From today's NY Times. Check out the third to last paragraph where AJ talks about Norv. Ug.
SAN DIEGO — Hope may spring eternal in the locker room at the Chargers’ practice facility, which houses one of the N.F.L.’s greatest disappointments of this season. But it is not a gusher that reaches the second-floor office of the team’s general manager, A. J. Smith.
Chargers' Coach Norv Turner is 16-13 since taking over after Marty Schottenheimer, who won 35 games in his final three seasons, was fired.
On a crystal clear afternoon this week, Smith gazed through the windows that overlook the practice field and saw a season seemingly beyond salvage.
The Chargers, once considered Super Bowl contenders, sit at 5-8. Their season remains mathematically meaningful only because they play in the dreadful American Football Conference West. Still, it will take three consecutive wins by San Diego and three consecutive losses by Denver (8-5) — the teams play on the final weekend — for the Chargers to reach the playoffs.
“What you’re talking about is a miracle finish by us winning games, and then you’d be talking about one of the biggest, in my opinion, collapses in sports,” Smith said. “We’re hanging on a hair here.”
Smith is a man of certainty, one whose only gray area is the hair atop his head. He speaks in declarative sentences and is unafraid of hyperbole, or anyone else’s opinion.
For Smith, it is talk tall and carry a big shtick.
This explains why he was willing to embarrass Archie Manning, the patriarch of the first family of quarterbacks, by announcing to reporters that Manning did not want his son Eli to play for San Diego. Nor did Smith shrink from firing Coach Marty Schottenheimer, with whom he seldom spoke, after a 14-win season. Nor did he blanch when replacing Schottenheimer with Norv Turner, who had flopped with the Redskins and the Raiders.
Smith can afford to be so bold because his moves have usually been shrewd. Since becoming general manager in 2003, he has drafted or signed eight players who have become Pro Bowlers. His hiring of Turner looked good last season when the Chargers — who in Schottenheimer’s final three seasons won 35 games but none in the playoffs — reached the A.F.C. title game.
This season, however, many of Smith’s moves have not panned out. He allowed running back Michael Turner, the backup to LaDainian Tomlinson, to leave for Atlanta as a free agent. Turner is second in the N.F.L. in rushing (1,269 yards) and is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns (14). Tomlinson, meanwhile, could finish with the lowest numbers of his career. He is averaging 3.7 yards a carry and has rushed for 885 yards and 7 touchdowns.
The defense was so bad earlier this season — “ridiculous,” Smith called it — that he fired the coordinator Ted Cottrell, whom he had handpicked for the job.
“We’ve got to stop the passing assaults on this football team, and if we don’t establish a consistent power run game, there will be no championship any time soon in San Diego,” Smith said. “Those are the two things that are glaring out at me.”
Tomlinson’s diminished production is a result of the offensive line, Smith said. Center Nick Hardwick and tackle Marcus McNeill, both Pro Bowlers, have struggled in returning from injuries; guard Mike Goff has declined; and fullback Lorenzo Neal, who often functioned as a sixth lineman, was allowed to leave.
“A lot of people point to L. T.,” Smith said. “He’s getting older, he’s declining, he’s had a toe injury. But nobody can run if there’s no space. We need to take a look at the line.”
On the other side of the ball, the pass-rushing linebacker Shawne Merriman played one game before undergoing season-ending knee surgery. The Chargers’ sacks have dropped by about 25 percent, which has exposed the secondary.
“There’s no doubt: when you take Shawne Merriman out, it’s pretty obvious that hurts,” Smith said. “But Tom Brady left New England, Osi Umenyiora went out, Michael Strahan retired. You move on.”
This is where the Chargers’ superior depth was supposed to help, the way it did in the playoffs when Michael Turner and quarterback Billy Volek came off the bench to lead an upset of the Colts. But Merriman’s replacement, Jyles Tucker, who was signed at the start of the season to a five-year contract guaranteeing $6.5 million, has one and a half sacks in his past six games.
“It’s not just the on-field production; the swagger that he brings to this football team is heavily missed,” linebacker Matt Wilhelm said of Merriman. “It’s an attitude.”
Further diminishing the Chargers’ confidence, their eight losses have been by a total of 34 points, four of them coming to division leaders and four coming in the final 32 seconds. They lost to Carolina and Indianapolis on the final play. And they fell at Denver, where the referee Ed Hochuli mistakenly whistled a fumble dead, allowing the Broncos to retain the ball and score a last-second touchdown and a 2-point conversion in a 39-38 victory. If the Chargers had won that game, they would be in position to win the division simply by winning their final three games.
“It’s all what-ifs,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “If even one or two go the other way, we’re sitting in a different position.”
Instead, they have to win at Kansas City and Tampa Bay the next two weeks and hope the Broncos lose at Carolina and at home against Buffalo for the regular-season finale to mean anything.
“The year we went 14-2, you felt like anything you did was magic,” defensive end Luis Castillo said. “When you lose close games, human nature sets in. You can’t help fight that urge to say, man, in four or five games, it’s been one thing or another, what is it going to be now?”
This may be the time when players turn to their head coach for inspiration or assurance. But that has never been a strong suit of Turner’s. He has had his most success as an offensive coordinator and was accused by former players in Oakland of losing the locker room.
Nevertheless, Turner has inspired at least one person: his boss.
“I see a lot more things that need to be addressed than the football coach,” said Smith, reiterating that Turner would be back next season. “It’s like what he did last year has been dismissed by so many. I’m not in the business of taking a team and looking for a coach that can take us to the Super Bowl on a year-to-year basis and then taking another coach the next year. That would be dangerous. There’s a commitment where you get somebody that you think is competent that can work with you regarding players on your football team and making it happen. I believe he’s the right guy for this football team.”
Smith spoke not with hope but with the conviction of a believer, someone who may not always be right but who is never in doubt.