SAN DIEGO — Just a day after Chargers players cleared out their lockers and said their goodbyes to teammates and coaches, players returning next season will again be able to say hello to head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith.
Chargers Chairman of the Board and President Dean Spanos announced that both would be returning for the 2012 season.
The move may have come as shock and surprise to fans who have vehemently called for Turner’s and Smith’s firing throughout the Chargers lackluster season this year, the second straight year in which the team failed to make the playoffs.
“Bottom line, I believe these two men give us the best chance to get back to the playoffs,” said Spanos in a statement. “A.J. Smith is the best man to improve our roster, and Norv Turner is the best man to lead that roster on the field.”
Turner, who was wearing one of the Super Bowl rings he earned while with the Dallas Cowboys, said at his end-of-the-season press conference Monday that the team’s deficiencies stemmed from injuries, the need to get better in some areas and to add impact players.
Players, including quarterback Philip Rivers and guard Kris Dielman expressed support for their embattled head coach.
Dielman, who is mulling retirement after suffering a season-ending concussion against the New York Jets, said he would consider returning to the team if Turner was still around next season.
Rivers defended his coach, shouldering the responsibility for a lot of the team’s losses on his turnover-laden play.
Takeo Spikes, spending his first year with the Chargers, said Monday that he liked Turner and everything that he stands for.
“I’ve always admired him from afar, but to be up under his leadership, to see what we went through this year…he took a beating but he never changed in front of us. He always stayed positive and said, ‘This is what we have to do’… I gained that much more respect for him. He’s my man,” Spikes added.
“This team it’s really not broke, it’s really not,” Spikes said. “We could add a few more pieces here and there but the foundation of this team, it’s very good. We’re so close, very close.”
Spanos noted the respect the players have for Turner, saying that, “throughout Norv’s tenure and particularly this past season, the players believe in him, respect him and play hard for him. When we went through that tough stretch, no one quit. The team kept playing hard, and that’s a tribute to Norv’s leadership.”
Spanos said that the team will take a hard look at everything, from player evaluation to coaching to the rash of injuries.
“Injuries have killed us. And no one is ever perfect in this business. Player evaluation isn’t an exact science. We need to improve across the board and I’m going to make sure we do.”
Smith has spent nine years as general manager and brought in Turner after firing former Charger head coach Marty Schottenheimer. Turner has amassed a 52-34 record since joining the team, one of the most successful in Chargers history, including winning three AFC Western Division Championships.
Turner also earned his 100th career regular-season win this year.
“Despite the number of wins we’ve had, the net bottom line is it doesn’t mean anything unless you win a championship,” Spanos said. “That’s our goal and I am committed to winning a Super Bowl for San Diego.”
The Chargers finished the season 8-8, winning their final game against the Oakland Raiders.
With that win, the Chargers have secured the No. 18 pick in the first round of the 2012 draft.