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Turner fits the bill for the Chargers

Times Staff Writer

With one eye on their future and the other on their past, the San Diego Chargers on Monday hired Norv Turner -- the architect of their current offense -- as coach.

It was Turner who first drew up their schemes as offensive coordinator in 2001. He also played a role in San Diego’s trading the No. 1 pick to Atlanta that year, passing up the chance to select Michael Vick in favor of taking LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees.

Turner, 54, the San Francisco offensive coordinator, was one of six candidates interviewed to replace fired coach Marty Schottenheimer and the only one who wasn’t a defensive coach. In his two prior stints as a head coach, in Washington and Oakland, Turner was 58-82-1.

The Chargers also introduced Ted Cottrell as their defensive coordinator, a role he previously had with the Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. Ron Rivera, Chicago’s defensive coordinator and another of the six candidates who interviewed, will coach linebackers.

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Turner inherits a team that includes running back Tomlinson, the league’s most valuable player, and Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman, among the league’s dominant defensive players. The Chargers finished an NFL-best 14-2 last season before imploding in the playoffs with a 24-21 loss to New England in the divisional round.

“This isn’t a team where you’re rebuilding or starting over,” Turner said. “This is a team where we start fast. We should be good early, and we should be good late.”

Schottenheimer was fired in part because of his bad relationship with General Manager A.J. Smith, one described by Chargers owner Dean Spanos as “dysfunctional.” More than once Monday, Turner made reference to his working well with Smith.

Turner can relate to fired coaches; he was dumped by the Raiders in 2005 after a 9-23 record in two seasons. He conceded that not all Chargers fans will be delighted by the hire.

“We’re all human, you want a positive fan reaction,” he said. "[But] the reaction I cared about most and got excited about was the reaction I got upstairs from the people we’re going to go win with. I do know that winning takes care of those situations.

“There’s going to be people who are excited and like it. There’s going to be people that say, ‘Hey, why’d they do that?’ We’re not going to change that until we get a chance to go out and start playing games.”

Turner has a reputation for developing young quarterbacks, just as he did with Alex Smith in San Francisco last season. Most memorable was the way he helped shape Troy Aikman in Dallas, a friendship that included introducing Aikman last year at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Often overlooked, Aikman said, is the way Turner brings along young running backs, as he did with Emmitt Smith in Dallas, Terry Allen in Washington and Frank Gore in San Francisco. In Tomlinson, Turner has a player who shattered NFL records last season with 31 touchdowns and 186 points.

“I don’t know how as a coach you can improve on any of the things that LaDainian has already accomplished,” Aikman said in a telephone interview. “But if there were any concern on his part as to whether his role is going to change, he can rest assured it isn’t.”

Despite the team’s changes at the top, Turner said the Chargers will benefit from offensive continuity. Before his introductory news conference, he met with several of his new players.

“Three or four of the linemen were in there and ... they’re nervous; they don’t want change,” he said. “And I started rattling off protections, and it’s the same playbook. They said, ‘This is going to be easy.’ And they kind of headed out feeling a little better about where we’re headed.”

Getting over the hump in San Diego means winning playoff games. Schottenheimer’s teams were notorious postseason pushovers -- he was 5-13 overall and 0-2 with the Chargers in the playoffs.

“If they’re successful in January,” Aikman said, “everybody’s going to be really happy with the hire.”

Cottrell returns to coaching after spending the last year working for the league as an appeals officer, dealing with the complaints of fined players.

He said he gave a ribbing Monday to Chargers defensive tackle Igor Olshansky, who was fined last season for punching Tom Nalen after the Denver center had dived at his knees.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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Basking by the bay

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On Monday, Norv Turner became the Chargers’ 14th coach:

*--* Coach Years Record Pct. Sid Gillman 1960-69, ’71 87-57-6 600 Charlie Waller 1969-70 9-7-3 553 Harland Svare 1971-73 7-17-2 307 Ron Waller 1973 1-5 166 Tommy Prothro 1974-78 21-39 350 Don Coryell 1978-86 72-60 545 Al Saunders 1986-88 17-22 436 Dan Henning 1989-91 16-32 333 Bobby Ross 1992-96 50-36 581 Kevin Gilbride 1997-98 6-16 272 June Jones 1998 3-7 300 Mike Riley 1999-2001 14-34 292 Marty Schottenheimer 2002-06 33-32 508

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Source: Los Angeles Times


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