What's wrong with the San Diego Chargers?
A simple question with many, many answers.
You may recall that Marty Schottenheimer was fired two seasons ago for not getting this team farther along in the playoffs. Norv Turner was brought in by A.J. Smith, the Charger GM, and they made it all the way to the AFC Championship last year before losing to the New England Patriots. In that game, Philip Rivers played with a torn ACL and proved he's one tough SOB.
This season they were expected to compete for a Super Bowl title. They were expected to win the marginal AFC West by a large margin. They had all the talent in the world in Rivers, Antonio Gates, LaDainian Tomlinson, Chris Chambers, and Marcus McNeill on offense. On defense, they were led by Jamal Williams, Luis Castillo, Quentin Jammer, and Shaun Phillips.
They were a playoff-hardened and veteran team ready to take the next step.
Yet here they are with a 5-8 record and about to be bounced from the playoffs.
Some blame the loss of Shawne Merriman for their demise. He is the heart and soul of the defense who is their emotional leader. He demanded constant double teams and was responsible for most of their pass rush.
Not that simple.
Yes, Merriman was instrumental to the defense, but great teams find a way to win when their studs go down. Look at the Patriots rallying around Matt Cassell. The Colts didn't fall apart when Bob Sanders was injured.
The answer, to the surprise of almost nobody in San Diego, is the hiring of Norv Turner: a man made to be an offensive coordinator but completely out of his league as a head coach.
Why, then, was he hired to replace a legend like Marty Schottenheimer?
Norv Turner is a "yes man" to A.J. Smith—whose ego seems to be the size of Texas. Marty is his own man and wouldn't deviate from his philosophy or strategy. A.J. Smith quite simply needs to be calling all the shots and needs to have the coach under his thumb. Well, he's got that now, along with an underachieving team with no shot at the playoffs.
A.J. Smith is a draft day genius, but he doesn't know when to step away and allow the coach to do his thing.
I think Schottenheimer would have gotten this team to the Super Bowl eventually. Like Dungy in Indianapolis, he just needed some time and the right circumstances. He was dealing with a very young quarterback in Rivers when he was dismissed. He needed some time to groom Rivers into the championship quarterback he seems to be.
As for the future of the Chargers, it's in flux. Merriman, LT, and Rivers all have contract negotiations coming up. I expect them to keep Merriman and Rivers but let LT go. They're still a very young team with loads of talent—they just need some leadership.
I hope A.J. Smith has his checkbook out and Bill Cowher on speed dial.