Smith, who favored hardball negotiating tactics, had clashed with his own players and coaches, as well as agents and the media. He allowed a steady stream of stars to leave, including Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Michael Turner and Vincent Jackson, while failing to adequately replace them.
‘‘Somebody wrote three weeks ago that this team is not that far away from being a playoff team. I would disagree,’’ Turner said. ‘‘I know the things that have to get done for that to happen. If this team comes next year and they get some things done that help them get better and they are able to make the playoffs, I would hope it would be a surprise to all Chargers fans and they would be excited about it. I would hope it would not be the expectation starting in August because I think you need to give whoever the guy who comes in here some time to get this thing back where it was two to three years ago.’’
Turner said it’s too early to say what’s next. Many people feel he'll quickly be hired as an offensive coordinator.
Smith did not hold a news conference and did not return a call seeking comment.
After a 3-1 start, the Chargers had a series of collapses.
They blew a 10-point third-quarter lead to lose at New Orleans on Oct. 7.
The Bolts’ Monday night face-plant against Denver on Oct. 15 was epic. They blew a 24-0 halftime lead as Peyton Manning calmly led the Broncos to a 35-24 victory.
On Nov. 25, the Chargers allowed Baltimore’s Ray Rice to convert on a dump-down pass on fourth-and-29 late in regulation. The Ravens forced overtime and won.
Spanos said business also factored in the decision to fire Turner and Smith. Four blackouts, including three straight, meant the Chargers were losing millions of dollars in potential revenue.
‘‘It’s just been a slow deterioration over the last three years,’’ Spanos said.
Another sign of the eroding roster was that no Chargers were voted to the Pro Bowl. Six seasons ago, 11 Chargers were voted to the NFL’s all-star game, including five starters.
Turner was Smith’s signature hire. He inherited a 14-2 team and reached the AFC championship game his first season, but the Chargers began a gradual decline. Their last playoff win came after the 2008 season. Their last playoff appearance was an embarrassing home loss to the New York Jets after the 2009 season. The next night, the Chargers announced a four-year contract extension for Turner.
Spanos had twice sided with GMs over coaches. In 1996, he forced out Bobby Ross and kept Bobby Beathard just two years after the Chargers reached their only Super Bowl. In February 2007, Spanos fired Schottenheimer due to a ‘‘dysfunctional’’ relationship between the coach and Smith. The two reportedly didn’t speak to each other for the previous two years.
This time, both coach and GM were dismissed.
Smith proclaimed Turner to be the ‘‘right coach at the right time’’ for the Chargers. When Turner was hired, he was 24 games under .500, having gone 49-59-1 with Washington from 1994 until being fired with three games left in the 2000 season, and 9-23 with Oakland from 2004-05.
‘‘I'm pretty much aware of who he is and where he’s been,’’ Smith said that day. ‘‘But this isn’t Washington and this isn’t Oakland. It’s the San Diego Chargers.’’
Turner has one season at $3 million left on his contract. Smith has two years left at $2 million annually.
The Chargers were 3-5 in the playoffs in 10 seasons under Smith, who was promoted after his boss, John Butler, died of cancer in 2003.
They were 3-3 in the playoffs under Turner.
Smith had his hits and misses with players. He’s best known for taking Eli Manning with the No. 1 pick overall in the 2004 draft despite Archie Manning’s request that he not do so, and then dealing Manning’s rights to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers and draft picks that he used to take Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding.
Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP. Rivers has yet to play in a Super Bowl.
Smith’s recent drafts produced more busts than impact players.
Smith did sign undrafted rookie Antonio Gates in 2003, but he also let Wes Welker go after just one game in 2004.
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