Published December 27, 2012
SAN DIEGO – Win a final one for Norv?
That's about all the San Diego Chargers have to play for when they finish the season Sunday at home against the rival Oakland Raiders.
Coach Norv Turner is expected to get fired, along with general manager A.J. Smith, perhaps as soon as Monday, because the Chargers (6-9) will miss the playoffs for the third straight season.
If team president Dean Spanos needed yet another reminder of how far the roster has eroded under the smug, authoritarian Smith, he got one Wednesday when the Chargers were shut out in the Pro Bowl voting for the first time since 2003, when they were an NFL-worst 4-12.
In 2006, Marty Schottenheimer's final season as coach, the Chargers had 11 Pro Bowlers, including five starters.
This season has been a ponderous, painful slog since the pivotal 35-24 home loss to Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Oct. 15, when the star QB calmly led Denver to 35 straight points in the second half. The Chargers were eliminated from the AFC West race with four games to play, and were knocked out of postseason contention in a dreary 31-7 home loss to Carolina two weeks ago.
In sparing Turner and Smith a year ago, Spanos said the Chargers needed to win this year. Not only did the Bolts fail to meet that mandate, but they lost a significant portion of the once-loyal fan base.
A string of three straight local TV blackouts will end Sunday, but only because fans of the Raiders (4-11) always flock to see their beloved Silver and Black's only Southern California appearance of the season.
It'll give Chargers fans one final chance to boo Turner, who was an unpopular hire in February 2007. Turner was seen by many as a puppet who could be controlled by Smith after the GM won a power struggle with Schottenheimer.
For the players, it'll be a chance to win their 59th game under Turner, playoffs included. Problem is, their last playoff win was after the 2008 season.
"I think it's speaking a little bit out of turn to concede it," quarterback Philip Rivers said when asked about playing a final game under Turner. "I'm not trying to be naive, either, what may or may not happen. If it is the last one, it's a heck of a run. It's one, that counting playoffs, it's 59 wins in six seasons. That's a lot of football games. From that standpoint, I think it'll be an emotional game."
Asked what kind of coach the Chargers need, Rivers took off in another direction.
"Our lack of success, or our lack of getting done what we wanted to get done this year, is not all related, maybe not even mostly, or even related, to the coach," Rivers said. "Honestly, what I can control, what I think ultimately, is I could have played better to change some of these games. I think there are a lot of guys who look at it that way. We had our chances. That's the game we all play. There's a small gap between 10-6 and 6-10 and this go-round we found ourselves closer to 6-10."
Rivers was a Pro Bowler last season.
This year, he's been at the forefront of a Chargers fade, although he's been under siege most of the season behind an offensive line that Smith allowed to deteriorate.
Rivers has committed 22 turnovers this season, giving him 47 since the start of the 2011 season. He's been sacked 47 times.
As for Turner, his regular-season record as a head coach is 113-122-1. He was 49-59-1 in Washington from 1994 until being fired with three games left in the 2000 season, 9-23 with Oakland from 2004-05 and is 55-40 with the Chargers.
Turner has tried to deflect talk of his imminent demise.
"I'm not really giving it a lot of thought," Turner said. "Obviously there's a lot of speculation that way and I know people assume that. As I said to our team, probably four or five weeks ago, this is really an outstanding group of people, aside from what they are as football players. I enjoy being around these guys a great deal. I think they enjoy each other. I think that's why they've stayed together and continue to play hard and prepare at the level they have."
Turner has a year left on his contract, at $3 million. Smith has two years, at a total of $4 million.
Smith is expected to be replaced by Jimmy Raye, the director of player personnel who was a wide receiver at San Diego State in the late 1980s. Spanos' son, John, currently the director of college scouting, also is expected to be promoted. At some point, John Spanos will oversee the franchise's football operations.
Fans have clamored for years for Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher to replace Turner, but it's not known if they'd leave their TV jobs. A more realistic list of candidates could include Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy or maybe Bruce Arians, the Colts offensive coordinator who went 9-3 filling in as coach while Chuck Pagano underwent treatment for leukemia.
The 60-year-old Arians, a prostate cancer survivor, has said he'd love a shot at being a head coach. As a member of Pittsburgh's staff, he won two Super Bowl rings and made another Super Bowl appearance. He has mentored Pro Bowl quarterbacks Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck.
Another possibility is UCLA coach Jim Mora, who started his career as a Chargers assistant in 1985 and is a former coach of the Falcons and Seahawks. Mora's Bruins played in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Thursday night.
As for the Raiders, they haven't had a winning season since the 2002 season, when they went on to lose the Super Bowl to Jon Gruden's Tampa Bay Bucs.
Raiders coach Dennis Allen said it's possible both Matt Leinart and Terrelle Pryor could play after starting quarterback Carson Palmer went out with cracked ribs and bruised lung after being hit from behind by Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy.
Palmer had started 24 consecutive games for Oakland after being acquired in a midseason trade with Cincinnati in 2011. Leinart has started just two games since 2007 while Pryor has never started in his two NFL seasons.
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