Turner shows some emotion as Chargers win playoff opener

SAN DIEGO -- It was so unlike Norv Turner.

In the closing minutes of the San Diego Chargers' 17-6 playoff win over the Tennessee Titans, their head coach did a little salsa on the sideline.

It didn't last long and it wasn't pretty. He said he was mimicking defensive end Luis Castillo's sack dance.

"You used to be able to do things on the sideline and no one could get you," Turner said. "Now they're going to get you, so I'll refrain from doing that again. ABC called this morning with 'Dancing with the Stars' or some show like that, but I declined."

That was a joke, of course.

LaDainian Tomlinson's reaction?

"Horrible. I don't know what that was. I guess he was trying to salsa or something. He needs to take some classes," the NFL's two-time rushing champion said.

After a rough start to his third stint as an NFL head coach, Turner seems to have turned the corner. He showed some emotion, which he doesn't always do, and he won a playoff game, which the Chargers hadn't in 13 years. That earned the Chargers (12-5) a divisional-round road game Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts (13-3), whom the Chargers have beaten twice in three seasons.

Turner's eyes were red at his postgame news conference Sunday evening. He tried to blame it on the rain. Asked if he felt vindicated after a rough start to the season, he said it was about the players, not the coach.

"I have some emotion about me," he said Monday. "That was emotional, the whole deal. I said after the game and I truly mean this, that I can't imagine LaDainian, everything he's accomplished as an individual, as a player and being here with him in 2001 and coaching against him and all of the things he's been through, not having success in the playoffs.

"That first one's the hardest one. It is. Just like when you start a game sometimes, that first score is the hardest one to get and then you get going. Hopefully this jump-starts all of us."

Although the Charger won the AFC West at 11-5, it hasn't been the easiest season for Turner. After Marty Schottenheimer's sudden firing in February, Turner's hiring raised eyebrows around the league, considering he was 24 games under .500 as an NFL head coach.

Expectations were stifling, based on an NFL-best 14-2 record in 2006 -- before their playoff collapse. So when the Chargers blew a lead against Kansas City and lost their third straight game to fall to 1-3, fans not only booed, but they chanted Schottenheimer's first name.

When the Chargers hit 5-5, it was clear that players -- including Tomlinson -- weren't happy with what was going on and what plays were being called.

Turner was San Diego's offensive coordinator in 2001, when they finished 5-11 in Tomlinson's rookie season.

"I've always had a lot of respect for Norv," Tomlinson said. "I learned a lot about him then. He still stood up there and said, 'Hey guys, listen, it doesn't matter what people are saying, we are going to keep getting better.' He never changed. He was never shaken at that point, and it's the same way with him today. He never blinked at times when he was getting criticized for different things that were going on. He never made us feel like he wasn't confident in what he could do and what this team could do."

Tomlinson said that if Turner changed at all this season, it was simply to go back to running the ball more.

"The change for us was that he said at the time when we're struggling to find our identity, 'Let's just go back to what we have been doing. That made us successful, and that's run the football."'

Schottenheimer's leadership style included bluster and a barrage of cliches. Turner seemingly has a quieter presence. It was definitely different for the players to deal with.

"But I think once they saw the way Norv is, it's a sense of, 'There's something about this guy that I like,"' Tomlinson said. "He has a tendency to be talking about something and then make a comment to loosen everybody up and make everybody laugh to make you feel like, 'Hey, you know, this is the way I am and we can win like this. This is way I run my team and I want my team to be, but at the same time we are going to have fun doing it. When it's time to work we are going to work too.' I think guys were open to that."

Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman said it took a while for him to adjust to Turner, simply because of the coach's offensive background.

"He'll talk to you and he'll talk numbers: 'If you take the ball away this many times, you'll win the game.' He was more numbers and I'm waiting to hear him tell me to get up and run through that wall over there and it never happened. So, I kind of got used to him and just realized that was his style and that's the way he was."

General manager A.J. Smith didn't return phone calls seeking comment on the job Turner did this season.

Turner didn't flinch when the Chargers were 1-3 and 5-5. He said he knew the Chargers simply needed to be more efficient.

"I've been in the same system offensively for 20 years," said Turner, whose career records are 69-87-1 in the regular season and 2-1 in the playoffs. "I've got a lot of faith in that. That helps in tough times. And we have a hell of a coaching staff. And then the one thing you always fall back on is, we've got great players. So you keep believing and they kept believing and we got out of it."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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