Turner deserves coach of the year honor

Norv Turner and the San Diego Chargers haven't lost since falling to Denver on Oct. 19. Jeff Gross/Getty Images

What follows is not a story of vindication or redemption. It’s a tale about changing a longstanding perception.

Bad impressions are difficult to shake, but this one has to go. Now is the time for Norv Turner to be freed of his label as a lackluster, inept leader.

It’s time for Turner to be recognized as a productive NFL coach. It’s time for him to win the NFL Coach of the Year award.

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Norv Turner: NFL coach of the year. Better than Bill Belichick? Better than Mike Tomlin? Better than Jeff Fisher?

This year, Turner has been better than all of them. It will be a great injustice if Turner doesn’t win the award when it’s announced Jan. 17.

Perception would win out. That shouldn’t happen. Turner should no longer be remembered only for sluggish head-coaching runs in Washington and Oakland. He was the ultimate example of “good offensive coordinator, lousy head coach.”

But those days are over. Turner has been solid in three seasons as the head coach in San Diego. This season, he has reached the next level. He needs to be honored for it.

Turner is the clear-cut choice.

"Norv has done a hell of a job," San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman said. “He deserves everything he gets. He deserves credit. He’s our leader.”

Sure, New Orleans coach Sean Payton, Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell and Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis will get some consideration for coach of the year. But none have accomplished what Turner has done this season.

San Diego ended the regular season as the hottest team in football. The 13-3 Chargers, who are ranked No. 2 in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings, own the longest current winning streak in the NFL (11). They have a first-round bye and are the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.

San Diego began its hot streak after starting 2-3 and falling 3½ games behind Denver in the AFC West. However, San Diego bounced back to win the division title. The Chargers ended up beating Denver by five games in the division.

San Diego has never lost under Turner in December. He also kept his team focused all the way through Week 17. When top playoff teams Indianapolis, New Orleans and Minnesota all experienced some type of December letdown, the Chargers kept moving forward. Even with most of its starters on the bench, San Diego closed out the regular season with a win over Washington.

But Turner’s terrific job wasn’t relegated to the final month. San Diego overcame many injuries, including playing most of the season without defensive tackle Jamal Williams and center Nick Hardwick. The San Diego running game sputtered all season, but Turner’s passing game carried the offense. Quarterback Philip Rivers is in the MVP mix. Rivers has made steady strides under Turner’s guidance the past three seasons.

Defensively, the Chargers made key adjustments in the pass defense just before their 11-game win streak.

“Norv should be the guy,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "The thing you look for in head coaches is if they can get their guys to peak at the right time. Norv is great at that. San Diego has not lost in December in 1,000 years. He deserves credit for that. It’s time people start looking at Norv as a quality head coach. I think he is a top 10 head coach. I bet there are at least 20 owners in the NFL that would take Norv over their guy right now.”

San Diego general manager A.J. Smith took a lot of heat when he hired Turner to replace Marty Schottenheimer after the 2006 season. Smith has stuck to his guns in his unwavering praise of Turner. But he is not about to play the I-told-you-so game.

“I’m pleased that Norv may be in the conversation,” Smith said. “If he is, I understand why. He has done a good job here and I hope he continues to build a body of work here.”

Turner is reluctant to push himself for the honor. He said he hasn’t put much thought into his chances of winning the award. Still, he said this is one of his most satisfying seasons in his coaching career.

“I’m not very good at comparing those things, but the biggest thing for me is the job the assistant coaches have done and the number of people we have that have contributed to this team,” Turner said. “That part of it is impressive. Somebody had the number, I don’t know exactly what it was, but they said 60 different guys have played in games for us. That’s a lot of guys, but I know that on Sundays we play a lot of people. When we win a game, I think everyone feels that they were part of it, and that’s a great team feeling.”

But it all starts with great coaching by Turner. Now let’s see if he gets his due or if his previous reputation continues to get in the way.