Change doesn’t come easy for Chargers owner


Black Monday gave way to blank-stare Tuesday.

That was the look in the eyes of incredulous Chargers fans upon learning San Diego is keeping Norv Turner and A.J. Smith, the coach and general manager presiding over the current mediocrity.

But the decision wasn’t entirely surprising, not when you consider the owner who made it.

Chargers owner Dean Spanos is the opposite of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.


Irsay got rid of Bill Polian after one lousy season, a season without Peyton Manning, mind you. Polian was as powerful and influential as any executive in the game, and the Colts made the playoffs nine seasons in a row with him running the front office.

Juxtapose that with Spanos, who’s keeping Turner and Smith after the Chargers were 17-15 over the last two seasons and did not reach the playoffs.

San Diego’s 4-1 finish, a bookend to its 4-1 start, played a big role in this. The situation might have been different had the Chargers not ousted Oakland from the playoffs by beating the Raiders on Sunday. That clearly impressed Spanos.

“They could’ve just thrown in the towel,” the owner said. “We finished by winning four out of the last five. I believe that [Turner is] the right guy.”

But fans point to the team’s six-game losing streak in the middle of the season, the lack of killer instinct, the fact the Chargers only woke up when they were all but out of the playoff chase.

Yes, the team had lots of key injuries this season, a pattern in recent years. But that excuse sounds flimsy considering Green Bay had nearly one-third of its roster on injured reserve heading into the playoffs last season.

So who bears the responsibility of San Diego’s disappointing shortfall this season?

“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” Spanos told the team’s website. “There may be things I could’ve done differently. I know that coaching has contributed somewhat. Player personnel selection has contributed somewhat. I think injuries have been a huge factor. There are all sorts of reasons why we are where we are. We need to change those things going forward.”

That’s another thing about Spanos, he’s largely averse to change and risk. Just look at the way the team has poked around in San Diego for a stadium solution, always implying that the end is near, but never really budging. Spanos is famously slow to act.

The choice to keep the current regime intact has spawned conspiracy theories that the Chargers are intentionally trying to lose to ease their transition out of town. It should be noted that the Chargers and AEG have reached an impasse on any stadium arrangement in downtown Los Angeles, and that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said there will be no relocation to the L.A. area in 2012.

In the case of replacing Turner, Spanos might reason that there aren’t a lot of red-hot coaching candidates out there, and he’s right. The available alternatives are mostly retreads and reaches, with former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher now the most-wanted man in the market.

To get in the Fisher bidding war, which now includes Miami and St. Louis, Spanos would have to spend about twice as much as the $3 million-per-year he’s paying Turner.

Philip Rivers, for one, has strongly pushed for keeping Turner, who is 49-31 in five seasons.

“You look at years’ past in Pittsburgh when they held that together with [Bill] Cowher for all those years,” the quarterback said. “Over time it got done. You got to stick with it and that’s why I’m excited: to stick with it. Because there’s been plenty of 8-8 teams that have bounced back the next year and won it all.”

For Spanos, it’s clear this decision is a personal one. He cast his lot with Smith when he fired Marty Schottenheimer as coach after a 14-2 season (and first-round playoff loss.) Smith, in turn, hitched his fate to Turner, a controversial choice as coach.

“The net bottom line is you have to win in this league,” Spanos said. “[Turner and Smith] know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. And that’s our goal.”

Now, a franchise that has struggled to sell tickets, has further frustrated its fan base, something that can only be salved by winning.

“What we have here is not broke,” linebacker Takeo Spikes said. “We may need to add a few pieces. But I’ve been places where we were broken and this is not even close to broke.”

So Spikes, who has never been on a playoff team in his 14 seasons, has seen a lot worse. Question is, do the Chargers deserve to see better?