If the millionaires and the billionaires clubs that collectively make up the National Football League should come up with a new CBA, and I still don’t think that "if" is any bigger than the size 11 font I used to print it with, then it will be business as usual. Owners can overpay mediocre players while jacking up ticket prices (hey, somebody has to finance the second string running back’s yacht), the concession stand prices can continue to go through the roof, and the Chargers and Raiders fans can resume the latest edition of their Battle Royal at Qualcomm Stadium. This is the best day for kids to bring their fake ID’s to the stadium and buy beer, because the jails in the catacombs of the Q will be filled to the brim long before any of them will have been cited.
Of course, if I am a Charger fan, there is plenty of aggression to go around in America’s Finest City, and I doubt the fans will keep it pent up until the Raiders game. Their most notable target, of course, is the partnership of Smith and Turner, the GM and the Head Coach. They are the engineer and driver of a fine tuned machine that seems to run on only six of its 12 cylinders down the stretch while the turbo remains conspicuously silent come January.
Just how essential is a good head coach? The Chargers' 2010 season suggests that the quality at that position is something owners can ignore only at their own peril.
If you recall, the Bolts finished at the top in both total offense and total defense, only to need a win in their final regular season to finish above .500.
To put this into perspective, what if the Yankees’ pitching staff had the lowest ERA in the majors while their hitters had the highest run total, only to finish the season at 82-80? The three game lead they blew in the 2004 AL Championship series against the Red Sox would appear perfectly explicable by comparison.
Professional athletes are quirky in that they require a cheerleader, a hyper animated gung-ho field leader who can pound his chest with the best of the silverbacks. They need somebody who has them geared to crack bones the moment the first ball is snapped. In these cases, a mouth is required, not a brain.
Do you think Rex Ryan guided the Jets to back-to-back Conference title games by his sheer genius of X’s and O’s? And yet, here is a Head Coach players would tackle a brick wall for. By all accounts, that is not Norv Turner. Pardon the military analogy, but here, A.J. Smith hired what amounts to a supplies clerk to lead the infantry instead of the required Gunnery Sergeant. The often downtrodden cliché about preparation never rang truer than last year when the Bolts consistently faced two or three touchdown deficits before the coaches were able to strap on their headsets. Too often this proved to be a hole they were unable to dig themselves out of. Add to that a special teams unit that made the Chicago Police chasing the Blues Brothers look organized by comparison, and one of the NFL’s most talented teams looked average and below it for most of the season, to be charitable.
Though his competence is indisputable, the anointed Lord Of No Rings, A.J. Smith, nevertheless receives an assist for this painfully underachieving franchise. Smith’s forte has been spotting talent, not to mention when to draft and sign it. That said, the best ingredients you’ve purchased will not matter if the chef overcooks or refuses to cook altogether. Maybe it’s just that Charger fans have expected better over the years with an offense that’s included Pro-Bowl stalwarts such as Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, L.T., Lorenzo Neal, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, and many others.
While Smith isn’t alone in recognizing Turner’s offensive genius, he’s failed to make the crucial distinction between a brilliant coordinator and a brilliant head coach. Norv Turner’s handling of the special teams and his loyalty to coach Steve Crosby have been ill-advised and downright FEMA Brownie like, especially when you make the case that the special units blew entire ballgames single-handed or footedly.
This is on Smith, too. When misplaced loyalty morphs into misplaced kicks and punts game after game, there must be a higher power to correct things. However, that is something that would have amounted to admitting failure within this front office. Not going to happen here. Pride and stubbornness have ensured that the Lord will quite possibly remain with no rings, and the city of San Diego without a championship.
Charger fans can consider themselves lucky as long as an all-world QB like Rivers is leading their team on the field. But as long as A.J. Smith hands the keys of the Ferrari to a person insisting on driving the machine no faster than third gear, Charger fans will have hamburgers instead of Filet Mignon, and green beans instead of asparagus. The Chargers’ top brass will need to realize that the same mediocre taste year in and year out will eventually transfer the fannies filling Qualcomm Stadium’s seats back to the beach, where at least some degree of satisfaction can be guaranteed. The Chargers bosses won’t sweat it. When in doubt, there is always L.A.
In the meantime, we will continue to witness Mr. Smith not only shooting himself in the foot with the absence of a good head coach but ultimately, in the head.