There’s no question of how many around Chargers Park felt and still feel about Norv Turner.
It was probably the reason why Turner—the much maligned head coach of the Chargers who was officially fired Monday—has been in San Diego for six seasons when many thought that he shouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place.
And it is largely believed that Turner’s players kept him around one more season, after failing to make the playoffs in 2011.
But that was under a caveat: the team must succeed in 2012.
Whatever was defined as “success,” San Diego did not see that this season. Finishing 7-9 and missing the playoffs for the third consecutive year, Turner along with general manager A.J. Smith were relieved of their duties.
That, however, doesn’t change how his now former players felt about him.
“It’s been a joy,” veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes, who played for Turner for two years, said last week. “To me him and Dick LeBeau have a lot of similarities with each other…They never have to raise their voice to get to you. Whenever you can find an adult who is able to speak to another adult in that type of way and still get through mentally, that’s when you see the utmost respect in a peer, in the man that you’re working for.”
But that touch, that ability, the side that fans and the media did not see from Turner and was only shown in the locker room and with his players, that could not save Turner in 2012.
And he knew it. Four weeks before the regular season ended, a report surfaced stating that Turner and Smith would be fired at the season’s end.
Though he would not address the issue in subsequent weeks, he begin to do so in the days leading up to his final game as head coach.
“Houdini may not get out of this one,” Turner told reporters last Thursday.
The Chargers have regressed in the six years Turner was at the helm.
After three AFC West Division titles in his first three seasons, Turner failed to make the playoffs in his last three. The 2010 and 2011 seasons were especially painstaking, with 9-7 and 8-8 records, the Chargers missed the playoffs by one game.
In 2012—San Diego’s first losing season since 2003—the team finished six games behind the division-winning Denver Broncos.
“We’re three years now out of the playoffs,” team president Dean Spanos told Chargers.com. “Our goal has always been to win a world championship, and I think at this particular time we need to go in a different direction.
“I think at the beginning of the season it was apparent that if we didn’t get to the playoffs and didn’t win some games into the playoffs, that we probably were going to make a change.”
The same regression can be said about Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers under Turner.
Rivers threw 35 interceptions in the first three years of Turner’s reign in San Diego. Rivers had 48 the past three seasons. And, in 2012, Rivers’ 26 touchdown passes and his 3,606 yards passing are his fewest totals since Turner’s first year as the head coach in 2007, when Rivers passes for 3,152 yards and just 21 touchdowns.
The difference in 2007, however, was that Rivers was entering just his second season as a starting quarterback and has a future Hall of Fame running back (LaDainian Tomlinson) by his side.
But Rivers was never going to blame Turner for his own failings.
“The things that kept us from success this year, coaching is not high on the list, if anywhere to be honest,” Rivers told the Union-Tribune. “We all have our roles. I didn't live up to mine. Everybody has a hand in it. I'm not diminishing the coaching role by any means because it's huge in terms of all the success we've had. But we've had our chances as players out there. I've had my chances.”
It’s almost the same sentiment that Rivers fed the media last year, when everyone thought that Turner’s firing was imminent.
Those words didn’t save Turner this year. And Rivers still has a chance to prove himself; Turner does not.
No, Turner does not have to face chants calling for the former head coach to return. No more slights or boos from the crowd. No more snarky comments on message boards about his ability to lead an NFL team.
But all of that was secondary, because Turner had respect where it mattered most.
“He is who he is and he’s not going to change, no matter what’s going on around him,” center Nick Hardwick told the team website. “He treats people with respect. He treats the guys that work for him with a lot of respect. So, he gets that respect back.”