The Axe Finally Falls

The Chargers parted ways with Norv Turner and A.J. Smith on Monday, knocking down the first dominoes in a long chain. The team will hire a new GM before identifying its next head coach. Here is a look at what went down on Black Monday and the team Turner and Smith left behind.

Dean Spanos did the right thing in acting quickly to remove Turner and Smith. After a third straight season out of the playoffs, it was clearly time for the organization to clean house.

The team has regressed since Turner and Smith joined forces in 2007, a year in which San Diego advanced to the AFC Championship Game. The subsequent five seasons ended with a loss in the divisional round, a loss in the wild card round and three playoff-free failures.

It is unclear who is responsible for this tandem's shortcomings. Did Smith fail to provide Turner with enough talent? Or did Turner fail to develop players as well as his successor, Marty Schottenheimer? With no definitive answer, the only way to go was removing both men.

Smith will almost certainly be replaced by Director of Player Personnel Jimmy Raye -- Smith has recommended Raye for the gig. Director of College Scouting John Spanos will have an increased role; the same could be true of executive Randy Mueller, the former general manager of the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins.

Ron Wolf, the former general manager of the Green Bay Packers, has been hired as a consultant to help the Chargers put a new management team in place.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt
Christian Petersen/Getty
As for the coaching vacancy, it has been reported that San Diego is interested in Bruce Arians, who shined in Indianapolis this season after a successful five-year run as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator. It has also been reported that Ken Whisenhunt, let go today by Arizona, has an interest in the Chargers' opening. Whisenhunt preceded Arians as Pittsburgh's OC.

The new GM and head coach will evaluate the roster -- one without a single Pro Bowler -- and determine if the team needs to be retooled or rebuilt. Turner indicated it was more of the latter in his final press conference, stating that Chargers fans should not expect the team to make the playoffs in 2013.

Was that a cold-blooded assessment or a bitter man taking a parting shot on his way out the door? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. San Diego boasts some core players, including Philip Rivers, Nick Hardwick, Danario Alexander, Eric Weddle, Donald Butler, Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes. There are also some serious holes in the roster, especially on the offensive line and in the secondary.

The Chargers were not that far removed from playoff contention. Were it not for an untimely roughing-the-passer penalty in New Orleans, a historical meltdown on Monday Night Football, an inexplicable no-show in Cleveland and a fourth-and-29 conversion against Baltimore, this team would be 11-5 and talking about chasing championships rather than conducting job searches.

Then again, if Marlon McCree had not fumbled in the divisional round of the 2006 playoffs, San Diego would have won a Super Bowl already, Marty Schottenheimer would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and Peyton Manning would still be known as one of the greatest chokers of all time.

The NFL is not about what-ifs and almosts. It's about wins and losses. The Chargers lost too many games under Turner and Smith; the only thing left for those two to lose was their jobs.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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