The Offensive Coordinator Years
If this were a "Behind the Music"-type show, this would be the all-too-predictable part of the story where Norv gets tired of fame. He wants his privacy back. He wants to get away from the unrealistic expectations. He wants to get back to his roots. He wanted to get back in the lab.
Norv settled on the job as Offensive Coordinator for Mike Riley and the San Diego Chargers. The team had just shaken up their front office, bringing in John Butler (who had built the Buffalo Bills "dynasty"), and had drafted Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson. If Norv was going to rebuild his Cowboys offense anywhere, it was here.
With Doug Flutie running the show and Norv calling the plays, the San Diego offense went from 28th best in the league to 11th. Tomlinson finished his rookie season with 1,600 yards from scrimmage and 10 TDs. Brees showed the potential to be the next Troy Aikman. The problem was Mike Riley.
Riley was not meant for the NFL. His coaching style was timid and it came back to bite him in butt at the end of games. The 2001 Chargers finished the season 5-11 despite having the lead in many of those games in the fourth quarter. Butler demanded a better Head Coach to rebuild this team and got one when he hired Marty Schottenheimer.
Unfortunately, Marty wanted to bring in his own guy to run the offense. That guy was Indiana Univiersity Head Coach Cam Cameron. Norv was once again without a position despite performing his job well. He quickly found a suitor for his services when he was hired by Dave Wannstedt to be the Offensive Coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.
In Norv's first year in Miami, Ricky Williams had over 2,200 yards from scrimmage and 17 TDs. The offense itself wasn't great, it was led by Jay Fiedler and the best receiving target was the inconsistent Chris Chambers, but it was good enough. The team finished 9-7 and 10-6 in Norv's two seasons there, but missed the playoffs both times due to the competitive AFC East. They have made the playoffs just once in the eight seasons since.
When you hear people saying of Norv that the man is "a good Offensive Coordinator, but a Head Coach", they're going off of Norv's unblemished record of improving offenses (often without any real talent). He did it with the Chargers in one season, and it would've been fun to watch what he could've done as the Offensive Coordinator once Marty came in and Drew Brees took over the starting job from Flutie.
After getting Ricky Williams to finally reach his potential, Norv found himself a position with the Oakland Raiders...