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Is Turner in a no-win situation with Chargers?

SAN DIEGO -- Lucky Norv Turner.

Or is it poor Norv Turner?

Turner was minding his offseason business as offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers when the San Diego Chargers called during their search to replace the suddenly fired Marty Schottenheimer.

Turner landed the job over five other candidates, none of whom had ever been an NFL head coach.

Turner had. He coached the Washington Redskins when they had the NFL's first $100 million roster. He also coached the Oakland Raiders, who were simply awful. His combined record over eight-plus seasons: 58-82-1.

The Chargers were coming off an NFL-best 14-2 season. Although playoff-challenged, they had been 35-13 in the last three seasons under Schottenheimer.

Turner's third chance as a head coach comes with staggering expectations. Most Chargers fans will be happy with nothing short of a Super Bowl victory from a team that features league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson and 10 other Pro Bowlers.

There are also plenty of skeptics out there who view Turner as being in a no-win situation.

Go even 11-5 and fail in the playoffs, and Turner could get savaged as much as Schottenheimer did after all of his one-and-dones in the postseason, including the Chargers' collapse in a 24-21 home loss to New England in their playoff opener last year. Based on his overall record, some feel Turner better not mess up such a good thing.

What makes this situation unique, of course, is that no NFL team had ever blown out its coach following a 14-2 season until team president Dean Spanos had enough of what he called a "dysfunctional" relationship between Schottenheimer and general manager A.J. Smith.

Turner knows what he's up against. Not surprisingly, he's not worried.

"No, because I've been doing it too long and I know that if this football team's 11-5, it's played pretty damn well, and that doesn't mean we're not going to have a better record than that," he said. "I understand, but it's so far off, you've got to handle each step at a time."

Turner wonders if his critics understand how competitive the NFL is.

"Our guys know that you line them up and play," he said. "The last game they played is the best indicator of that. Every play is crucial and every quarter, every series, you have to go out and perform. This league isn't about talent or potential, it's about production. And we have to make sure this training camp is about making sure those 11 Pro Bowlers are prepared to play at the level they're capable of playing."

Quarterback Philip Rivers realizes the coaching change was out of the ordinary. But he thinks too much is being made of Turner's situation.

"To really put it in a no-win situation, I don't think that's right," said Rivers, whose father used to coach high school football in Alabama. "And, I'd like to know how many coaches wouldn't want to be coaching a good team. You want to go coach a bad team, you know what I mean?"

Had the Chargers been coming off a Super Bowl victory, then Rivers might understand the perceptions more.

"We're not at the top," he said. "We got beat in our first playoff game. I know the expectations are high and we have high expectations as well. Obviously if you were to go on and win a championship, which has never been done here, he and his staff are going to have something to do with that. I think it would be unfair to say that if he does that, they were going to do it anyway, and if we don't, it's his fault. We obviously haven't done it.

"I think whatever happens, obviously the staff and the coach are going to be held to responsibility, just like I am and all of us are."

Despite Turner being 24 games under .500 as a head coach, the Chargers think he's the right guy to lead this bunch. The front office mentions continuity, since it was Turner who installed the current system when he was San Diego's offensive coordinator in 2001, Tomlinson's rookie season.

"He like gets it," Tomlinson said. "He's able to play off his players and really motivate them individually."

The part of Turner's resume that shines to the Chargers players is when he was offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s, working with Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin and NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith. Turner won two Super Bowl rings before moving on to Washington.

"You know the guys he's been around," All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates said. "It's been a variety of things you can kind of pull from and say, "Golly, you don't have that kind of background without knowing something.'

"He's been around Troy Aikman, so I would imagine if he coached Troy Aikman, what he's telling Philip? There's some credibility there," Gates said. "He's been around Jay Novacek, he's been around Michael Irvin, so he knows how to get guys open and maximize their abilities."

Smith and Schottenheimer basically couldn't stand each other. Smith and Turner say they have a good relationship.

Smith also disagrees with outside perceptions of Turner, "but again, time will tell exactly what will happen. I didn't pay attention to his record. I'm aware of his record in Washington and with the Raiders, but he hasn't coached the Chargers and he hasn't really worked with me.

"We're approaching this long term," the GM said. "I need somebody to get on the same page with me and work with me. It's a huge job and I look forward to attacking this together."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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