Is Norv Turner the next Flip Saunders?

Fresh off the culmination of a memorable NBA season, it seems appropriate to look the Chargers through the eyes of a basketball fan. Is Norv Turner, who guided the Bolts to the AFC Championship Game last season, the football equivalent of Flip Saunders? Saunders inherited a talented team only to consistently fall just short of the ultimate goal.

Turner accomplished great things in his first season as coach of the Chargers. He led the team to its third division title in four years and helped reel off an eight-game winning streak that took the Bolts to the brink of the Super Bowl. However, the season cannot be viewed as a success, as the team watched former Charger Eli Manning and his New York Giants seize the Lombardi Trophy.

Turner is no longer on the hot seat after his Bolts caught lightning in a bottle over the second half of the season. However, his job will never be fully secure until he kicks down the door and wins the Big Game.

In the interim, Chargers fans are left to wonder if Turner's career as Chargers coach will wander the same path as Flip Saunders, the recently fired coach of the Detroit Pistons. Let's look at the similarities:
--Both coaches inherited teams that won their respective divisions the year prior. Turner took over a team that had just posted the best record in the NFL. Saunders took the reins of a club that had just come one quarter away from a second consecutive NBA Championship.

--Both coaches were hired late in the off-season, when the pool of available coaches had been sufficiently drained. Turner was hired after the A.J. Smith-Marty Schottenheimer blow-up resulted in Schotty's delayed termination. Saunders was brought in after a messy divorce between the Pistons and coaching nomad Larry Brown.

--Both coaches were hired as retreads with questionable postseason records. Turner coached the Washington Redskins for seven years and the Oakland Raiders for two years, making the playoffs only once and posting a 1-1 record. Saunders spent ten years with the Minnesota Timberwolves, making the playoffs eight times but only escaping the first round once.

--Both coaches took their latest teams to their respective conference championships in Year 1. The Chargers were eliminated by the New England Patriots last season, 21-12. The Pistons lost a close series against the eventual champion Miami Heat in 2006, 4-2.
Turner has a ways to go before he's pegged with the Saunders stigmata. For one thing, Saunders was given three opportunities to lead his team to the Finals before he was let go. Turner is a less worrisome 0-1 in that regard.

Secondly, Turner's team had a legitimate excuse for its loss to the Patriots, as the Chargers were saddled with injuries to LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers. The Pistons had to overcome Chauncey Billups' hamstring injury in this year's Eastern Conference Finals, but the obstacles the Chargers were dealt were far more daunting.

It is far too early to doubt Coach Turner. He did an excellent job in his first year in San Diego and expectations are high for Year 2. Nonetheless, this is the burden he accepted when agreeing to coach the most talented team in football. The ultimatum remains in place: change the team's empty trophy case or change jobs.

It doesn't take long for the sand to sift through the hourglass. Just ask Flip Saunders.

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Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.


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