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Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007 |You might think Norv Turner is a career offensive coordinator that isn’t suited to be a head coach.
That’s what you could have said before the New England Patriots hired Bill Bilichick. Before then, he had been fired as the Cleveland Browns head coach and he had a reputation of a career defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells. Free of Parcells and in the right situation in New England, Bilichick went on to win three Super Bowls with the Patriots.
Turner, aware there is criticism of hiring him as an uninspiring choice, wants you to be confident you can soon think of him as a Super Bowl coach.
“We’re all human, and you want a positive fan reaction, but the reaction I care about most is the reaction I got upstairs this morning from the people we’re going to go win with,” said Turner, who also met with the players. “I know this: winning takes care of those situations and those reactions.”
In sports, everyone thinks they’re an expert and many are grading Turner on his 58-82-1 record with the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders.
But what you should also think about is that Chargers general manager A.J. Smith doesn’t make snap judgments. Smith — who was an assistant general manager with the Chargers in 2001 when Turner was the Bolts’ offensive coordinator — isn’t going to recommend to team president Dean Spanos a middle-of-the-road choice.
Smith likes to say he has a plan. It’s what he said when he began the Chargers’ rebuilding efforts that began with the 2004 draft he directed after replacing the late John Butler, his mentor that brought him to San Diego from the Buffalo Bills.
Smith has always had a “ready list” of head coach candidates since he became the general manager on the eve of the 2003 season.
Smith’s decision to hire Turner reminds me of Butler choosing to hire Marty Schottenheimer in 2002. Schottenheimer was called a re-tread and safe choice, but Butler saw Schottenheimer as the man to rebuild the Chargers.
We all know that Schottenheimer didn’t win in the playoffs and that he and Smith didn’t get along, leading to his dismissal last week, but you can’t deny Schottenheimer turned the Chargers into winners with AFC West titles in 2004 and 2006.
Would any of the other six candidates the Chargers interviewed — Ron Rivera, Gary Gibbs, Mike Singletary, Jim Mora, Rex Ryan or Mike Zimmer — been anymore inspiring or re-assuring?
In hiring Turner, the Chargers say they wanted continuity.
“We had the chance to work with him in 2001, and I got to know him,” team president Dean Spanos said. “I consider him one of the best offensive minds in football, and I know A.J. does, too. I feel confident, with his experience as a head coach and because of his ability to maintain continuity, he was the right choice for this job.”
The Chargers hired a head coach they have confidence in from working with him in the past. Turner installed the Chargers’ offense in 2001 — LaDainian Tomlinson’s rookie season. The Bolts kept the offense under Schottenheimer and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, now the Miami Dolphins’ head coach, and Tomlinson was the NFL MVP last season when he was healthy for a full season for the first time since 2003.
They also hired, as defensive coordinator, Ted Cottrell, who previously worked with Wade Phillips, the architect of the Chargers’ 3-4 defense before Phillips left to become the Dallas Cowboys’ head coach.
“I’ve already looked at the playbook, and it’s the same playbook,” Cottrell said. “I named about 80 percent of the calls. It’s going to be a smooth transition. I’m looking forward to working with these guys. I saw some of them running around, and I was thinking they’re going to make me a smart coach.”
Turner and Cottrell talked about reaction time being maintained or improved from the players working with the same system. Time will tell the final reaction to Turner as the Chargers’ new head coach.