San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos spent the past two days dissecting every aspect of his team's disappointing 2011 campaign and pondering the future of coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith. And after much contemplation, he decided that consistency and continuity should be the rule.
The Chargers announced the news Tuesday morning, and Spanos elaborated on his thought process in an interview with NFL.com. The process was thorough and difficult, reflecting the very nature of the Chargers' season -- not good enough, certainly, but far from horrible. Ultimately Spanos assessed the long and largely-successful track records of Turner and Smith there, considered the importance of Turner to his offense, and star quarterback Philip Rivers in particular, and opted to continue with this regime.
"Is your cup half empty or half full?" Spanos said, in explaining his quandary in evaluating his team's 8-8 season, losing the AFC West on a tiebreaker. "If you're really bad, it's an easy decision. And if you are really good, it's easy." After reflecting on the situation, Spanos opted to "stay the course."
Spanos knew the Chargers weren't "a great team," and said, "there's no doubt we'd fallen down some." Basically, Spanos had to ascertain how good of a club the Chargers are, and how close they are to being great again.
Spanos said he tried to break down how much of the failed expectations came down to "personnel, coaching, bad luck, injuries." In his team's case, all of those were in play. But the ownership group also realized the team was a chip-shot field goal from winning a Week 8 Monday night game in Kansas City that likely would have been a win had Rivers not botched a snap before the Chargers got to attempt the game-winner. That would have had the team hosting a wild-card game this weekend as AFC West champs. And injuries clearly were a factor, particularly ravaging the offensive line around the middle of the season.
On the coaching side, Spanos also spent considerable time reflecting on the tremendous relationship Turner, an offensive guru, has with Rivers. Firing Turner might have alienated the Pro Bowl quarterback, and Spanos knew that other teams would covet Turner on the open market for his offensive abilities and experience. He didn't want the offense, team or Rivers to suffer with Turner absent.
The relationship between Turner and Rivers ended up being one of the key factors in his decision to stick with this regime. Rivers and several other Chargers went directly to ownership to make the case for why Turner should stay and presents them with their best chance for a championship.
"Philip has a great relationship with one of the best coaches he could possibly have," Spanos said. "You can build your whole team around that relationship."
Also on the coaching side, Spanos said he factored in the loss of defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski, who went to the Carolina Panthers last offseason. San Diego also added a new special teams coordinator in 2011, and that much staff change, particularly in a lockout-shortened offseason, can require some time to jell.
"Absolutely, that's a factor," Spanos said. "I don't know how big a factor it is -- is it 5 percent or 10 percent? -- but it counts."
As for personnel, Spanos said he knows mistakes have been made the past few years, but was comfortable with the totality of Smith's tenure in San Diego and believed it merited the opportunity to continue running the franchise. The Chargers lost a lot of talent from their run atop the AFC West and failed to identify enough young talent through the draft and otherwise to address that deficiency.
But Spanos believes they have yet to bear the fruits of their past two drafts, and that more young players will make a breakthrough beginning in 2012.
"We made some not-so good decisions in '07, '08 and '09, and I think we're feeling the effects of it now," Spanos said. "I believe in what we did in '10 and '11, and I'm very confident those are going to be good drafts. It takes two-to-three years before you see the net effect of player personal decisions and we need to have a very good draft in '12 and make some smart free agent moves. There are a lot of questions on offense, and with our offensive line, and we need to improve on defense, too. But I think we can turn it around quickly."
During Smith's nine-year tenure as general manager (2003-11), the Chargers have won 88 games and five AFC West titles. Only three teams (New England, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh) have won more games or division titles during that time. Since Turner took over as head coach, he has earned an impressive 52-34 overall record (including 3-3 in the postseason), the highest overall winning percentage in franchise history (.605).
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