Source: USA Today
The Chargers' eventful offseason got off to a surprising start: A.J. Smith and Norv Turner are sticking around.
Smith, the general manager, and Turner, the head coach, were thought to have to pay with their jobs for another disappointing Chargers season. Once considered the tandem to lead the Chargers to their first Super Bowl title, lately it's been hard times: two straight seasons of missing the playoffs.
This year's ho-hum 8-8 mark did little to suggest status quo. But that's just what team president Dean Spanos did in inviting the pair back.
In some respect, the Chargers' average ways — 17-15 in past two years — might have saved Smith and Turner's positions.
"When you're right in between, you have to decide if the cup's half empty or half full and project where the team is headed," Spanos said. "If it's headed down, what do you need to do to change it and how fast can you change it. I find us in the middle, but we're still a good football team."
But good football teams show more than one playoff win in four seasons. They do more than kick away seasons with six-game losing streaks, or play with the inconsistency that got the Chargers into their predicament.
Still, Spanos declined to clean house and chase coaches with more impressive credentials. Despite Smith's consistently flawed drafts of late and Turner overseeing a product which is eroding, back they come.
"We have a franchise quarterback in Philip Rivers and, in my opinion, one of the best coaches in the National Football League," Spanos said. "Going forward, keeping this group intact gives us the best chance to win as quickly as possible."
This was a business decision as well on various levels.
Smith and Turner had $12 million coming to fulfill their contracts. Although that amount would have no doubt been lessened with them finding other NFL employment.
But the Chargers are also expected to ask San Diego voters for tax help this fall for a downtown stadium.
To the patient Chargers fans, bringing back Turner and Smith is akin to blocking their view at sunset: unacceptable.
Spanos knew the consequences on and off the field, but was swayed by a passion plea from Rivers to keep Turner and a belief that the Chargers were downed by injuries and bad luck.
According to Spanos, Turner and Smith will make adjustments in how they go about their business. That could mean Turner sharing some of the game-day workout load as he serves as head coach and play-caller.
For the gruff Smith, that means extending an olive branch to most of the San Diego media. His grumpy persona in dealing with players and the media — along with dreadful drafts — has grown stale in San Diego.
So Smith and Turner get another run at this thing. A stirring win in Oakland to knock the Raiders from the playoffs trumped an embarrassing game the week before — with their season on the line — in a loss at Detroit.
Turner may have never lost the locker room as the Chargers did rally from 4-7 to reach 8-8. But Spanos lost the public relations game with the decision to bring back the unpopular Turner and Smith.
"No matter what I say or how I try to sell this, short of going out next year and winning, there's not much I can do," Spanos said. "If you don't believe it's the right decision, until we win and convince people I was right, there's not much I can say."
Some see it as a sign that mediocrity — one playoff win in four seasons — is OK with Spanos. He counters that that Chargers aren't doormats, just having trouble knocking down the playoff door.
"We've fallen off and we're in the middle right now, but we're not in the dredges of this league," Spanos said. "Believe me, this franchise has been there. I've seen it. I don't ever want to go back there again."
What's returning is the work of Smith and Turner. Spanos' hope is that 2012 doesn't return results resembling 2011 and 2010.
The Chargers fired defensive coordinator Greg Manusky after one season with the team. He replaced Ron Rivera, who was hired as Carolina Panthers head coach.
Head coach Norv Turner made the announcement Thursday.
"I'd like to thank Greg for the passion and enthusiasm he brought to our team and coaching staff this past season," said Turner.
Turner and general manager A.J. Smith were retained Tuesday, but owner Dean Spanos said he expected changes.
The Chargers gave up 27 or more points in five of their eight losses. As recently as Monday, Turner said Manusky shouldn't be the fall guy. Turner said that he thought Manusky did well.
"I would not characterize the hiring of Greg Manusky as a mistake," Turner said. "He has done a good job for us. Losing so many guys and playing so many young players is difficult."
Turner then took a supposed swipe at Smith when noting Manusky didn't have much to work with.
"Defensively, it's all about having impact players," Turner said. "If you don't have players that can be a guy one-on-one and make a big play, you're not going to get the number of stops you need to get. It's been a hard year for all of us and a tough year for Greg, but I thought he did a good job." —Chargers general manager A.J. Smith knows his recent work has him on the hot seat — again. "I am aware that the owner was not happy," Smith said. "I was also aware that we've missed the playoffs two years in a row, which means two lost opportunities to chase the championship. That's a disappointment to all involved. ... Now that we've been retained, we'll get back to working on ways to improve this team in the future. I'm confident that Norv and I can help get this franchise turned around."
—LT Marcus McNeill said the reports of him considering retirement after his neck injury were overblown. "I think that was me not being around," McNeill said. "People couldn't get a vibe on how I was feeling and that I was going to be fine. I needed to take some time to myself and just evaluate everything. I'm back now and believe I'll be better than ever."
—Despite replacement Nick Novak converting on nearly 80 percent of his field goals, Nate Kaeding doesn't think he'll have a camp battle next year. "I don't anticipate (having to compete for my job)," Kaeding said. "I'm on track to come back and expect to pick up where I left off." Kaeding spent all but the first game on IR with a knee injury. Novak signed a two-year deal in September and will be in camp next summer with Kaeding.
—Linebackers coach John Pagano, who has been with the Chargers for 10 seasons, could be in line to become UCLA's new defensive coordinator under Jim Mora, Jr.
—WR Vincent Jackson could get the franchise tag again, which is OK considering it comes with an estimated $12 million price tag. Then again, after another 1,000-yard season, he would prefer a long-term deal. "But if the tag is given to me again then that's what will happen and I'll take it," he said. "It's obviously out of my hands."
—CB Quentin Jammer's game gave ground as the season came to a conclusion; the veteran was routinely beat in single coverage. But any thoughts of moving Jammer to safety were shot down by Turner.
—KR Richard Goodman was named the AFC special teams player of the week. Goodman had a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the 38-26 victory over the Raiders. He posted a 35.8-yard kickoff return average on six returns (215 yards). Goodman's 105-yard kickoff return was the longest in franchise history, besting the 103-yard return by Darren Sproles and Keith Lincoln. Goodman, though, was nearly a goat when fielding a kickoff on the Raiders' 1-yard line and barely avoiding a safety. "I was hoping it would go into the end zone so I could take a knee and take a touchback," he said. "But unluckily, it landed on the 1. If I could do it all over again, I would just pick the ball up and get down right away."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They could've just thrown in the towel. We finished by winning four out of the last five. I believe that (Turner is) the right guy." — Team president Dean Spanos on why he is retaining coach Norv Turner.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Outside linebacker: With former first-round pick Larry English being a bust and Shaun Phillips disappearing for long stretches of the season — when healthy — it's imperative the Chargers upgrade their pass rush on the edges. Until this is addressed, the Chargers won't be going anywhere of significance.
Inside linebacker: Takeo Spikes, a 15-year pro, was seen as a band-aid for this position, someone to get the Chargers through the 2011 season. Spikes was decent; he played too much, though. The Chargers need to find someone with more range to pair with Donald Butler.
Left guard: Pro Bowler Kris Dielman is among the nastiest players in the NFL. But after suffering yet another concussion this season — one which led to a seizure on the plane flight from the East Coast — Dielman is considering ending his career. If so, the Chargers will be looking for a left guard. Backup Tyronne Green held up well, but the Chargers will still seek an upgrade there if Dielman delivers the word that he is done.
—OLB Larry English underwent foot surgery and is expected to be fit by training camp.
—DE Luis Castillo nearly made it back this season from a broken leg suffered early in the season. Castillo suffered a setback that derailed that idea, but he should be fine for the minicamps.
—K Nate Kaeding said he is a month ahead of schedule with his rehab after blowing out his knee in the season opener. He will be OK for camp.
—LT Marcus McNeill was forced out with a neck injury. But McNeill has said his plans are to return next season and that he should be OK for the offseason workouts.
—ILB Jonas Mouton had his rookie season wiped out with his early injury. He should be fine for the offseason workouts.
—OL Scott Mruczkowski is a critical backup but a concussion chased him to IR. He is confident that he will be OK moving forward.
—SS Bob Sanders didn't get past the second game until his knee gave out. The veteran will not be returning to the Chargers and he will likely be out of football.
—S Nick Polk (hand) went down early in the year. He was a backup and he will be available if the Chargers decide to invite him back.