Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Friday, December 19, 2008
Chargers face simple decision if they fail


Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

It is chic to bash Norv Turner these days.

It has become a cottage industry in San Diego. This, however, is not intended to clobber Turner for his lack of head-coaching chops or to harp on the past.

No, this is all about the future. It's all about the next nine days. It's all about the bottom line. If the San Diego Chargers do not win the AFC West title, Turner needs to be fired.

 
 Tim Umphrey/Getty Images
 Norv Turner and the Chargers are 6-8 this season.

The Chargers, they of legitimate Super Bowl aspirations when the season kicked off in September, are 6-8. They trail the 8-6 Denver Broncos by two games in the AFC West with two games remaining in the regular season. If the Broncos win or tie once the rest of the way, or if the Chargers lose or tie in the final two games, Denver will win the division. The Chargers will be out and it will represent one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL this decade.

It's a fact that in the NFL, coaches who fail need to be fired. And if Turner fails to win the AFC West title, it will be an inexcusable, unexplainable offense.

The Chargers would have no other legitimate choice but to fire him. Would anyone really want him in town if the Chargers don't win the division? The fans have been booing Turner on and off throughout his near two-season stay in San Diego. One player, Kassim Osgood, has publicly called the head coach a "great coordinator." If the Chargers end up a second-place team, the booing and the player discontent would only intensify.

What other choice would the Chargers' brass have? It would only infuriate the city of San Diego, which has been slow to fill seats in this season of dissatisfaction, by keeping Turner.

Yes, we know that Chargers owner Dean Spanos and general manager A.J. Smith came out last month and made it abundantly clear that Turner would return in 2009 regardless what would happened the rest of the season. One of the underlying reasons why Spanos and Smith were so supportive was they both probably thought it would relax Turner and the team and allow them to finish off a comeback in the AFC West. After all, San Diego won its final six games last season to go 11-5.

However, despite the vote of coincidence, the Chargers never caught fire this season. They were 4-6 at time of the endorsements. San Diego has gone 2-2 since. Average, not great -- and that's the problem. San Diego has expected greatness from the Chargers this season.

After a 2006 season in which the Chargers went 14-2 but lost in the first round of the playoffs, Turner was hired to replace Marty Schottenheimer. Turner, who had underwhelming stints as the head man in Washington and Oakland, righted the San Diego ship late last season and the team went to the AFC title game. With one of the best rosters in the league, the Chargers were expecting to be a serious contender and make the next step to the Super Bowl.

And that's why Turner should be fired if the team doesn't make the playoffs. If Denver dives and San Diego, which plays host to the Broncos in the season finale Dec. 28, wins the division crown, Turner should be given another season. That's only fair.

If the Chargers don't win the division, though, there is no reason to keep Turner. He will lose the city and probably the organization. There will be little excitement for 2009 in San Diego if Turner survives after missing the playoffs.

It's not as San Diego stumbled a bit, finished 10-6 and was beaten out by a surprise team that went 11-5.

The Broncos have eight wins. The AFC West is arguably the worst division this season. The Chargers could have stumbled here and there and still won the division. But they have six wins. Sure, four of those losses have come in the final seconds. But how about winning one or two of those games?

Also, it isn't as San Diego has been ravaged by injuries. Yes, the Chargers lost star linebacker Shawne Merriman after the first week. But there haven't been many other problems. The Chargers have put four players on injured reserve this season. In contrast, Denver has put 14 players on injured reserve and has played long stretches without star players.

Yet, the Chargers have been paralyzed by the loss of Merriman. They have needed to adjust and it hasn't happened.

In short, the Chargers' failures in 2008 are not because of difficult-to-explain circumstances. They just haven't been very good. And in those situations, the coach usually has to pay.

If Turner wins the division, all bets are off. If he doesn't, San Diego needs to find a coach who can win a mediocre division.