This post is fourth in a seven-part series detailing every head coaching change made in the NFL this past offseason. Today’s installment focuses on the San Diego Chargers and their new head coach, Norv Turner.

Ever hear of the Peter Principle? In short, it states that in hierarchical organizations, individuals tend to rise to positions for which they are ill-suited, due to promotions that were rewards for doing good work in positions for which they were well-suited. This is not to be confused with the Dilbert Principle, which states something entirely different (that the most ineffective workers are put in management positions, where they can do less damage). One of the best fictional examples of the Peter Principle is Michael Scott, boss on NBC’s The Office (which, as an aside, just garnered an impressive 9 Emmy nominations). Scott is portrayed as a generally inept boss but a terrific salesman whose outstanding work in his prior position landed him in over his head with a management job he just can’t do well. One of the best real examples…you can probably see where this is going. Norv Turner has won wide acclaim for his work as an offensive coordinator, and “won” derision just as wide for his head coaching work. His career record of 58-82-1 suggests his critics are on to something, and it is this consistent lack of success that makes his hiring by the Chargers the offseason’s most puzzling.

Maybe Turner is just exceptionally impressive in interviews. After all, there has to be something he does right to keep getting prospective employers to ignore past history and give him these head coaching jobs. It worked once with Oakland after seven years with the Redskins during which he made the playoffs only once (he was fired with three games to go during his last year there), and after two terrible years with the Raiders (to be fair, that was not a great situation) he won over Chargers’ management. Maybe the guy has great people skills that somehow don’t translate to being a head coach, or…something. Honestly, I’m grasping at straws here… some guys are great as coordinators but aren’t so great when you put them in charge of the entire team, and it seemed widely accepted that Turner was just such a guy. However, that was not the case, Turner gets another chance to prove himself, and there is one important mitigating factor at play…

The Chargers are loaded. This will be the most talented team Turner has coached. They were the best regular season team in the NFL last year with a 14-2 record, and that wasn’t by accident. They have the best offensive player in the league (running back LaDainian Tomlinson) and one of the very best defensive players in the league (linebacker Shawne Merriman). They have the league’s best tight end (Antonio Gates), another playmaker at linebacker (Shaun Phillips), one of the better interior defensive linemen in the league (Jamal Williams), another very solid player along the line (Luis Castillo), a backup running back better than many starters (Michael Turner), and a very good quarterback (Philip Rivers). That is as good a collection of talent as any team in the league, and they added more in the draft, though some questioned how they went about doing so. They took a receiver in the late first round (Craig Davis from LSU) who posted solid, but unspectacular college numbers. However, they wanted help at the position, and he provides it. Many wondered why they gave up so many picks to move up in the second round and take Eric Weddle, a defensive back from Utah. Critics saw him as not worth giving up so much to obtain, but clearly the Chargers saw something in him and he addresses another one of their relatively few areas of concern, the secondary. They took a risk in the third round with linebacker Anthony Waters of Clemson, who missed almost all of his senior season due to injury, but if he recovers he’ll help them – and when you went 14-2 last year you can afford to take more risks than most teams. This site gives a pretty detailed (and favorable) breakdown of what the Chargers did. Some readers provided comments at the bottom…check out the last one.

The Chargers’ general manager, A.J. Smith, did not get along with the previous coach, Marty Schottenheimer. That, plus the team’s latest early playoff exit, spelled the end for Martyball in San Diego. Still, that doesn’t necessarily make the hiring of Turner any less confusing. The explanation that San Diego wanted an offensive-minded coach helps, but Turner has been an offensive-minded losing head coach. They interviewed several other defensive-minded candidates, including two of the best coordinators out there, Rex Ryan of Baltimore and Ron Rivera of Chicago. (It should be noted that they wound up hiring Rivera anyway, as linebackers coach.) Turner’s record has just been so poor that it almost seems like Smith did this to spite Schottenheimer, like he was saying, “Check out how worthless you are…we don’t even care if we replace you with Norv Turner!” In addition, the Chargers lost both coordinators this offseason to other head coaching jobs (Cam Cameron to Miami and Wade Phillips to Dallas). They hired the respected Ted Cottrell to coordinate the defense and promoted running backs coach Clarence Shelmon to offensive coordinator, so they should be all right on that front. And really, they should be all right overall. This is a very good, talented team. If Turner can’t win with this group, he will likely go down as one of the all-time worst NFL head coaches. This is his best chance to prove that he does not deserve to become a Peter Principle example, and that the Chargers’ choice of an offensive coach wasn’t…offensive.

The next installment, hopefully up within the next couple days, will detail the Dallas Cowboys and new head coach Wade Phillips.

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