged the running back again, eventually knocking him out of action—once more—in the playoffs while the defense held on by its teeth.

The defense, led by coordinator Ron Rivera, stabilized after the former Bears coordinator took over for Ted Cottrell at mid-season.

An aggressive playcaller who favors attacking defenses that force mistakes, Rivera will recoup LB Shawne Merriman for the 2009 season and add Northern Illinois product LB/DE Larry English into a mix that promises to harass several quarterbacks around the league.

Linebackers coach John Pagano and defensive line coach Don Johnson (who rejoins Rivera after time in Chicago) will assist Rivera.

Versatility will be the name of the game for Rivera’s defense; despite coming to San Diego initially (as Cottrell’s inside linebacker coach) to learn about the 3-4 scheme, Rivera rose through the ranks studying under the 4-3, Tampa 2 and 46 formations in Chicago.

His success eventually helped Chicago to reach Super Bowl XLI. In his first full season as San Diego’s defensive signal caller, he will have the option to rotate players and try different formations to suit his needs, in an effort to provide a complement to the Chargers’ explosive offense.

That offense is handled by Turner, who initially installed the team’s offensive scheme in 2001 as offensive coordinator, and Clarence Shelmon, a long time running backs coach who trained San Diego’s unit among others.

Although Shelmon holds the official title, the team states that Turner himself calls the plays. Shelmon provides the balance for Turner’s explosive passing approach by consulting on running plays.

Prior to shepherding LaDainian Tomlinson, Shelmon worked in Dallas with one of LT’s idols in Emmitt Smith. His time in Seattle saw Chris Warren become a thousand yard rusher.

Former Cleveland offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski will work with Antonio Gates and the tight ends, while Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner helped turn Vincent Jackson into a premier wide receiver last season.

Finally, manning the special teams is Steve Crosby. Crosby has helped mold WR Kassim Osgood into a specialist who has made the Pro Bowl. His star punter, Mike Scifres, is only overshadowed by Oakland’s Shane Lechler.

K Nate Kaeding has also made the Pro Bowl, as has LS David Binn.

A savvy coach who has also served as a linebackers coach, offensive coordinator and special teams coordinator during his career, Crosby also has Super Bowl experience, going to the big game with Miami after the 1983 season.

The invaluable championship experience that Turner, Rivera and Crosby—the team’s three coaching staff leaders—can bring to their players will no doubt factor in to the equation that could end with San Diego making the Super Bowl after the 2009 season.

This positive experience that is transmitted to the players has already affected the team, which has won despite the obstacles of luck, injury and historical opposition under these three coaches.

Sid Gillman started the franchise off with a bang. Can this year’s staff answer with a boom?


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