Norv Turner was given his third and perhaps best chance to prove himself as an NFL head coach when he was hired yesterday by the San Diego Chargers to replace the coach who once succeeded him with the Washington Redskins, Marty Schottenheimer.
The Chargers hired Turner a week after team president Dean Spanos abruptly fired Schottenheimer. Turner, who spent this past season as the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, was one of six candidates interviewed by the Chargers in a five-day span ending Sunday.
Turner has reached the playoffs only once in nine seasons as an NFL head coach with the Redskins and Oakland Raiders, but he inherits a club in San Diego that had a league-best 14-2 record during the regular season and is loaded with talented players on offense and defense.
"It's obvious to me the expectations for this football team," Turner said during an afternoon news conference at the Chargers' training facility. "It's obvious to everyone. They are very, very high. . . . There's an excitement about this but there's also an understanding there's a responsibility."
Schottenheimer was dismissed because he was barely on speaking terms with Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith. Spanos initially decided to retain Schottenheimer after the team's loss at home to the New England Patriots in an AFC semifinal, which dropped Schottenheimer's career playoff record to 5-13. But Spanos reversed that decision last week after Schottenheimer suffered four defections by key members of his coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Cam Cameron being hired as head coach of the Miami Dolphins and defensive boss Wade Phillips becoming the coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and reportedly wanted to consider his brother, Kurt, as a possible replacement for Phillips.
The Chargers also interviewed 49ers assistant head coach-defense Mike Singletary, and defensive coordinators Rex Ryan of the Baltimore Ravens, Ron Rivera of the Chicago Bears, Mike Zimmer of the Atlanta Falcons and Gary Gibbs of the New Orleans Saints. Ryan appeared to have a shot at the job at one point Sunday, but by day's end the Chargers had settled on Turner and the two sides negotiated a contract.
"He was without a doubt the right choice for this job," Spanos said. "We all look forward to him taking us to the next level."
Turner had a regular season record of 58-82-1 with the Redskins between 1994 and 2000 and the Raiders in 2004 and 2005. He coached the Redskins to the NFC East title in the 1999 season and secured his lone playoff win as an NFL head coach but was fired by owner Daniel Snyder with three games remaining in the 2000 season. Interim coach Terry Robiskie finished the season, and Snyder hired Schottenheimer in 2001.
Turner had 5-11 and 4-12 seasons with the Raiders. He was criticized as a head coach for being unable to discipline willful players such as wide receivers Michael Westbrook in Washington and Randy Moss in Oakland. But he is known as a skillful offensive coach, and he worked with Chargers tailback LaDainian Tomlinson as San Diego's offensive coordinator in Tomlinson's rookie season in 2001. The Chargers won't have to change their offensive system because it was installed by Turner and was being overseen by Cameron, formerly Turner's quarterbacks coach in Washington. They also will keep the same defensive system after hiring former Phillips coaching associate Ted Cottrell as Turner's defensive coordinator.
"We are going to hit the ground running," Turner said.
Turner had interviewed for the Cowboys' head coaching job but was passed over in favor of Phillips on Feb. 8.