Turner steps out from Cowboys' shadow


ATLANTA -- Norv Turner had his coming-out party yesterday.

He has come a long way from last year's Super Bowl, when he was the Dallas Cowboys' obscure offensive coordinator, operating in the huge shadow of coach Jimmy Johnson and defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, who already had been named Chicago Bears head coach.

Now, he's just a few days away from being named Washington Redskins head coach, and Turner got the celebrity treatment yesterday with his own interview table and microphone.

Turner was a few minutes late for yesterday's session and said: "I got lost. I couldn't find this table. I was looking for the one they had me in last year. It was in the back room behind the Coke machine."

Now, he's front and center.

Nobody yet knows if his concepts are working because he has Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith or because the offense is so effective.

Turner, 41, who was the third choice when he was hired by Johnson three years ago, is the hottest assistant coach in the game this year. The Redskins think they have him locked up, although the Phoenix Cardinals will try to talk to him next week.

Turner said the attention is "very flattering" and although he "assumes" the Super Bowl will be his last game with the Cowboys, he said he doesn't have another job yet.

He's also spending a lot of time explaining the Dallas offense.

"The basis of it comes two ways," he said. "The running game's been done at USC a long time. I got the power running game from John Robinson, the willingness to give one guy the football over and over again and let the offensive line and the runner wear down the defense. I think that's a philosophy I'd attribute to him.

"The passing game system is from [Don] Coryell and the Chargers. Ernie Zampese came to the Rams in 1987 and put it in there. It's the same one we've run here."

He also said he's blended in some of the offense Bill Walsh used in San Francisco and the offense Joe Gibbs featured in Washington.

Coryell never got to the Super Bowl with his wide-open passing )) game that features short drops and quick throws. Yet by blending it with the power running game, the offense has carried Dallas to back-to-back Super Bowls.

Offensive guard Nate Newton describes the offense as "Emmitt left, right and around you."

The signature play is the lead draw with fullback Daryl Johnston blocking for Smith.

"We run it to death," Newton said.

When the opposing team takes away the deep pass by double covering receivers, Turner calls for Aikman to dump off the ball to Smith.

"People get frustrated when we're throwing underneath, but we're not throwing interceptions and we keep the ball moving," he said.

How all this would work in Washington with different personnel is a critical question.

When Turner was asked if he thinks the Redskins need to be rebuilt or just retooled, he said, "That's a good question. It'll have to be evaluated."

Turner has a reputation for being low-key, almost shy, but he says he can make the transition to running the whole show. He'll even scream if he has to.

"I'm willing to do what I have to do. I've been known to get excited. The guys have to tone me down once in a while," he said.

He also inspires fierce loyalty among his players. It's easy to say anybody could coach Aikman and Smith, but they both give Turner a lot of credit for their success.

"I honestly believe he put me in place to be the running back I am today," Smith said.

Added Aikman: "His biggest strength is that he puts players in a position where they have a chance to be successful."

Then there's the Turner work ethic. He doesn't sleep in his officethe way Gibbs used to, but he arrives for work at 5 a.m. so he can get home to see his three children before they go to bed.

He almost seems embarrassed when his work ethic is brought up. He says most coaches work hard.

Few of them, though, overcame the obstacles he did.

When he was 2 years old, his father, an ex-Marine with a drinking problem, walked out on Turner's mother and two brothers and two sisters and never returned.

After his father left, his mother, Vicky, who had multiple sclerosis, brought up the children in public housing in Northern California.

Richard Turner, one of Norv's brothers, recently told a Dallas reporter that when she thought the children were asleep, Vicky Turner would sit at the kitchen table and cry because she was on welfare. Vicky Turner died in 1989.

"She was as determined a person as I've ever known," Norv Turner said. "She would never let the negative circumstances affect her outlook. Those are the same attributes I'd like to be identified with."

Athletics became a way for the poor kid to get recognition.

"It gave me a chance to be equal with all my peers," he said.

He became an all-area quarterback in high school and his brother, Ron, now an assistant with the Chicago Bears, was a wide receiver.

Turner then was recruited by the University of Oregon, where he played behind a quarterback named Dan Fouts and was hampered by two knee operations. He threw 11 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions in his college career.

Robinson, who had been an assistant at Oregon, got Turner's coaching career started by hiring him at USC and then bringing him to the Rams.

Turner then got his big break when Johnson hired him to jump-start the Dallas offense.

Now, he's about to take the next step up. For Turner, who recently said he was driven by the fear of failure, this is the toughest challenge, but he's not intimidated by it.

"I did say those things. It depends on how you take it," he said. "I don't think I'm ever afraid of going out and attempting to do something.

"The thing that forces you to get ready and forces you to prepare is you understand how competitive this league is. If you don't do everything possible in your power to get yourself ready or to get the people around you ready, then you probably aren't going to be successful."

The Redskins appear to be ready to give him that chance for success, with his own team.

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