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Weighing the Turner, Smith Decision

Analysis: Argument for firing Chargers coach, GM often oversimplified

By Michael Gehlken
|  Wednesday, Dec 21, 2011  |  Updated 11:54 AM PDT
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San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith watch practice during minicamp at the Chargers training facility on May 3, 2009 in San Diego, Calif.

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Maybe the most vocal fans are right.

Maybe San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner is a victim of the Peter Principle: Climb up the corporate ladder until stumbling over incompetency — from ace as an offensive coordinator to a joker as head coach.

Maybe they're right about general manager A.J. Smith: Just an overconfident King Midas who's lost that golden touch, seen in a slew of too-sexy draft picks that made about as much splash as feather on boiling lava.

But for the sake of countering an often vehement opinion that Turner and Smith must go, what if it's wrong?

What if letting them walk would be a mistake? What if the bulk of this movement is displaced frustration, an "Off with their heads!" knee-jerk reaction to losing like Her Majesty queen in Wonderland?

There will come a day — maybe on New Year's, maybe in the weeks afterward — when this San Diego season ends and Chargers president Dean Spanos must decide the fate of his franchise's heads.

Leading up, the argument for firing the duo is often oversimplified.

Say the worst-case scenario arrives, and despite this ongoing push, the Chargers miss the playoffs for the second straight year. The graphic in the aftermath is correct: In five years under Turner, the Chargers went from two playoff wins, one playoff win, zero playoff wins to two non-playoff berths.

The conversation stops there for some; change for the sake of change, and there's something to that.

But Spanos better be sure where any change leads.

He was reminded in Sunday's blowout win over the Baltimore Ravens that Turner still knows how to call a game. He still knows how to be aggressive, passing up such opportunities against the Bears and Broncos when quarterback Philip Rivers was short on time and weapons.

And not that there was any doubt, but it was clear Sunday how Turner's players are still playing for him, just as they never quit during that miserable six-game losing streak.

With a little bit of health, Smith's personnel stepped up at Snapdragon. Free agents Antwan Barnes, Jared Gaither and Randy McMichael were dominant. That 2010 draft class of Ryan Mathews, Donald Butler, Cam Thomas and Darrell Stuckey continued to prove a personal rebound, back on track after Smith's earlier work resurrected the ragged franchise.

Without exception, there have been mistakes over the years.

But fans don't hate Turner and Smith. With drying patience, they hate what has become associated with them, and that is zero Super Bowl rings in San Diego.

If Spanos fires Turner and Smith without landing an upgrade that brings the Chargers closer to a Super Bowl, what exactly has he done?

And in Turner's case, if that pink-slip conversation is had next month, does Spanos ignore the hand Turner was dealt?

Did the great Kansas City Mis-Snap in Week 8 never happen? How about all those terrible Rivers turnovers at critical junctures that very well cost multiple games? What about going from McNeill to Dombrowski to Gaither at left tackle? Dielman to Green to Mruczkowski to Schilling to Green at left guard? Vasquez to Mruczkowski to Schilling to Moll to Vasquez at right?

What about this run? Is this not happening?

Fire Turner? Fire Smith? Fire both?

The Cheshire Cat hangs upside down, head in hand, pointing in all directions where Spanos should go.

This decision is significant, but it sure ain't simple.

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