After ten years, it's time for change in San Diego as team president Dean Spanos fired longtime general manager A.J. Smith after a disappointing 7-9 season. Joining him in the unemployment line is head coach Norv Turner.
Summing up the A.J. Smith era in San Diego is hard. After succeeding to the top job after the death of John Butler, he built one of the most talented rosters in the league as a 14-2 season in 2004 kicked off a remarkable run of success. That success was due largely to the great job Smith did drafting in his first couple years as general manager. As the years went on, though, talented players left in free agency, and Smith's draft touch disappeared, resulting in too many picks and a roster increasingly held together by baling wire and string. Oh, and when he wasn't letting talented players leave, Smith was feuding with them, including standouts like left tackle Marcus McNeill and wideout Vincent Jackson.
Norv Turner was hired after Smith fired Marty Schottenheimer following a 14-2 season in 2006 that ended in playoff disappointment. Even Norv, a perennial underachiever as a head coach in previous stops in Washington and Oakland, couldn't kill the Chargers immediately. Instead, the playoff disappointments continued and a downward spiral began as the talent level of the team decreased. A more forceful, better head coach than Norval might have helped Smith, but that same coach also would have been a threat. Instead, despite playing in what has been one of the league's weaker divisions, the Chargers got worse and worse and after a 24-24 mark the last three seasons, enough was enough.
The Chargers announced they hired Ron Wolf as a consultant to assist in the hiring of the next brain trust, beginning first with a general manager and then a head coach. Pro player personnel director Jimmy Raye is the early favorite for the job if the Spanos family elects to go for continuity in the organization. With quarterback Philip Rivers at 31 and overhauls needed on defense and the offensive line, Raye or any other eventual hire will need to find the right strategy for San Diego going forward, or else 24-24 over three seasons may sound pretty good.