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Turner, Smith find reputations reborn after early scorn

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Kwak, Jan 5, 2010.

  1. Kwak

    Kwak ....

    May 25, 2006
    Turner, Smith find reputations reborn after early scorn
    Originally published January 5, 2010 at 12:01 a.m., updated January 5, 2010 at 7:26 a.m.

    They hardly were Sacco and Vanzetti, but by Oct. 20, Norv Turner and A.J. Smith were found guilty by the splinter group of Chargers fans that by mob rule had prepared the tar and feathers and exit visas. It was nasty.

    Their football team was 2-3, having just lost to Denver on national television, and sitting 3½ games behind the Broncos in the AFC West. The madding crowd had seen enough. Smith, the general manager, and Turner, the head coach, had to go. It was a package deal, a horse and burro for John Wayne and his sidekick to ride out of Dodge while the getting was good.

    “Norv was being raked over the coals — had been from the time he came here,” Smith says. “Me, I was just the egotistical wacko who hired him.”

    Now, 11 straight wins, a division title and first-round playoff bye later, we’re saying Turner should be NFL Coach of the Year and Smith Executive of the Year. Shouldn’t even need a vote. If you know football, what they’ve managed is startling.

    The Chargers may not reach the Super Bowl; they may lose their home playoff game here Jan. 17. Who knows? But that they made this furious run and reached the playoff level after, for starters, five regulars went down — among them, superb nose tackle Jamal Williams for the season and Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick for 14 weeks — in their opening-night win at Oakland, defies all NFL logic. It’s practically historic.

    Because it doesn’t happen. They were goners. And, in the minds of many vociferous fans, the men in charge held the smoking guns.

    Go ahead and name a coach and GM who have been through more, on the field with injuries and off of it — Shawne Merriman and Antonio Cromartie had legal issues that could have become immense distractions — and somehow turned what was perceived to be a diseased weed into an oak in a matter of weeks?

    “Norv Turner is the reason for this,” Smith says. “I’m so happy to see that people now think maybe this guy is good. I’m so proud of our players. And there’s the quarterback (Philip Rivers), standing tall, a special guy who’s just starting to grow. Unbelievable.”

    These are two men who never wavered from their convictions.

    “We just rolled up our sleeves and got after it,” Smith says.

    Cases will be made for Colts rookie Jim Caldwell, who also had obstacles to overcome, the Bengals’ Marvin Lewis (who always has obstacles to overcome) and the Saints’ Sean Payton, for Coach of the Year, but none had to adapt and basically change craft midocean the way Turner did. The man captained two different ships this season.

    As for Smith, well, he moved as well on the fly as a GM possibly could. He lost nose tackle/end Ryon Bingham in the preseason, Williams and Hardwick in the opener. Scott Mruczkowski (since injured), jumped in at center, then Brandyn Dombrowski went to guard when Louis Vasquez got hurt in Oakland, then to right tackle when Jeromey Clary went down.

    Smith made a trade with Houston for defensive end Travis Johnson, then brought in another end, Alfonso Boone, and nose tackle Ian Scott off the street. He coaxed veteran offensive tackle Jon Runyan out of retirement.

    Find another team with this much success that had so much to go through (and I’m leaving stuff out). Credit Turner and his staff for putting their thumbs together, forming a frame, and getting the picture in focus. The Make Shift has made do, winning in just about every way imaginable. But it’s simply been football players playing football, precisely what New England has done over the years.

    That’s enough case-building. What was perceived as a house of cards remained standing through the hurricane.

    “You’ve got to have backups who are very good players,” Smith says. “But none of it means we should be congratulated. It means this: It’s special; we’ve survived 16 games and we’ve been rewarded with a postseason game. We have an opportunity to win a world championship — that’s all we have. That’s what Norv tells the players, who respect him. It’s pretty impressive when you hear him speak.”

    Smith was ripped three years ago when he fired Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season and hired Turner, who had a losing record as a head coach. He claims he doesn’t feel vindicated now.

    “No, no vindication at all,” the GM says. “I said I was confident in our coach, who was smart and knew how to handle pressure situations. Vindication? It’s like everybody thought you’re stupid and now they think you’re not stupid.

    “Our fans are passionate. If you get offended by it, you cloud the issue. It’s only tough if you bring it into your world. Norv is the first coach I’ve hired. I just believe in him. I think the players believe in him. He’s a smart man. I’m not going to make a judgment on perception.”

    These guys are pretty good. No perception necessary.
  2. Ride The Lightning

    Ride The Lightning Join the Dark Side, we have cookies.

    Aug 15, 2006

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