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Chargers special teams coach Crosby won't return

SAN DIEGO -- The Chargers were quick to make Steve Crosby a scapegoat for their lost season, telling the special teams coach Monday that his contract won't be renewed.

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Crosby took the fall for numerous special teams blunders that contributed to a 2-5 start and ultimately helped keep the Chargers out of the playoffs for the first time in the last five seasons.

The Chargers allowed three kickoff returns for touchdowns and one punt return for a score, and they also had five punts blocked. They seemed to have solved their problems at midseason, but they resurfaced Sunday when Denver Broncos rookie Cassius Vaughn returned a kickoff 97 yards for a TD. San Diego also failed to recover Denver's onside kick in the closing seconds.

Eliminated from playoff contention one week earlier, the Chargers held on to win 33-28 and finish the season 9-7.

Chargers coach Norv Turner defended Crosby early in the season, saying it was "silly" and "inappropriate" for the media to ask if the coach was in danger of being fired.

Turner was quick to cut Crosby loose Monday. Asked specifically about Crosby at his final news conference, Turner said: "We're going to look at everything. We're going to evaluate that as we go."

The Chargers announced Crosby's dismissal 2½ hours later in a news release.

"We appreciate Steve's hard work and dedication to this team over the past nine seasons," the release quoted Turner as saying.

Turner, who has been guaranteed that he'll be back next season, didn't return a call seeking further comment.

Crosby didn't immediately return a call.

Also Monday, the Carolina Panthers sought and received permission to interview Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera for their vacant head-coaching job. Rivera said he had yet to hear from the Panthers.

"I'll wait to see how it unfolds," said Rivera, who has been a candidate for several head-coaching positions, including the one that went to Turner after the 2006 season. "It's a great opportunity. If it comes about, I'm looking forward to it, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there."

Before the season, the Chargers made several roster changes that helped contribute to their various problems, including allowing three-time Pro Bowl special teams ace Kassim Osgood to leave as a free agent. Crosby was left with several inexperienced players on his units.

San Diego's breakdowns started on opening night when Kansas City rookie Dexter McCluster returned a punt a team-record 94 yards for a touchdown in the Chiefs' 21-14 victory. A week later, Mike Scifres had a punt blocked in a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. A week after that, Leon Washington returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the Seattle Seahawks' 27-20 win.

Scifres had punts blocked on San Diego's first two series at Oakland on Oct. 10, leading to nine points in the Raiders' 35-27 win.

"We dug ourselves into a big hole," Turner said Monday. "When you start 2-5, it's a challenge.

"Obviously there's two major issues. We turned the ball over. Our young backs struggled early with the ball. We turned the ball over in terrible spots. ... And obviously our inability to play well in the kicking game through that first seven weeks. It doesn't matter how many plays you're making, offensively, defensively. If you're turning the football over and you're giving up big plays in the kicking game, you're going to struggle."

The Chargers were left to ponder some big numbers that ended up meaning nothing. They had the NFL's top-ranked offense and defense, and quarterback Philip Rivers threw for a league-high and career-high 4,710 yards.

"As a team, I think we'll be better next year," Rivers said. "The season got away from us. It's a feeling none of us will want to feel again. We've got a lot of guys in that locker room who've never not made it. Hopefully we'll be better for it."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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