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Rivers' audible on Turner convinces Chargers brass to retain coach

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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Thanks to Philip Rivers' support, Norv Turner will get to work for a sixth season with him. (AP)  
Thanks to Philip Rivers' support, Norv Turner will get to work for a sixth season with him. (AP)  

Of the factors that convinced San Diego president Dean Spanos to retain coach Norv Turner, none was more significant than the support Turner gained from quarterback Philip Rivers.

That's not my opinion. It's the opinion of sources in and around the team.

Granted, the Chargers' fast finish had something to do with Spanos' call. So did the team's season-ending defeat of Oakland in a game that meant everything to the Raiders and little to San Diego. And so, frankly, did Turner's history of success in San Diego -- with three division titles and one conference championship game in his first three seasons.

But it was Rivers' backing of Turner that helped convince Spanos that keeping his head coach was the wise move. The star quarterback not only is the team's best player; he's the spokesman, too, and when he spoke out in defense of Turner after the season finale, Spanos paid attention.

Only that wasn't an isolated incident. Sources said Rivers met privately more than once with Spanos, making the case for Turner and arguing for his retention. Though Spanos declined to comment, he did acknowledge Rivers played a key role in his decision.

"I think it was an important factor," he said. "I wouldn't say it was the determining factor, but it was important. Their relationship over the last five years is a strong bond, and Philip is the heart and soul of the team right now. So how do you replace that? And who do you bring in?"

The answer is: Nobody.

So Spanos did what Rivers suggested and kept his head coach -- for at least another year -- and let's be honest: If Turner fails to take the Chargers to the playoffs next season, it won't matter who speaks up in his defense. He won't make it to the last year on his contract.

Spanos didn't say that, but Turner did at a Tuesday news conference ... and he's right. If he doesn't win next season, he'll be gone. Fans won't stand for a third consecutive playoff miss, and management almost certainly won't, either.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out Turner made it to 2012 by the slimmest of margins. In fact, when the club dropped six straight this season to slip to 4-7, it appeared he was gone, with league sources confirming his departure was a virtual certainty.

But then San Diego rebounded, won four of its last five and showed glimpses of the team it was supposed to have been. That was almost enough for Spanos, who, after the defeat of Oakland, said he needed "a couple of days" to sleep on the decision.

But Rivers pushed that decision over the top.

"I really believe in [Turner]," Rivers said after the last game. "I can't speak for every guy, but the guys who have been here that know what this league is about, they all believe in him, too -- and they all want him here. What we went through this year injury-wise, bad quarterback play ... some of that he can't control.

"It's unfortunate the way the season has gone, but I believe Norv is the guy. ... He's a great man, a great guy. I'm disappointed I didn't make more plays, because we'd be in the playoffs and wouldn't be talking about it."

Spanos acknowledged disappointment with the season but, as he has said, was encouraged by the team's finish. Still, he knows there were reasons for 8-8, and he ran down the list -- starting with coaching. That, he said, had something to do with it. So did player-personnel decisions that left the Chargers exposed in key areas. An inordinate amount of injuries also played a role, he believes, particularly on the offensive line, as did bad luck -- with the Chargers literally one play away from the playoffs.

Had Rivers not fumbled a snap in the last minute of the fourth quarter in Kansas City, the Chargers almost certainly close the game with a winning field goal, finish 9-7 and win the AFC West. Instead, they not only lost the game, they blew the playoffs with it.

"We made mistakes," Spanos said. "Nobody's perfect."

The Chargers were far from it. They were a .500 team for the second time in Turner's tenure there. But Turner will have one more chance to return to the top of the AFC West -- with general manager A.J. Smith along with him.

In truth, Smith's job was never in jeopardy, though reports circulated that he was on the hot seat. He wasn't, but he'll be expected to strengthen the club through the draft and make the Chargers more active in free agency than they have been in the past.

There are bound to be other changes, with the expectation that defensive coordinator Greg Manusky will not return. But Turner has not been told he must go. That is his decision. In fact, what happens from here on is up to him ... with Turner given a green light to prove he can do what he did his first three years in San Diego.

For that, he can thank Spanos. But he can thank his quarterback, too. Without his support, I don't know that he would've made it.

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