For the past few weeks, I’ve added my two cents about the Chargers’ woes, but after yesterday’s embarrassing loss to the Miami Dolphins, I feel it’s time to explain the situation a little clearer.
If you’re all searching through the game recap and stat line for the reasons why San Diego lost yesterday, you can stop. There’s only one reason why this talented team sits at 2-3: coaching. That’s it. GM AJ Smith, and all his wonderful ability to evaluate talent and personnel, loses that touch when it comes to dealing with and hiring head coaches. Two years ago, his long accounted rift with then coach Marty Schottenheimer came to an end when Smith decided to send Marty to the unemployment line after he allowed both of his coordinators to leave and tried to hire his younger brother to take over the offense. Both men wanted control and unfortunately for Marty, a lifetime of ineptness in the post season shifted the power to Smith’s favor and team President Dean Spanos opted to let his coach go. This coming off a 14-2 season mind you.
So it was time to find a coach, or, in AJ Smith’s world, a puppet, to head the most talented team in the league. He struck gold in Norv Turner. This move was scrutinized for months, but team officials, who tried desperately to hide Norv Turner’s career record to that point, which was 58-82, told everyone that Turner had never had the opportunity to coach such talented players and that’s why his record was so poor; they basically took accountability for Norv’s record and threw it squarely on his former players’ shoulders.
As expected, to most knowledgeable people of the sport, the 2007 season got off to a rocky start. They were 1-3 after the first quarter of the season, 5-5 after 10, and only at .500 because Adam Viniateri missed a GW chip shot to give the Bolts a 26-24 win over Indy, and then proceeded to rattle off 6 more victories, with the Texans and Lions being victims along the way. Thanks to the softness of the AFC West, SD rolled to its 2nd consecutive AFC West crown (3rd in 4 years) and hosted a 1st round game in the playoffs.
In came the Titans, with their dominant defense and anemic offense, led by Vince Young. Had TN had any sort of an offense, they’d have stolen this game, but after leading 6-0 at the half way point, they failed to score again and SD managed to put the ball in the end zone late to pull away and win 17-6. Had they lost here, they’d have been calling for both GM and coach’s head. Next stop: Indy. The Chargers won this game unexpectedly because Tomlinson came out early with a knee injury and then during the crucial 4th quarter, Rivers was out with a knee injury as well, leaving an ominous backfield of Billy Volek and Michael Turner/Darren Sproles. The Chargers, for whatever reason, own Indy, have won every match up since 2005, and that continued on this day. The final score was 28-24. The following week, in the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots beat them again 21-12 to advance to the Super Bowl.
After this, everyone suddenly changed his perspective about Turner and the ship appeared to be right. How long ago this seems and how wrong they were. After 5 games into this 2008 season, the same questions are being asked about this team as they were at this time last year; why can’t they get it going? I’ve heard people who are quick to blame the loss of Steroidman (Merriman) as the reason for the defenses woes. Wrong. Scheming can help deal with that; the Giants haven’t lost a beat and they’re playing without Strahan (future HOF’er retired) and Osi (Pro Bowler on IR) from last year. The offense can’t get it going and they’re stacked with pro bowlers at nearly every position. Tomlinson, who was everybody’s MVP after his 31 TDs in 2006, didn’t all of a sudden forget how to run, and don’t attribute too much to the toe injury; he had a lot of troubles last year when completely healthy. The fact is that Turner is a horrific game planner; his O-line isn’t creating holes for Tomlinson and the running game to run through and the team looks lethargic in the 1st of half of games. When other teams come in that are nearly comparable in talent, if the coach is good, he’ll usually have a decided advantage over San Diego.
That may happen this week, in the ” what was supposed to be the much anticipated rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game.” Had Brady remained healthy, I don’t think there would’ve been that much hoopla surrounding this game considering San Diego is coming in with a sub .500 record. Regardless, I see SD winning this one at home to even their record to 3-3, but nothing is given in this league. If they can get to .500, they’re still in it; Denver’s not running away with anything, but if you look back throughout the history of the game, you’ll find plenty of very good/great coaches who won it all when they had great players, and plenty of very good/great coaches who won when they had only good players, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any teams full of great players who won it with poor coaching, which is what San Diego is trying to do.
The lesson to Smith is that the coach is equally, if not more important than the men lining up every Sunday, and as long as Turner is the man steering the ship, the glacier is never too far out of sight.