On Thursday, Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego reported that San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith will be fired at the end of the season. In response, Chargers president Dean Spanos released a statement denying the report: "I will make my evaluations at the end of the season. Anything coming out now -- from sources or otherwise -- is pure speculation."
Keeping in mind that no official moves have been made, we wanted to get a sense of what kind of challenges the Chargers will face if they do indeed move on from the Smith-Turner era. We reached out to our resident front-office guru Michael Lombardi and asked him a few questions on the matter.
If these reports are true, what should Chargers president Dean Spanos look for in a new coach and GM?
Well, it's important to note right off the bat that this is still speculatory. That said, the No. 1 thing that Spanos has to do is accurately ascertain what his assets are, in terms of players and coaches, when he makes the change. Often times, change at the top doesn't necessarily mean change throughout the organization. So Spanos has to evaluate everyone around the organization. He also must take a hard look at the makeup of his roster and gain a true understanding of what kind of players this team currently has -- strengths and, of course, weaknesses.
The most important aspect of this roster evaluation is identifying where this team is with Philip Rivers. Is Rivers still the quarterback of the future in San Diego? If so, Spanos must identify what steps must be made to maximize Rivers' skill set.
Before Spanos looks outward at potential head coach and GM candidates, he must look inward at the makeup of his organization. Once he truly identifies where this franchise stands -- with decision makers, coaches and personnel -- he'll have the information necessary to move forward in his search.
I think the Chargers are heading into a rebuilding mode. Well, truth be told, they have been for some time, as they've lost some valuable players in recent years. When I use the term "rebuilding mode," that doesn't mean a five-year fixer; the Chargers are in a transitional state, like a lot of teams around the NFL. They have to upgrade their talent, specifically on the offensive line.
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Rivers' play has drawn a lot of negative attention of late, but other factors have led to his regression. I think the difference between Rivers two years ago -- when he was a top-tier quarterback -- and now is that he has taken a lot of hits. Rivers has lost confidence in his protection, and understandably so. Injuries forced Marcus McNeill and Kris Dielman to retire in the offseason. And Jared Gaither, who was supposed to help fill the void left by these abrupt retirements, was just placed on injured reserve last month. The Chargers have lost some Pro Bowl players up front that must be replaced, and that's going to be a challenge. But they need to shore up this area because the turnaround to becoming a legitimate playoff team again will all be predicated on the quarterback play going forward. This is a quarterback league, and regardless of who is behind center, that man must be protected. It becomes problematic when a quarterback like Rivers doesn't feel secure. Last year, Rivers took a lot of chances; this year, he's tried to protect the football more, but still isn't the Philip Rivers of old. The quarterback needs some help -- he can't try to win games by himself.
Running back Ryan Mathews has been very inconsistent in his young career. He's flashed some moments of brilliance, but he's also fumbled the ball quite a bit and can't stay healthy. Durability and ball security are critical aspects of an NFL back. Still, given Mathews' raw talent, I would think Spanos would see the 25-year-old running back as a valuable asset going forward. This team needs playmakers, and Mathews has explosive ability.
Defensively, they've done a great job acquiring talent in the front seven. The pieces are really starting to come into place, giving San Diego a nice foundation up front. Defensive end Corey Liuget stands out as a fine player in just his second season. Rookie defensive lineman Kendall Reyes looks like he has a bright future in this league. Linebacker Donald Butler has developed into a productive player in Year 3, leading San Diego in tackles this season. They do need another pass rusher to complement Shaun Phillips, though. Rookie Melvin Ingram looks like he could be a good player, but I'm not so sure he's a great pass rusher.
While the Chargers boast an encouraging mix of players in the front seven, they really need to fix the secondary. San Diego needs an influx of talent in the back end; guys who can make plays and cover. Quentin Jammer isn't getting any younger, that's for sure. The speed of this defense has to get better as a whole, but particularly in the back four.
If this is the end of the line for Norv Turner in San Diego, where could he land next?
Again, this is all still speculation, but I think Norv is an outstanding football coach. Because he's such a fine coach and because he can run a prolific offense, I think Norv will have options, and those options will be predicated on what he chooses to do with his career. Very few people can move the football as effectively as Norv has, and very few people can coach quarterbacks as effectively, too. Those two traits are always going to be desired in the NFL.
Will he get another head-coaching job? I really have no idea on that front. I'd never say never on anything. I can't speak for Norv, but I think he'll want to take a job where he feels most comfortable about the situation. He'll definitely be desired by somebody to coach in some capacity -- there's no doubt about that.