Why the Chargers were right to retain Norv Turner

Now that a couple of weeks have passed, and the scab has (hopefully) healed over some, I want to revisit why Dean Spanos may have made the correct call to retain Norv Turner.

I am perfectly well aware that a great number of people will vehemently disagree with this post, and will bypass any reasoning or statistics I come up with to back up my defense. I simply want to have a fair discussion that goes beyond the usual themes that always seem to surround Norv as the Head Coach.

This article is not going to detail the faults that Norv has as a Head Coach. Those faults will be discussed next week, when we look at the other side of the argument, and discuss why the Chargers should have pulled the trigger on Norv Turner.

Author's Note: All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference (PFR).

More below the jump...

1. Perception: Norv is a loser and has always been a loser.

Truth: Norv's Past in Washington and Oakland has no bearing on his tenure with the Chargers.

As I explained about 2 years ago, Norv Turner in his previous history as Head Coach was saddled with the ruins of dead Super Bowl franchises. In Washington, he inherited the ruins of the Bobby Beathard/Joe Gibbs dynasty, while in Oakland, he inherited the remains of the (already old) Jon Gruden teams.

In fairness to Turner, not one coach in Washington has surpassed his 10-6 season in 1999 (Gibbs, in his encore, posted 10-6 in 2005). It should be noted that Turner's Washington teams showed steady improvement for 3 seasons before plateauing at the 8-10 win level in 3 of his final 4 seasons. His reward for a 10-6 season and trip to the divisional round?New owner Dan Snyder. Snyder proceeded to sign over-the-hill free agents, hoping to bolster a playoff team, while systematically undercutting everything Turner had accomplished the previous season. As a result, Turner was fired during the 2000 season, while posting a 7-6 record at the time he was released. His final record in Washington was 49-59-1.

In Oakland, he was saddled with an over-the-hill core of players, as well as the usual Raiders ethos of undisciplined players who answered to the late Al Davis. He finished the 2004 season at 5-11; a 2-1 start evaporated as Rich Gannon's career-ending injury made way for Kerry Collins, followed by a 4-12 season in 2005 which featured Randy Moss quitting on any play that didn't see him targeted deep. His final record in Oakland was 9-23.

Thus leads to the 1st common cliche most people use when referring to Norv... "He's a loser, and he's always been a loser." In reality, he had actually taken an awful Redskins team back to relevance, while he never had a chance to finish the job in Oakland.

That would be like firing Jim Schwartz next December if Detroit started 7-6, and saying he was fired because his career record was 25-36.

2. Perception: Norv killed this franchise's chances of winning a Super Bowl.

Truth: Norv extended the championship window of this franchise by at least 1 season.

First, a quick breakdown of Norv's tenure in San Diego.

2007 11-5, lost AFC Championship.

2008 8-8, lost AFC Divisional playoff.

2009 13-3, lost AFC Divisional playoff.

2010 9-7, no playoffs.

2011 8-8, no playoffs.

Overall record: 49-31 (.613), 3-3 in playoffs.

For comparison's sake, here are the (1st) 5 year records of Sid Gilllman, Don Coryell, Bobby Ross, and Marty Schottenheimer:

Sid Gillman: 45-24-1 (.643), 1-4 in playoffs. 1 AFL Championship.

Don Coryell: 45-28 (.616), 3-4 in playoffs.

Bobby Ross: 47-33 (.588), 3-3 in playoffs, 1 AFC Championship.

Marty Schottenheimer: 47-33 (.588), 0-2 in playoffs.

Only Ross and Turner succeeded in producing 8-8 or better records in each of their (1st) 5 seasons. It should also be noted that of these coaches, only Schottenheimer produced a team that was trending up, as opposed to down after their (1st) 5 seasons.

Ross was given the benefit of the doubt with regard to questionable player decisions made by Bobby Beathard, while Coryell inherited a team loaded with talent thanks to the good drafting conducted by Tommy Prothro (if not coached particularly well), and was extremely popular in the San Diego community. In Norv's case, is the diminishing record a failure on Norv's part, or due to player decisions on the part of A.J. Smith that haven't worked out?

Generally speaking, a talented team will have about 5 seasons to win a Super Bowl, once their window opens. This also usually corresponds to the prime years of a good QB's career.

In the Chargers case, their championship window opened in 2004, which corresponds with the emergence of Drew Brees as a franchise-caliber QB. The first 3 years of that window, under Schottenheimer, were wasted with one-and-done playoff losses and an exasperating 9-7 record in 2005 (a season featuring road victories against the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, no less).

When Norv arrived in 2007, he was getting the last great year out of the Chargers' core players (LaDainian Tomlinson, Shawne Merriman, Jamal Williams, Antonio Gates), and trying to transition to a team built around Philip Rivers. This team lost an AFC Championship to injuries and a (then) undefeated Patriots team. 2008 saw the beginning of the end for the players whose prime opened the Chargers' championship window, as the production of all the players mentioned above (excepting Rivers) began their inevitable decline. 2009 saw further decline from these players, and a similar record might have followed, had Turner not transitioned to a pass first offense built around Rivers, Vincent Jackson, and Malcom Floyd.

As stated above, the failure of the Chargers to maintain championship-level play has less to do with Turner, and the fact that the Chargers have not been successful in locating replacements (or solid substitutes) for the core players named above. Going forward, the most important thing the Chargers have in their favor is Philip Rivers, still in his prime, to rebuild around. 2011 notwithstanding, Norv has at least proven that he can get as much out of Rivers as any other coach could expect to get.

Also, even despite the struggling defense, the erratic season from Rivers, and an epidemic of injuries, this team was 1) a fumbled snap against the Chiefs, and 2) a missed FG against the Broncos away from hosting the Bengals on Wild-Card weekend.

3. Perception: Norv doesn't get as much out of this team as another coach would.

Truth: There wasn't a single coach available this offseason who is a certifiable upgrade over Norv.

Based on the rumors we heard in November and December, I think it's at least possible that Dean Spanos inquired about the availability of Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden. And it's also possible he learned then what we all know now; they weren't coaching in 2012. Without these 2 coaches on the market, the options were significantly reduced.

That meant the only viable veteran coach available on the market was Jeff Fisher, just hired by St. Louis. Fisher does have a Super Bowl appearance to his credit, and also has a winning record from his tenure in Tennessee. But let's take a closer look at Fisher's record.

Overall: 142-120, 5-6 in playoffs, 1 AFC Championship over 17 years.

Last 5 seasons: 45-35, 0-2 in playoffs.

Doesn't sound like a significant upgrade to me. Especially at $35 million over 5 years.

Furthermore, hiring a coach with Super Bowl experience isn't yet a path to Super Bowl success. Only 5 coaches have ever taken 2 franchises to a Super Bowl (Don Shula, Dan Reeves, Dick Vermeil, Bill Parcells, and Mike Holmgren), and none of them have won a Super Bowl at both coaching stops. Going back to the 2000 season, the other available coaches who have been to a Super Bowl include Bill Callahan (15-17), Jim Fassel (58-53-1), Brian Billick (80-64), and the now-retired Mike Martz (53-32).

Further on this point, staying the course and fixing what's broken has been more effective than making a change for change's sake. Over the last 5 seasons, here are some numbers on teams that have made a head coaching change, versus those that haven't:

21 teams have made a coaching change during Norv's tenure in San Diego.

6 of those teams have a winning record over that time (Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Indianapolis, New York Jets, and Tennessee), with 1 combined Super Bowl appearance (Colts).

The average record of those 21 teams over the past 5 years: 36-44, which equates to a little more than 7 wins per season.

11 teams have kept the same coach during the time Norv has been employed in San Diego.

1 of these teams have a losing record over that time (Cincinnati), and these teams have 7 combined Super Bowl appearances (Pittsburgh 2, New England, New York Giants, Arizona, New Orleans, and Green Bay) .

The average record of those 11 teams over the past 5 years: 48-32, which equates to just less than 10 wins per season.

Making a coaching change is fine, as long as you hire the right coach. Maybe Mike Zimmer, Pete Carmichael, Winston Moss, and Joe Philbin make excellent coaches, when and if they're hired. Maybe Romeo Crennel and Mike Mularkey are better in their 2nd go-round than their 1st.

But for every Jim Schwartz, there's also a Steve Spagnuolo and a Josh McDaniels.

For every Bill Belichick, or even Tom Coughlin, there's a Dick Jauron, Wade Phillips, Dom Capers, and Eric Mangini.

Without an obvious upgrade available to the Chargers, discretion may well prove to be the better part of valor.

Closing Thoughts.

It's obvious to everyone that if the Chargers fail to reach the postseason for a 3rd consecutive year, Norv Turner will not be back for a seventh season. However, in this particular case, I think there's a fair argument that bringing Norv back for a 6th season is a solid (if unpopular) decision. History and statistics are on Dean Spanos' side.

The best hope for Norv is that he and A.J. Smith can address some glaring personnel needs via free agency and the draft, and the Chargers are able to solve the injury bug that has killed them over recent seasons. A repeat of Philip Rivers' 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons would help as well. If these things come to pass, the Chargers may well be 2012's answer to the 2011 Giants.

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