SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Chargers fired coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith on Monday after missing the playoffs for the third straight season.
Coming after a season of stunning come-from-ahead losses and increasing fan anger, the firings complete a startling fall for a team that won the AFC West from 2006-09.
The Chargers are the third team to fire Turner, who has an overall head coaching record of 114-122-1.
Turner was an unpopular hire in February 2007, seen as a pawn controlled by the authoritarian Smith after the GM won a power struggle with old-school coach Marty Schottenheimer.
Despite having what was perceived as one of the NFL’s most-talented rosters for several seasons, Smith and Turner never got the Chargers to the Super Bowl.
“Both Norv and A.J. are consummate NFL professionals, and they understand that in this league, the bottom-line is winning,” team President Dean Spanos said in a statement. “My only goal is the Super Bowl, and that is why I have decided to move in a new direction with both our head coach and general manager positions. I am committed to our great fans, and we will do whatever we possibly can to achieve that goal.”
The Chargers also announced that former Green Bay Packers GM Ron Wolf has been hired as a consultant to help the find a new general manager and coach.
Spanos and Wolf will be joined by Spanos’ son, John, the director of college scouting, and Ed McGuire, the team’s lead contract negotiator, in conducting interviews. The new general manager will assist in interviews for the new coach, the team said.
Smith’s glaring roster deficiencies, especially on the offensive line in front of $94 million man Philip Rivers, helped contribute to San Diego’s 7-9 record, its first losing season since 2003.
Rivers was under siege most of the season. Having to scramble for his well-being helped contribute to 22 turnovers — giving him 47 in two seasons — and he was sacked 49 times.
After a 3-1 start, the Chargers had a series of collapses.
They blew a 10-point third-quarter lead to lose at New Orleans on Oct. 7.
The Bolts’ Monday night face-plant against Denver on Oct. 15 was epic. They blew a 24-0 halftime lead as Peyton Manning calmly led the Broncos to a 35-24 victory.
On Nov. 25, the Chargers allowed Baltimore’s Ray Rice to convert on a dump-down pass on fourth-and-29. The Ravens forced overtime and won.
Chargers President Dean Spanos also had to consider business factors. Four blackouts, including three straight, meant the Chargers were losing millions of dollars in potential revenue.
Another sign of the eroding roster was that no Chargers were voted to the Pro Bowl. Six seasons ago, 11 Chargers were voted to the NFL’s all-star game, including five starters.
Turner was Smith’s signature hire. He inherited a 14-2 team and reached the AFC championship game his first season, but the Chargers began a gradual decline. Their last playoff win came after the 2008 season. Their last playoff appearance was an embarrassing home loss to the New York Jets after the 2009 season. The next night, the Chargers announced a four-year contract extension for Turner.
Spanos had twice sided with GMs over coaches. In 1996, he forced out Bobby Ross and kept Bobby Beathard just two years after the Chargers reached their only Super Bowl. In February 2007, Spanos fired Schottenheimer due to a “dysfunctional” relationship between the coach and Smith. The two reportedly didn’t speak to each other for the previous two years.
This time, both coach and GM — who have always been linked at the hip — were dismissed.
Smith proclaimed Turner to be the “right coach at the right time” for the Chargers. When Turner was hired, he was 24 games under .500, having gone 49-59-1 with Washington from 1994 until being fired with three games left in the 2000 season, and 9-23 with Oakland from 2004-05.
“I’m pretty much aware of who he is and where he’s been,” Smith said that day. “But this isn’t Washington and this isn’t Oakland. It’s the San Diego Chargers.”
Turner was 56-40 with the Chargers overall, but only 24-24 the last two seasons.
Turner has one season at $3 million left on his contract. Smith has two years left at $2 million annually.
The Chargers were 3-5 in the playoffs in 10 seasons under Smith, who was promoted after his boss, John Butler, died of cancer in 2003.
They were 3-3 in the playoffs under Turner.
Turner was known as a brilliant offensive schemer, having served as offensive coordinator for two of Dallas’ three Super Bowl teams in the 1990s.
But he struggled with game management and his first four Chargers teams were known for slow starts followed by mad scrambles to get into the playoffs. When the Chargers were about to drop to 1-3 to start Turner’s first season, fans began chanting “Mar-ty! Mar-ty!” in homage to Schottenheimer.
Favoring hardball negotiating tactics, Smith clashed with his own players and coaches, as well as agents and the media. He allowed a steady stream of stars to leave as free agents, including Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Michael Turner and Vincent Jackson, while failing to adequately replace them.
Some outsiders felt Smith’s ego helped weaken the roster, and that some of his spats became personal.
He mocked Tomlinson, whose Hall of Fame-caliber career included winning the NFL MVP award in 2006. Tomlinson’s sin, in Smith’s eyes, was being honest about a severe groin injury late in the 2008 season. Smith also mocked the Manning family in April before Peyton Manning signed with Denver.
Smith had his hits and misses with players. He’s best known for taking Eli Manning with the No. 1 pick overall in the 2004 draft despite Archie Manning’s request that he not do so, and then dealing Manning’s rights to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers and draft picks that he used to take Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding.
Eli Manning went on to win two Super Bowls. Rivers has yet to play in one.
Smith’s recent drafts produced more busts than impact players, though, as he seemed to live off the fumes of that `04 draft.
Smith could have picked Clay Matthews in 2009 but went with Larry English. In 2010, he moved up 16 spots to draft Ryan Mathews, the heir apparent to Tomlinson. Mathews has been dogged by injuries and fumbles. In his first draft, 2003, Smith could have had Troy Polamalu but chose Sammy Davis instead.
Smith did sign undrafted rookie Antonio Gates in 2003, but he also let Wes Welker go after just one game in 2004.