Source: USA Today
The Chargers announced coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith will return in 2012 despite missing the playoffs for the second season in a row.
"Bottom line, I believe these two men give us the best chance to get back to the playoffs," said Dean Spanos, team president and chairman of the board, in a release. "A.J. Smith is the best man to improve our roster, and Norv Turner is the best man to lead that roster on the field.
"Together, we have stability and experience that's hard to find in the NFL. They've both been in this league a long time. I don't think there is anything they haven't seen or experienced. They've led us through some difficult situations."
The Chargers have deliberated about Turner's future for three seasons, but each time Spanos has remained committed to the management structure in place. Turner is considered a top offensive mind, but quarterback Philip Rivers' regression in 2011, when he threw a career-high 20 interceptions with seven fumbles, put him closer to the firing line.
Rivers, as several veterans did, came to Turner's defense after the season-ending win at Oakland.
"As we've seen throughout Norv's tenure and particularly this past season, the players believe in him, respect him and play hard for him," Spanos said. "When we went through that tough stretch, no one quit. The team kept playing hard, and that's a tribute to Norv's leadership and the respect the players have for him.
"Now we will take a hard look at everything, from player evaluation to coaching to the rash of injuries we've suffered in recent years. Injuries have killed us. And no one is ever perfect in this business. Player evaluation isn't an exact science. We need to improve across the board and I'm going to make sure we do.
"We all have our quirks and faults, but I want A.J. and Norv on my side. They are the right men to help us win a championship."
Smith has been Chargers' general manager for nine years (2003-11), during which San Diego has won 88 games and five AFC West titles. Turner is 52-34 overall record (including 3-3 in the postseason) with the Chargers.
"Despite the number of wins we've had, the net bottom line is it doesn't mean anything unless you win a championship," Spanos said. "That's our goal and I am committed to winning a Super Bowl for San Diego."
Turner seemed confident he would be retained, even joking Monday about his job status.
"What were they going to do?" he said. "Leave me in Oakland?"
There's no mystery this was another disappointing season for the Chargers, a team not that far removed from a four-year run of AFC West titles, but a six-game losing streak did them in. Still, they rallied at the end, winning three of their final four games, to make it possible Spanos brings Smith and Turner.
"What I take on my shoulders is the fact that we finished 8-8 this year," Rivers said. "That was more about play than coaching by far. When you believe in something that doesn't mean you're always right. But if you believe in it you got to express it. I believe it is going to work and we are going to win and ultimately win a championship here. Obviously no one knows what's going to happen. That's obviously what I believe in and I'm going to do all I can to make that happen."
—Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers can't make it simpler: He wants Norv Turner to remain his coach.
"It's unfortunate the way that the year has gone, but I believe Norv is the guy," Rivers said. "I hadn't followed him when he was in Washington and Oakland, but from the five years with him, he's always had a false perception on the outside, and it's not his fault. Since the day he got here, it was, 'Why is he here?'"
Turner also has the backing of Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates and the offensive line.
—Right guard Kris Dielman, who is under contract, is considering retirement. Dielman went on injured reserve after suffering another concussion this season, and this one later caused a seizure. Dielman, a Pro Bowler who turns 31 next month, is hoping to the let the team know of his intentions soon, but there is doubt.
"It's not just me I have to worry about," Dielman said. "I have two little boys and a wife. I have to make sure everything's all right with me, and I have to see some doctors still and make a decision from there."
—Among the Chargers' soon-to-be free agents are wide receivers Vincent Jackson, center Nick Hardwick and tight end Randy McMichael.
"It won't be the same team next year," receiver Malcom Floyd said. "I hope they bring back Randy and Jackson. But that is not my job."
Jackson, who got the team's franchise tag this year, said he doesn't know whether he'll be back next season.
"That stuff is not in my control; that is an organizational decision," he said. "If (I do leave), I had a great run here. I would love to come back, but we will see what happens."
—The Chargers have had trouble avoiding local TV blackouts of late. Next year's schedule doesn't offer much relief. The home games: Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Ravens, Bengals, Titans, Falcons and Panthers. The road games: Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Browns, Steelers, Jets, Saints and Buccaneers.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
—LT Marcus McNeill, who went on injured reserve with a neck injury and has a history of spinal issues, plans on returning next season.
—K Nate Kaeding, who injured his knee in the opener and went on injured reserve, plans to be back next year. The question remains if Nick Novak, his replacement, will push him for the job.
—RB Ryan Mathews wasn't able to play in the finale due to a calf injury; it isn't considered serious. Mathews finished as a 1,000-yard rusher and was better in taking care of the ball this year.
—LT Jared Gaither played well after the Chargers picked him up off waivers, starting every game since Week 13. With Marcus McNeill's health issues, the team would like to have Gaither back
—C Nick Hardwick is another key free agent, and like RG Kris Dielman, he is wrestling with his future. Hardwick is concerned about health issues after his career.
REPORT CARD VS. RAIDERS
PASSING OFFENSE: A — Philip Rivers campaigned for coach Norv Turner during the game with his play and afterward with his words. Rivers threw three touchdown passes after a game-opening pick. He passed for 310 yards, as he consistently picked the right receiver with the right read. The key was his protection, which allowed for such a luxury. Malcom Floyd had 127 yards and a score on seven receptions; his downfield partner, tight end Antonio Gates also had a 100-yard game.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A — The Chargers got the bully treatment the last time they played the Raiders, but this time they rushed for 153 yards. Despite Ryan Mathews being out, Mike Tolbert and Curtis Brinkley compensated for it. Good run blocking as well. Vincent Jackson was nifty with a 41-yard reverse.
PASS DEFENSE: D — The Chargers got picked on at the corners, and safety Steve Gregory was also off. There was no pass rush, with an injury (Shaun Phillips) and an ejection (Antwan Barnes) putting a crimp in the heat delivered. Carson Palmer was able to pass for 417 yards and two scores, though Antoine Cason did have an interception. The lack of a pass rush was a huge problem.
RUSH DEFENSE: B — Michael Bush never got in a rhythm, and some of that was because the Raiders fell behind early. But the ground defense was decent, with ILB Donald Butler leading with 10 tackles and ILB Takeo Spikes adding eight tackles. The Chargers' front was blown off the ball early, then made an adjustment and got it right.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B — Richard Goodman's club-record 105-yard kickoff return was a thing of beauty. However, his touchdown was nearly offset by a fourth-quarter blunder when he fielded a kickoff on the 1 and almost got tackled for a safety. Mike Scifres never got to punt. The Chargers' coverages were just average.
COACHING: A — With not much riding on this one, the Chargers played as if they were the one trying to seal a playoff spot. Coach Norv Turner emptied the play book, let loose, and the result was one of the Chargers' best showings of the season. The blemishes remained on defense, and until a pass rush is discovered, that will remain the same. But Turner deserves credit for keeping his players interested in what could have been a ho-hum performance.