By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner has a reputation for being almost boringly low-key in public but a woeful start to the season prompted him to deliver a fiery message to his team behind closed doors.
That stern address by the usually taciturn Turner midway through San Diego's 33-25 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Game Eight could well prove to be a turning point in their 2010 campaign.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers described the surprisingly candid verbal blast as the best half-time speech he had ever heard from Turner.
"He gets criticized a lot unfairly on the outside about how unemotional, unpassionate and (not) fiery (enough) he is," Rivers said. "I can tell you he has plenty of passion and he gives us plenty of motivation."
San Diego tight end Antonio Gates, who has played through a lingering toe injury for much of this season, was also inspired by Turner's words.
"When you see someone reach deep down and when your soul is in everything you're doing, you can just see it in what he had to say, his emotion and his expression," said Gates.
What was Turner's own view of his speech?
"I'm glad they responded the way they did," the coach said of a speech given when the Chargers were trailing the Titans 19-14 at their home Qualcomm Stadium on October 31. "It was emotional. This is an emotional game and it's what we needed."
In almost every respect, Turner had no alternative but to be brutal with his team.
Despite leading the National Football League (NFL) in both offense and defense after their first seven games, the Chargers had posted a dismal 2-5 record after being hampered by injuries, mistakes and a rash of turnovers.
No team can be blamed for a spiraling injury count but San Diego continually shot themselves in the foot as they contrived to produce bizarre blunders at the worst possible time.
"It's a team that's struggling because we're not capable of taking care of the football," Turner said before his team improved their record to 3-5 by beating the Titans.
"It's something we've taken a lot of pride in around here for a long time and it's one of the best things we did as a team last year when we won 13 games. Obviously it's the worst thing we're doing right now."
The Chargers, who began the season in pursuit of a fourth consecutive division title and yet another playoff push, suffered their first home loss when they were beaten 23-20 by the New England Patriots on October 24.
Although the Patriots gained only 38 yards in the first half, they led 13-3 at halftime after capitalizing on four Chargers turnovers before holding off a late San Diego rally.
"This is something we've talked about since the season started, since training camp, and that's the turnover ratio," Gates said.
"You continue to turn the ball over, it decreases your chance of winning football games. Getting it to translate to the game on Sunday is probably our biggest challenge at this point."
Hardly surprisingly, the Chargers were roundly booed by their home fans after their error-prone display against New England in the first half.
"We didn't spend a lot of time talking about that to be honest with you," Turner said with a glint in his eye. "We're trying to get guys ready at half-time to go play better. I think we did."
The season did not begin smoothly for the Chargers with contract holdouts by Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill eliminating two key players.
A few weeks in, wide receivers Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee were both ruled out by hamstring injuries and they were later joined on the sidelines by another wide receiver, Buster Davis (rib injury).
Gates, who has scored a league-leading nine touchdowns this season, has also struggled with his toe injury and Turner did not relish having to make tough decisions over the receiver position over the next few weeks.
"When we get to the point where we get all our guys back, it's going to be easy decisions," he said. "But it's a long ways off.
"As I said at the beginning of the year, when I looked at the possibilities of having Malcom, Gates, Vincent Jackson, Buster Davis and those guys, then you have a chance to be as good as you want to be in terms of moving the ball and doing the things we want to do."
There has never been any question about the depth of talent at Turner's disposal and, with quarterback Rivers continuing to top 300 yards in virtually every game this season, the Chargers offense will always threaten.
"Right now, we're going pretty good on offense and we move the ball awfully well," Turner said. "When we take care of the ball, we score a lot of points."
Turner's passionate half-time message during the Titans game may be just as important within the overall context of the season.
Following his fiery speech, the chastened Chargers have posted successive wins, including their first victory on the road this season.
(Editing by Dave Thompson)