During Norv Turner's reign, the San Diego Chargers have gone from being 60 minutes from the Super Bowl in 2008, to no playoffs at all in 2011. What's broken? What needs an overhaul? What needs fine tuning?
From free agency to the long snapper, we'll take a look at what it will take to get another shot at the Lamar Hunt trophy. Though numbered, these pieces are in no particular order of importance.
In addition to providing a surprise team or two every year-each NFL team has unknown elements which can end the year in dismal failure. Usually it's injury's or turnovers, However the Chargers' catastrophic special teams play certainly cost the team a playoff berth. It came out of nowhere for unsuspecting Charger fans used to pinning the blame on the usual suspects.
No stone should be left unturned, Preparation is key and there can be no more excuses, choke jobs or unforeseen issues.
1) Solve the public relations problem
Jay Cutler has a body language problem. The entire San Diego Chargers organization as a collective unit suffers from a similar malaise. The stadium issue(and possible move to LA), is disheartening enough to San Diego fans. However there is no reason that Dean Spanos and AJ Smith cannot placate the fans in the short term.
Here is a post season comments from: Baltimore Ravens owner, Steve Bisciotti:
“There are a lot of things that you all (media) are pretty accurate [about] when it comes to assessing the team, and so are our fans. They’re committed, they’re knowledgeable,”
Unlike Biscittoi-Spanos made his usual perfunctory and condescending remarks about bringing back Norv Turner to the San Diego Union Tribune. This year it was hastened by the Chargers earlier than usual end to a season:
"We’ve fallen," Spanos said. "It could have been our draft picks or our free-agent moves. But we have a good core, and I don’t care what anybody says. I’m not afraid to make changes. If I thought it was warranted, I would do it. We have a good foundation here.”
Nobody wants reactionary Monday Morning QB's making personnel and coaching moves, but at least acknowledge your loyal and frustrated fan base, like Biscotti did, and yes-he called his fans knowledgeable
While AJ Smith is an old school, at odds foe with the players during contract talks, there is no reason for the bunker mentality with the media. San Diego is a backwater town in terms of the media spotlight, not like New York.
Speaking of New York, Spanos, AJ and Norv should lobby hard to get on HBO's "Hard Knocks" for just the opposite of the JETS. This is originally the brainchild of AM1090's sports talk host-Darren Smith.
When will the Chargers make it back to the AFC Championship?
I concur with our radio host on this matter. Norv is emotionless. What better forum for us as Bolt fans to get an inside look at his Coaching brilliance than Hard Knocks?. Norv is no Rex Ryan, but NFL Coaches come in all shapes and sizes.
Norv's intellect and offensive mastery, while coaching them up would be brought into our livings rooms. It would also provide hope by winning the hearts and minds of an otherwise disenfranchised fan base.
2) Franchise Vincent Jackson!
San Diego already has elite receiver, Vincent Jackson in their grasp on offense. Imagine the year that Pro Bowler-Phillip Rivers would have had with a full compliment of receivers.
The Chargers should follow the Eagles lead with Michael Vick and apply the "franchise" tag to Jackson. He is that good. Jackson is a game changer, and his holdout with the acerbic A.J probably finishes a close second to not so special teams on the disappointment meter.
Furthermore, they should sign "V Jax" to a long term deal. Lots of caveats could be put in place for possible off field transgressions. Jackson has paid his debt and the NFL is full of success stories with guys on their second or third chances who have way more egregious records than Jackson.
Again AJ's unchecked ego is mostly to blame here. Acrimonious AJ was not held accountable on this one at all. While the receiver corps turned into a mash unit, there was no sense of urgency in the first 7 games of the season to get Jackson signed.
During Dallas' Super Bowl wins of the 90's, Emmit Smith held out. No sooner had the Cowboys gone 0-2 when Emmit was signed. Wide receivers are as important as running backs were back then. Again, A.J Smith failed the team on this negotiation. Of course the Cowboys went on to win the Super Bowl that year. If Jerry Jones can check his ego, A.J can too. Ego's don't win games.
The Jackson issue turned out to be a disaster for San Diego. It correlates directly with the bunker mentality and subsequent P.R problem the front office has. Signing Jackson would be a nice olive branch,to extend to the fans. It would also be a great start to resolving the P.R problem and perception of the cheap Chargers.
3) Open up the pocket book with free agents and find some leaders on defense!
Perhaps I've been to hard on AJ thus far. However in Free Agency, again AJ and the Spanos have been remiss and quite frankly-cheap.
AJ has had come great drafts, but not in the last four years It is way to early to tell if the likes of Ryan Mathews on offense, or fellow top pick Larry English on Defense are busts. Yet Shawn Merriman's skills were clearly on the decline before the Chargers exiled him to Buffalo.
To a certain extent the draft is a crap shoot. Yet even the most talented rookies rarely exude great leadership. The Chargers defense, albeit with great statistics last year, is rudderless as far as leadership.
The most notable leaders on defense come in the shape of pass rushers. However it is orchestrated, it is incumbent on AJ Smith to make a splash here.. A similar organization with a cheap reputation is the Chicago Bears.
Chicago does not have an elite QB in Cutler, yet were willing to take a chance with him and this year with Julius Peppers. The result-60 minutes from Super Bowl 45.
Yet San Diego continues to use excuses such as it's 3-4 defense to miss out on prize free agents. The Chargers window is closing. Rivers and Gates are not getting any younger. It is time to take some chances.
4) Take care of business within the division
This is not all that difficult. Every division game is a "thanksgiving" of sorts
The AFC West is only as good as the Chargers . The second weakest division in football is only the best on the left coast. Thank goodness for the NFC West!
Thank goodness as well for Al Davis. Any chance of continuity(Raiders going 6-0 in the div.), was thrown out with the firing of Tom Cable. Look for the Bolts to resume dominance this year and show lightening and gravitas to the Black Hole.Jason Campbell pales in comparison to Phillip Rivers
However bad as the rest of the AFC West is, The Chargers are good. The Bolts rarely lose a game by double digits.against anyone, leastwise in the division. With special teams improvement the Chargers should easily win the West. Special teams cost them dearly in losses to KC and Oakland.
Time for Norv to show his coaching acumen, maybe even start some trash talking ala Ryan with The Patriots. Make it Raider Week again, that was one savvy move by Marty Schottenheimer. Spanos is right about one thing though, the Charger's led by Phillip Rivers have a solid foundation. By the way did I mention Rivers is the best QB in the AFC West?. Rivers will provide the leadership on offense and is the one constant providing the elite way to the AFC Championship. No change necessary here.
5) No more slow starts
Whatever it takes, San Diego has to stop the bleeding here. Start by forfeiting all the exhibition games.
Then begin the year with a sense of urgency. Again this comes down to leadership, Heads might need to roll. Another 2-3 start should result in Norv's departure. For his own self preservation Norv should hire himself an proven Assistant Head Coach.
Not a figurehead either. A guy who is going to do Norv's dirty work. Yell at some guys. It cannot be Phillip Rivers either. Last year he was nearly checked in to a room with rubber walls after the opening MNF loss to KC.
This guy should maybe even be the secret head coach for the first five games. Then Norv can take over. Clearly the Chargers need a storm trooping, take no prisoners approach to the start of next season.
There are no easy wins in the course of the season, however the Chargers have continually dug themselves a hole to begin with. A strong start would go a long way to changing their mind set and while it won't be easy, it could get them over the top, on the way to being a team of destiny.
Unfortunately-there is only one sure way for San Diego to avoid it's inexplicable slow starts-a work stoppage. At first this might be tough on San Diego's football starved fans after another underachieving season
Yet the collective bargaining agreement's(CBA), expiration might provide a silver lining for the Chargers. In 2009 the Chargers finished 11-0. Say the season starts in October and the Bolts start 1-1. In an abbreviated campaign they finish with the Super Bowl by winning 11 in a row.
AJ is right about one thing though-"Just make the tournament", The Green Bay Packers proved that this year. And oh yeah, lets hope David Binn's career is not over. If it is they need him to help coach special teams.