2012: Make Or Break Season For A.J. Smith And Norv Turner

Following the 2011 season in which the Chargers missed the postseason again for the second consecutive year, many believed that both Head Coach Norv Turner and General Manager A.J. Smith would be given the axe. On the contrary actually as neither one was let go and the team actually reiterated its support for both individuals to put an end to any speculation.

Still, all isn’t settled for the Bolts looking ahead to the 2012 season as both remain on the hot seat to make the playoffs and make an impact once they get there. After all, Marty Schottenheimer was a perennial contestant in the postseason, but he was ultimately fired for not getting along with GM Smith. Err, ahem, never winning the big game.

Now no one is going to pine for the return of Marty and his conservative play calling to the Chargers sidelines, but it wouldn’t hurt Norv to take a page out of the old Marty ball playbook in the season ahead. While the Schottenheimer style was a bit, shall we say, stuck in the 1950s, the Bolts could use more balance on offense these days and grinding games out on the ground would definitely help the team come playoff time.

It seems like much of the scrutiny on the organization during the season falls on Turner while the majority of the protest in the offseason lands on Smith. In reality, both are at fault for the team’s struggles in recent years, but in totally different capacities.

The calls for Smith’s job are justified due to his lackluster draft classes over the last three to four years, but this is the make or break year for his Ryan Mathews deal and with a promising class of rookies, A.J. could soon earn back his genius label. After showing the willingness to adapt and go after more free agents this offseason, Smith showed that he does feel the pressure to secure his employment even if he is under contract through 2014.

Making a GM the scapegoat for a team’s poor play isn’t really the way to go anyway if an owner wants to inspire confidence in the fan base. Even if the team cannot right the ship and misses the playoffs again for a third straight year, don’t expect to see Smith be the one leaving the office for good. If the unthinkable happens and the Bolts have another abysmal campaign in 2012, most expect Smith to be kept and allowed to hire a replacement for Turner.

While Turner has been well-documented as Smith’s hand-picked successor to Schottenheimer after their ordeal, if it comes down to firing Turner or losing his own job, expect Smith to fill out the pink slip himself. Since we have already ventured into hypothetical land, let’s make some educated guesses as to who the next chosen one would be.

Bill Cowher

A Schottenheimer disciple himself, Cowher is probably a longshot to land with the Bolts if Smith is still the GM. As one of the biggest fish in the unemployed coaches pond however, he has to get at least a mention. While his old-school, grind it out style would be quite a contrast to the current coach in Turner, it could be just what the team needs with Mathews developing as a feature back.

Jon Gruden

This is the other big candidate for the job that most believe would top the list should this all play itself out. Gruden and Smith are known to be good friends and as an analyst during the draft telecast in April, Gruden applauded the Bolts’ draft giving plenty of kudos to his buddy. Just the idea of having an accomplished coach such as him in San Diego is an outrageously exciting proposition. Add in the connections to the Oakland Raiders and getting a good dig in on them and I’m sold.

So in short, if you thought the fate of both Turner and Smith were tied to the results of the Chargers upcoming season, think again. There is a real possibility that even another poor performance by this team wouldn’t cost Smith the GM spot. And if you are like me, that’s a good thing.

Now it’s your turn to weigh-in! Do you think Turner can re-think his offense and gear things more towards the run in 2012? Would you be in favor of firing Turner and keeping Smith should this year not turn out the way we all hope? Which of the dream coaches available would you want the Chargers to go after if the season goes awry? Fill up the comments section below with your thoughts on this hot button topic!

June 26, 2012

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SDNative69 said... Jun 26, 2012, 12:19:00 PM

I really like the way this team is shaping up this year. It also seems that this team is finally becoming Norv's team. I think the past few years we've seen Norv try and coach a Marty team. Now what was left of the old team is gone, with the exception of its foundation in Gates and Rivers. I think our passing game is going to be spectacular. A healthy Gates or even the perception of a healthy Gates is going to draw double coverage 9 out of 10 times. You throw in Norv's mastery of quick passes, screens and ability to read coverage and we should be very difficult to defend. On the other side of the ball, I think our defense is going to come alive this season, I love Barnes, and Butler started showing glimpses of a star in the making, aggressive and fast, pile on Johnson and Melvin and opposing QBs are going to be under pressure. I expect Cason and Jammer to have a great year with lots of pics. With all that said, I believe and I know I am in the minority, that Norv is the best guy to take this team where we need to go. There is one intangible that Norv and AJ have seemed to instill in this team and thats character. They have pulled together guys that put their egos aside and are there to make the team better (Ronnie Brown, LeRon, Royal, Atari, Meachum, the list goes on). No matter what happens I will always support this team! GO BOLTS!

RaiderHater said... Jun 26, 2012, 3:53:00 PM

Yeah SDNative69 calling what he feels!! I am almost as positive as you bro...AJ finally made a ton of "purchases" in the open market, had a solid draft run, and still may have a player or two on his listr depending on the "let goes" during pre-season. Norv is the key, and although he seems asleep at times, one thing is clear...the players follow him??!! Don't understand it but for sure Rivers is the key on Offense...if he executes and we actually have a balanced attack with a run - - WTF we are going to be scary bad ass! The D, I agree with you, should be much improved this year, new coach and new players.
I am as excited as any true blue Bolt Head this time of year...maybe more because of the new players. Even pre-season won't tell the tale...remember Norv actually uses that time to evaluate many players and winning the game is secondary. He has a crap load of players aboard to thin out, and in some positions it will be quite a task. We have depth in some spots like we never had before....geez who to let go??? Game 1 against the Raiders on MNF will tell us what we can expect ...sorta. Every Division game will be critical, given how this group has improved, and that is our first chance to move forwards. By then we will already know how KC did, and how (hopefiully) Pittsburg chewed up on some Manning burgers! I don't want to think of potential new coaches yet...I suppose Gruden would get my vote, but unless we are way behind by mid-year, don't look for any changes there. Meanwhile, a full training regiment for a full summer, and so far next to no injuries so far....that in itself is something we haven't enjoyed in awhile.
FYI - Pete and FBhansen, I am currently blocks away from the Oakland Coloseum for work, it sits right next to the Oakland International Grafity College and the Rehabilitation Center for Habitual Lossers !! However, I dare not wear my Bolt Gear out to dinner for fear of getting shanked > >

Nick in PB said... Jun 29, 2012, 10:00:00 AM

SD Native... I love your optimism! RH, as always, we're on the same page! Anthony, great article! It's bringing back the memories of the failures of last season. hahaha I truly believe that this team, personnel wise is primed to do good things. I think AJ has had one of his best off-seasons ever but, as always this time of year, we are hopeful and all the signs point up! Until we start to get hit with injuries. If we stay healthy, we are going to be dangerous on both sides of the ball! I have no doubt about that. I'm going to, once again, voice my concern. My concern is Norv. The thing is about coaches, as compared to players, is, do they ever get better??? It seems like coaches tend to repeat the same mistakes over and over and I think that Norvs game day preparations are sometimes lacking. The way we come out and fall flat on occasions. Those 4 wins to start the season last year were not overly impressive. I was still worried that we weren't playing that well. I guess my true gripe is, how is Norv going to break the habit of being an underachiever? I truly hope Norv can change his approach a bit and have this team playing at their FULL potential! If not, I say, bring in Gruden! That would be MY choice!

Pete Spinning said... Jul 2, 2012, 12:47:00 PM

LOL... I was just in Oakland this weekend too, and I sported not only my Charger hat, but my charger t-shirt AND sweatshirt.. I even busted out my Charger wallet at stores, and Restaurants... they can all eat a fat one... lmao! Not one person said anything, although I got a few hard looks. I had my "How did that playoff run go for ya, boys?" comment on deck, but nobody made me use it.. hahaha!

Pete Spinning said... Jul 5, 2012, 12:25:00 PM

Great comments by all! Great article Anthony! This is the truth... Norv is an underacheiver. Maybe when you have success on other teams, in other systems.... you might feel like you are the teacher, and not the student anymore. I believe this is Norv's problem. His time with Oaklad, and Washington didn't scream "success", but after the Dallas years, he may feel like he has seen / learned it all. I hope that Norv has the ability to put his ego aside, and maybe get some new ideas from up-n-comers, or other people on the staff... even other coaches in the league. Maybe the predictable play calling will be a thing of the past, if he did that, and he could stop being an underacheiver. I got REALLY excited when I thought he was gone, and Gruden might be in! Having said that... here we are. With Norv again in 2012. The circumstances are dire. Not only because he needs to keep his job, but because the Chargers have essentially gotten a little worse each year, under his watch. That may be the coaching, it might be AJ, it may be the players.. shoot, it might be bad luck. Bottom line is that Spanos kept him.
Norv has new weapons, a great QB, and AJ lined him up with a good draft & FA. If he can't get it done in 2012, then he never will... then we MUST bring in Gruden, no matter what the price! And by "get it done", I don't mean 1st, or second round playoffs, or wild-card spots. He needs to win the division convincingly, not have games where we win (but, play awful), not lose to "OK" teams teams in the playoffs (Or, get destroyed by a good team), and make the AFC Championship at least! Super Bowl is preferable! Otherwise, we need a new coach (Gruden or other), because we would essentially be in the same boat as we were after Marty left.... winning, but not dominating.
Go Bolts!

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