Coach Norv Turner (Doug Pensinger/Getty)
The Chargers look ahead, and if in their shoes, wouldn't you do so as well? It's hard to express the disappointment -- maybe some are just realizing it -- of the team missing the playoffs.
The Chargers, winners of four straight AFC West titles, dug too big of a hole when starting 2-5, got hot for a bit, but fell shy thanks to shoddy special teams and a maddening lack of consistency.
They take the No. 1 ranking on offense and defense with them into the offseason but little else.
After seeing how the Chiefs were demolished in the first round in representing the AFC West, the sting of not being in the tournament hurt Chargers followers more.
But it's clear to see why the Chargers are in the soup they are in: their special teams were better suited to be a late-night show punch line and their lack of ball security in those first seven games was embarrassing.
The team, which was also struck with injuries, has decided to stay the course. Team president Dean Spanos, even before the dismal season was over, said that general manager A. J. Smith and coach Norv Turner would return.
But they do so, one would think, on a short leash.
Considering how much good the Chargers did, it's a shame they didn't make the playoffs and the top two Chargers' chiefs know it.
They may not be able to fully explain it, but they know a repeat of 2010 could cost them their jobs.
The Chargers fight on, still knowing they have an elite quarterback in Philip Rivers. Tight end Antonio Gates and right guard Kris Dielman are a strong foundation to build on.
But this last season started to crumble in an offseason where Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill and wide receiver Vincent Jackson got in a stare-down with Smith. The distractions and lack of production those negotiations caused the team cannot be overstated.
The Chargers remain a top-notch team and could quickly bounce back next season. But they have to shake their trend of slow starts and the sense of entitlement that they own the AFC West.
Things change, teams get better and others let opportunities slip through their fingers. The Chargers know they let one get away in 2010.
--The Chargers' only chance in the playoffs paid off with the Jets' wild-card win over the Colts. While the team isn't in the postseason, Jets CB Antonio Cromartie is. And with the win, the Chargers receive a second-, instead of a third-round pick next April for trading Cromartie.
--Among the free agents unlikely to be back is the versatile Darren Sproles. After earning some $14 million the past two years, but with his numbers declining, the standout of two playoffs could go. He rushed 50 times for 267 yards and a team-high 59 receptions for 520 yards and two touchdowns. But his return game suffered and Sproles lost a career-worst three fumbles. If the Chargers do consider bringing him back, it will be after his market is set.
"This will be a chance to get a real sense of my value," Sproles said. "That's what I'm looking forward to the most. All the trips and meeting and dinners, are just part of the process, but I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to all that. I haven't been recruited since I was in high school, so it'll be interesting to see how it goes."
Sproles will long be remembered for his 328 all-purpose yards in subbing for an injured LaDainian Tomlinson in that 2008 playoff win over the Colts. Sproles is open to returning. "I definitely would," Sproles said. "I love the city and I love the guys in this locker room. This is the only team I've ever known. I'd like to keep it that way."
--Rich Bisaccia, for now, is the most popular coach in San Diego. He's the new special teams coach, replacing Steve Crosby. The Chargers gave up four returns for touchdown, allowed four blocked punts and a deflection, and ranked last in punt coverage. Bisaccia spent the last nine seasons in a similar role with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including their Super Bowl 2002 season. Tampa Bay's special teams earned top-10 rankings in punt and kickoff coverage and in kick returns during the 2010 season. The Bucs blocked six kicks in 2009. "Rich's special teams have had success in this league," coach Norv Turner said. "Rich is a high-energy guy that I know will bring out the best in our players."
--Coach Norv Turner said defensive coordinator Ron Rivera leaving to become the Panthers' head coach reflects well on the organization. "When you put a staff together you hope to have moments like this," Turner said. "If other teams want to give your assistants an advanced position, that means they've done an excellent job. That was the case with Ron, and hopefully that will be the case in the future as well."
Sometimes change is good -- even when the coach of the NFL's top defense exits. "I look at these transitions as a chance to get better," Turner said of Rivera's departure. "Whether we promote from within or go outside for our defensive coordinator, we're going to add a new coach to this staff. New people bring fresh perspective to what we're doing as a team and as a staff, and that should help us improve. We made tremendous strides as a defense last season."
--LT Marcus McNeill was clear when heading out the locker-room door it would be a busy offseason. He promises to get after it. "A lot of people are still going to be playing, preparing and doing a lot of things, but I want to make sure that I build myself to be the best left tackle for this team because I know that if I am the best left tackle that quarterback's going to be the best quarterback in the league," McNeill said. "We proved that this year and I want to make sure I continue to make sure he succeeds."
--Chargers legendary coach Don Coryell was passed over in the recent Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists list after advancing that far last year. Coryell was one of football's all-time visionaries with his offense and defensive schemes.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're going to do everything we can to get better and obviously the No. 1 goal every year is to make the playoffs and to win your division." -- Coach Norv Turner on rebounding next season after the Chargers' string of four straight AFC West titles was snapped.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers will have more than 20 free agents to deal with this offseason but so far the news here has been about the coaches.
Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera left the team to become the Panthers' head coach. There's a chance Dave Wannstedt, a former coach with Norv Turner in various spots, could have the inside track to replace Rivera.
Who should the Chargers draft to replace Sproles? Discuss in the message boards.