Dickey: Norv just needed talent and freedom

I owe Norv Turner an apology. When he was named coach of the San Diego Chargers last year, I wrote that he was a great offensive coordinator who would never be a good head coach. I wasn’t alone, but I can’t use that as an excuse because I’ve never been been afflicted by the group-think mentality of the sports media. My opinions are strictly my own.

And, I was wrong. Now, it appears that Turner’s problem in his two previous stints as coach was working for the two most meddling owners in the NFL, Dan Snyder in Washington and Al Davis with the Raiders. In the last five seasons, the Raiders have had four coaches, and Turner is the only one who won as many as five games. Coaching hasn’t been the main problem.

Given better players and the freedom to make his own decisions in San Diego, Turner proved he can be a successful coach.

It didn’t seem that way at the start, as the Chargers struggled out of the gate with a 1-3 start, the three losses consecutive. Big changes in the coaching staff, with two new coordinators, were part of the problem, as was a schedule that included New England and Green Bay.

But all the criticism was directed at Turner. Fans were even campaigning for the return of Marty Schottenheimer, who had been fired after a 14-2 season because his team had lost in the first round of the playoffs, extending his dismal postseason record to 5-13.

The usual pattern for teams that start out slowly is to continue that trend, as happened with the 49ers, who had been touted as a possible playoff team before this season.

But Turner righted the ship and the Chargers started playing up to their considerable ability. The only real stumble the rest of the way was a surprising loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The Chargers won their last six season games and 10 of their last 12 games to finish at 11-5.

The Chargers also could have been affected by a natural disaster in their area, the wildfires that ravaged the area, forcing the Chargers to go to Arizona to practice as their home stadium was used to house those who had been burned out of their homes.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the psychological effect was overpowering for the Saints, who wound up 3-13. The Chargers, instead, became leaders in the community to help San Diegans bounce back.

And on the field, they kept winning. Now, they’ve won their first playoff game since the 1994 season. As a reminder of how long ago that was, the 49ers beat the Chargers in the Super Bowl that season.

The road ahead is difficult because the Chargers are in the conference that has the best teams at the top. Their next test is a rematch with the Colts, this time in Indianapolis. If they win that game, they’ll most likely have to meet the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. I don’t believe anybody is going to stop the Patriots, not even the Chargers at their best.

But no matter what happens after this, Norv Turner has proven he can be a successful head coach. All he needed was better players and an owner who got out of his way. My apologies, Norv.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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