Dean Spanos listens to players, not fans

January, 3, 2012
1/03/12
4:38
PM ET
SpanosDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesDean Spanos, Chargers president and CEO, has decided to keep his team's management in place.
For anyone who is wondering why San Diego ownership took a U-turn and decided to keep coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith after another playoff-less season that was considered do-or-die for both, here’s your answer:

“I’m loving it,” San Diego running back Mike Tolbert said moments after learning that there will be status quo in San Diego in 2012. “I’m a big fan. I love playing for Coach Turner. ... I can’t get enough of this news.”

The support for the San Diego brass inside the locker room was evident when the Chargers dominated the Raiders 38-26 on Sunday in a game the Raiders needed to win to take control of the AFC West a week after the Chargers were eliminated from playoff contention. Many Chargers players have supported Turner, led by passionate support from star quarterback Philip Rivers.

The Chargers’ performance Sunday clearly was the defining factor in San Diego owner Dean Spanos deciding to not make a change. Combined with the players' support, Spanos decided there weren’t better options, and he thinks the Chargers are poised to emerge from a mediocre division to finally fulfill their immense potential. The move surprised many because it had been considered a near certainty that Turner -- and perhaps Smith -- would go if the Chargers didn’t make the playoffs.

It was a courageous decision by Spanos. Many in the San Diego fan base have been clamoring for a change at both coach and general manager. The Chargers have underachieved the past two seasons and didn’t get past the divisional playoff round in the previous two seasons after advancing to the AFC Championship Game in 2007, which was Turner’s first season.

With the Chargers having some trouble selling tickets this season and the team trying to drum up funds for a new downtown stadium, choosing to stick with the unpopular (in the community) Turner and Smith probably will earn Spanos criticism in San Diego.

But he remains steadfast with this group.

“Bottom line, I believe these two men give us the best chance to get back to the playoffs,” Spanos said in a statement. “A.J. Smith is the best man to improve our roster, and Norv Turner is the best man to lead that roster on the field.

“Together, we have stability and experience that’s hard to find in the NFL. They’ve both been in this league a long time. I don’t think there is anything they haven’t seen or experienced. They’ve led us through some difficult situations.”

I think the key here is that Spanos wanted to bring back Turner. He could have fired Turner and kept Smith or he could have kept Turner and fired Smith. The latter scenario wouldn’t have made sense because if a new general manager was brought in, the coach would be a lame duck. So, Turner and Smith will get a chance to further prove themselves together.

It’s not as though these two haven’t been successful in San Diego.

The Chargers have won 88 games and five division tiles in Smith’s nine seasons as general manager. The Chargers won 13 games total in the three years before Smith was promoted. Turner is 52-34 in San Diego. His winning percentage of .605 is the best in team history. The Chargers -- who won four of the final five games this season after losing six straight games -- are 21-3 in December/January under Turner.

Still, no one in San Diego will be happy unless this group gets to the Super Bowl. That has to be the goal now more than ever.

Because Spanos is sticking with Turner and Smith, they all must show the anxious fan base that they are tired of underachieving and they are committed to getting better. Under Smith, the Chargers haven’t been overly active in free agency. That might need to change this year. I’m not saying the Chargers need to spend money on players just to do it. But they need to get better, especially on defense. Spending money on the right players will be necessary.

There must be urgency in San Diego. If the Chargers fail to make the playoffs again in 2012, Spanos will have no choice but to listen to fans and clean house, and he will have to answer why it took so long.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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