Chargers head coach Norv Turner will never be confused with Jimmy Johnson, his boss when he was an assistant on Johnson’s staff with the Super Bowl-champion Dallas Cowboys.
He will never be confused with Super Bowl ring-sporting Bill Parcells, his old NFL coaching rival.
But just because Turner isn’t as effusive as Johnson or as ornery as Parcells doesn’t mean he can’t break down a football game, recognize what went wrong and know how to try to fix it.
That’s what I listen for when Turner meets with the media for his post-mortem. That’s what more fans should listen for instead of making snap judgments they’ve picked up on Internet message boards or sports talk radio.
If Turner had Johnson’s personality, he could bluff his way through interviews with clichés and one-liners without explaining much about football. If he had Parcells’ personality, he wouldn’t suffer fools gladly in interviews.
But Turner is just a football coach — that’s all he wants to be — who lacks the type of personality that keeps frustrated fans coming back. One of the first observations Turner made following Sunday’s 39-38 loss to the Denver Broncos was that it reminded him of the Chargers’ 31-24 loss to Green Bay last year, which dropped the Chargers’ record to 1-2.
If you’ll recall, Green Bay’s then-quarterback Brett Favre passed the Chargers silly at Lambeau Field, similar to Denver quarterback Jay Cutler did Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was a victim against Favre and Cutler.
“It reminded me of our Green Bay game in a lot of ways,” Turner said. “There are things I look at where we need to get better; we need to get better in all three phases. We can get better. A lot of the plays it was one guy out of position or one guy a step away from getting pressure. Those are things we can improve upon.”
After that game, the Chargers eventually improved, struggling at 5-5 before they won their final six regular season games and two playoff games before losing in the AFC Championship game.
This time a year ago Denver’s defensive players were lamenting their inability to stop the run. Denver never did shore up its defense, but do you think it was because Mike Shanahan and his staff forgot how to coach? They tried a lot of things that didn’t work until they had a chance to re-tool the roster in the offseason.
Turner and his staff know they have to get a better pass rush on defense. They know they have to do it without Shawne Merriman, the three-time Pro Bowler lost for the season with knee surgery.
“One of the things that helped us turn it around a year ago is we got better on coverage, and we made the most of our opportunities to create turnovers,” Turner said. “That’s the biggest difference between now and the high level we were playing last year. We have to create more of a pass rush and when we have opportunities for turnovers, we have to make them.”
He was asked how much the Chargers’ pass rush missed Merriman.
“That’s impossible to say, and I’m not going to answer it and get into it every week,” said Turner, getting about as close to a snippy Parcells as you’ll see him.
So it’s back to work. Maybe the Chargers will find what’s missing like they did a year ago. Maybe they’ll never overcome the loss of Merriman’s pass rush, just as Denver was unable to stop the run a year ago.
Who knows? Turner may not entertain us like Jimmy Johnson or ignore us like Bill Parcells when trying to explain what went wrong in a game, but to say he doesn’t know what he’s doing is a snap judgment that shouldn’t be taken seriously.