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Norv Turner handed keys to a winner

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Aug 15, 2007.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a href="http://www.mydesert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007708140328" target="_blank">Mydesert.com</a>

    By Jarrett Bell

    <img src="http://i2.chargers.com/assets/182/33564_699w393h.jpg" title="Norv turner, Chargers.com" alt="Norv turner, Chargers.com" align="left" height="301" width="192" />SAN DIEGO - Next year is here for the San Diego Chargers, and it is barreling in with quite the twist for a team that posted an NFL-best 14-2 regular-season record in 2006.

    Now it's Norv Turner's team to coach. Yeah, that Norv Turner. Seven years as Washington Redskins coach, one playoff appearance. Two seasons at the helm with the Oakland Raiders, two last-place finishes. A career record of 58-82-1. Now he is trusted with the keys to an NFL Ferrari.

    The Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer despite his 200 regular-season victories plus two division titles in the past three years. An ongoing feud with general manager A.J. Smith and yet another postseason meltdown - the Chargers blew an eight-point, fourth-quarter lead in their playoff-opening loss to the New England Patriots in January - cost Schottenheimer his job.

    "What great results?" Smith says. "You talking about regular season? Let me just say that my views and Marty Schottenheimer's views on how to win a championship were galaxies apart."

    Schottenheimer, told of the comments, laughs but doesn't say much: "I think very simply about this: My record speaks for itself."

    Smith knows his hire of Turner, who was the Chargers' offensive coordinator in 2001, raises eyebrows. Yet Schottenheimer was 0-2 in the playoffs with the Chargers and 5-13 for his postseason career.

    "People say, 'Why Norv Turner? He's a loser. Look at the record,' " Smith says. "Well, you never judge a book by its cover. Always read the book first. On this other one, with the nice cover, I read the book. This one I know how he thinks."

    Turner, offensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson for a Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl winner, can call plays with the NFL's MVP in the backfield, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, and up-and-coming quarterback Philip Rivers looking for All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates. The Chargers' defense, meanwhile, is built on arguably the league's best front seven, Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman and nose tackle Jamal Williams among them.

    When Turner started in Washington and Oakland, both franchises were coming off 4-12 finishes. This time, his team is trying to grow with an offense that led the NFL in scoring (30.8 points a game) and a defense that led with 61 sacks.

    "I understand the responsibility," says Turner, who coordinated the San Francisco 49ers' offense last season. "They're obviously a great football team. They had a great year last year. But everybody knows it really doesn't mean much when you're starting a new year. I'm not taking anything for granted."

    Schottenheimer's coordinators from last year are gone, too, after landing head coaching jobs. Offensive strategist Cam Cameron has taken over the Miami Dolphins while defensive counterpart Wade Phillips is with Dallas.

    Yet Smith believes Turner and defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell minimize playbook shock because they are embedded with the philosophies the Chargers have grown with in recent years.

    Cameron was a Turner assistant in Washington; Cottrell worked under Phillips with the Buffalo Bills. The schemes, like the roster, have remained essentially intact. "I don't think there could have been two better choices as head coach and D-coordinator," safety Marlon McCree says.

    History argues for Chargers

    This is not a team down in the dumps. Not when linebackers are so jazzed about calisthenics they skip across the field with sound effects - rhythmic claps - or sing like a railroad crew while taking turns smashing into tackling dummies. The practices are crisp, energetic and loud, matching the locker room talk about confidence, intensity and attending to unfinished business.

    "The good thing about football is that there's always next year," Merriman says.

    Last year? Williams, a mountain of a man at 6-3, 348 pounds, grumbles. "That's the past, man. We've moved on from it. Our first game is against Chicago (at home Sept. 9). They were in the Super Bowl last year. That's our first step."

    The Chargers have something in common with the past two Super Bowl winners. The Indianapolis Colts were an NFL-best 14-2 in 2005, then were eliminated in their playoff opener. They rebounded to become Super Bowl XLI champs. The Pittsburgh Steelers, the season before winning Super Bowl XL, had the league's best regular-season mark at 15-1 but were upset at home in their playoff opener.

    "Sounds good on paper," Williams says of duplicating those title runs. "But the season hasn't even started yet."

    Still, many of the Chargers believe the 24-21 loss to the Patriots in the 2006 divisional round was a lesson that will accelerate growth. McCree says it toughened the team mentally. Rivers thinks it fueled the urgency of the offseason. Tomlinson likened it to losing the grip on a crystal ball worth $1 billion.

    "It's definitely motivating," says Tomlinson, who led the NFL with 1,815 rushing yards and set a league record with 31 touchdowns. "We don't want to feel like that again. But I don't think we focus on that. We've been so good about forgetting about a loss or forgetting a win and going on to the next thing."

    Tomlinson recalls the last meeting with Schottenheimer, who was despondent the day after the loss. He sensed major changes were coming.

    "That meeting, the way the coaches were and Marty, we didn't think he was going to be there, the way he was acting," Tomlinson says. "It was pretty evident what was happening."

    Although several players contended that tension between Smith and Schottenheimer was unnoticed in the locker room or on the practice field, some acknowledge subtle changes in the flow of training camp under Turner.

    Schottenheimer started with the team practicing in full pads on Day 1. Turner eased the squad into full contact work, practicing three days with light pads before increasing the physical toll.

    Is it a big difference?

    "Camp is still camp," guard Kris Dielman says. "You're going to practice twice a day. Meet forever into the night. You're going to get cussed out and yelled at. Your body's going to be sore. It's the same thing, no matter what way you do it."

    Holding onto homegrown talent

    Dielman, who entered the NFL with the Chargers in 2003 as an undrafted free agent with a $7,000 bonus, had a golden chance to leave as a free agent. Although he never planned to sell his house in San Diego or trade in his pickup truck, Dielman boarded a plane to Seattle and was wooed with a huge contract offer from the Seahawks.

    He flew back to San Diego and re-signed with the Chargers on a six-year, $39 million deal.

    "The money's great, fine," Dielman says. "But you've got to be happy. I just couldn't see myself happy in Seattle. We're on the brink of something special here. I didn't want to leave that."

    The Chargers didn't sign any free agents from other teams - a key indication of chemistry that remains, although Smith begs to differ.

    "Everybody forgets that Kris Dielman was an ex-Charger the minute he got on the plane to go to Seattle," Smith says. "That's how I look at that. When those guys want to test the market, I have no idea what's going to happen. Thankfully, that one worked out. But that's a big one. You're trying to build a championship team, and your left guard's gone. But it worked out."

    Since replacing the late John Butler as general manager in 2003, Smith has re-signed about 30 players, furthering the philosophy that the best way to ensure a consistent winner is to keep a large percentage of homegrown talent in the fold. It's not just superstars such as Tomlinson but solid veterans such as Dielman and emerging players poised to make their names known, such as new inside linebacker Stephen Cooper.

    Taking the talent to the ultimate level, though, requires coaches pushing the right buttons. Smith was not convinced by Schottenheimer, whose "Martyball" moniker was born from his conservative approach in the playoffs.

    Enter Turner.

    "I'd rather go into the big games with that, rather than what I know over history," Smith says. "Winston Churchill had a great quote. Marv Levy told it to me. 'Make sure you pay attention to history. If you don't, you're doomed to repeat it.'

    "I said a few years ago, 'Maybe we can pull this off with great players, great coordinators. Let him hold the trophy. Maybe.' That was wishful thinking on my part.

    "The real key to this," Smith says, "is that I believe that in a football game with head coaches, there are four or five times where there are crucial decisions to be made. Aside from that, strategies take place to set up things. Game management. The master, Bill Belichick, comes to mind. Jimmy Johnson. Bill Parcells. I'm not saying Norv Turner."

    Of all the elements that sparked criticism after the Chargers' last playoff loss - turnovers and penalties among them - the use of Tomlinson in the second half got much blame. Tomlinson scorched the Patriots with 143 yards from scrimmage on 14 rushes and two receptions in the first half, but touched the ball just nine times (44 rushing yards, no catches) in the second half.

    "They weren't stopping us running the ball," Tomlinson says. "We felt like we could do whatever we wanted.

    "It was very disappointing because you realize that if you kept doing the same things you were doing, you win the game. Anybody of my stature would want the ball. Especially in a time when we know we can clinch the game. So obviously, there must have been a different thought process among the coaches."

    At another point in life, Turner had an offense powered by Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. He does not seem like a man worried about misusing Tomlinson.

    "I don't think you think as much about LT as you do the other guys (doing) their part so (that) if somebody finds a way to stop or slow LT down, the whole thing doesn't stop," Turner says.

    "This offense, the last three years, has been one of the two or three best offenses in the league. So obviously, you want to make sure we keep doing the things they've done and then you say, 'Hey, is there a way we can help this group get better?' "
     

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