They are gone — the guys who helped build the San Diego Chargers, and who wrecked the San Diego Chargers.
General Manager A.J. Smith and Coach Norv Turner lost their jobs after the franchise lost so many games over a three year period, they could not even qualify for the playoffs.
Smith, who had two monster drafts in the early 2000s, dug a hole for himself with a prickly-pear personality. He offended players, turned off agents, buried the media.
Turner was given the keys to a Mercedes and turned it into a KIA. The man with a reputation for building big stat-quarterbacks lived up to his reputation as a guy overwhelmed by the challenges of running an NFL team.
Owner Dean Spanos gave them both everything they needed — resources, money, facilities and six years of time.
Instead of getting into the postseason, the team regressed.
In hitting the eject button on Smith and Turner, plus an assortment of assistants, Spanos will likely have to swallow upwards of $10 million in owed salaries.
Stunning, in that Spanos had to pay off $4 million when he rid the franchise of Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season years ago.
Yesterday was a long time ago. Smith could no longer live on the legend of two great drafts in 2004 and 2005 when he brought in the likes of quarterback Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman, rebuilt the defensive front and linebacking corps and uncovered two gems in Pro Bowl lineman Marcus McNeill and Kris Dielman.
Twenty years ago was a long time too and Turner’s Super Bowl accomplishments date back to the mid-1990s when he was the offensive coordinator for Jimmy Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys.
Given Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith, Turner had to succeed with that talent and firepower. He did well early too with Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson.
But they never got deep into postseason and then got worse.
The statistics are staggering as to the demise of this team. Turner went 32-16 his first three years, winning with many of Schottenheimer’s players.
The final three years were a downhill spiral of failure, injuries, terrible losses and occasional surprise wins. When it became Smith’s players and Turner’s coaching, the team staggered home 24-25.
Turner was an unpopular hire almost from the get-go. His brilliance as a coordinator was overshadowed by the failures with the Raiders and Redskins, though he was working for two crazy men — the late Al Davis and the tampering flamboyance of Daniel Snyder.
Smith’s scorecard was awful. The body bag count on the roster was stunning. In a span of five years, he ran off, removed or lost to free agency, 23 players, many of them impact and difference makers.
Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles, Mike Tolbert, Nate Kaeding, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shawne Merriman, Antonio Cromartie, Lorenzo Neal, Michael Turner, Drew Brees and Donnie Edwards — all established stars exited.
Support players and key role guys Kasim Osgood, Steven Gregory, Jacob Hester, Stephen Cooper, Luis Castillo, Antwan Applewhite, Igor Olshansky and Drayton Florence were cut, dealt or not given offers.
Smith replaced the 23 departed players with just three established young players standing next to Rivers.
End result? End of the playoff runs and the end of the GM’s career.
In a 10 year span, Smith also blew five first round picks, failing to hit on Larry English, Buster Davis, Sammy Davis, Antoine Cason and Cromartie, plus missing on second round picks Jonas Mouton, Reche Caldwell and Toniu Fonoti.
And in the draft, the Chargers brass bypassed people like Pro Bowl tackle Michael Oher, Packers star linebacker Clay Matthews, and four hot young lineman David DeCastro, Mike Iupati and Maurkice Pouncey.
Smith violated the trust of all the people he needed to deal with. He mocked his future Hall of Fame running back. He suspended three key people in contract disputes — Gates, Jackson and McNeill and cost the team at least two postseason playoff appearances. He feuded with agents, bullied the media and became condescending, corrosive and non-caring.
Where do they go from here?
Seven teams fired coaches on Black Monday and, outside of the Chicago Bears, San Diego may have as much talent ready to win with the right new leader.
The interviews are about to begin in San Diego.
The neon light name is Jon Gruden. The hottest young coach is Mike McCoy of Denver. The college coach of choice is Chip Kelly or David Shaw.
There is danger lurking for the Chargers saying they will hire a general manager first, then start a coaching search next.
The problem is others may hire hot names earlier rather than later, relegating San Diego to a lesser name with different credentials.
The Chargers need to win immediately. They have to sell tickets if they are ever to pass a referendum to build a new stadium.
The housecleaning is complete. The bad hires are gone, the bad attitudes will disappear, but the bad roster is still here.
No one should feel comfortable. They’d better hire the right people to save the franchise. The Chargers are at a crossroads.