- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2000

It was not a hard call.

It was time for Norv Turner to be on his way. It was time for a new face, a new philosophy, a new direction. It was time to accept the evidence. Maybe it was past time.

Turner could not win the close ones, not in nearly seven full seasons with the local NFL team, and it was fitting that his last game ended like so many others. The kick was a couple of yards short.

"Sometimes the difference between winning and losing in this league is not very big," Turner said after receiving his pink slip yesterday. "And I understand that."

The team's supporters came to understand it all too well.

Turner departs with a 49-59-1 career mark and one playoff berth. As incriminating as the record is, worse is that he lost 28 games by six or fewer points. In a tight game, for one reason or another, a Turner-coached team would find a way to mess up.

That was the team's conditioned response to stress. That was the team's modus operandi. That just was the way it was.

Was it Turner's fault? Did he encourage Gus Frerotte to head-butt a concrete wall at the stadium? Did he inspire Michael Westbrook to rip off his helmet and have a meltdown on the field? Or did he create a climate that allowed improbable developments to occur with alarming frequency?

The pact between coaches and players is a tricky one. They all want to win. They all want things to go right. Each has a vested interest, financial and otherwise, to be at their best 16 times a season.

Part of a head coach's responsibility is to convey an attitude, to set a tone, to let it be known that certain silliness won't be tolerated.

With Turner, you sometimes had the impression that he almost was too even-tempered with the players, too clinical, too inclined to compartmentalize the emotion that goes with winning and losing.

Turner did not get too up. He did not get too down. He was a worker whose personality fit his offensive coordinator's role with the Cowboys. When expected to lead, inspire and stoke the competitive fires of those around him, he sometimes appeared to think it would happen by osmosis. He preferred to retreat to his playbook and script the next game plan.

It is not too surprising that his successor, Terry Robiskie, is not afraid to wear his emotions on his shirtsleeves. Robiskie exhibited some of that old-fashioned football mentality in a sideline powwow with Albert Connell during the game in Philadelphia earlier this season.

Robiskie and Connell exchanged their views on life with conviction, and in the rough-and-tumble football culture, that is not such a bad thing. Their players are hitting you. You are hitting them. The game lends itself to hard edges and tough talk.

This was not Turner's style, and all too many players seemingly read it as a sign of permissiveness. Turner's teams neglected the small details. They lacked discipline. They missed too many assignments. Their propensity to commit the game-turning blunder was limitless.

This was not fate, bad breaks, bad bounces and the like. This was a pattern of Turner's teams, and finally, the responsibility fell on him.

Robiskie has been given three games to demonstrate that there is nothing wrong with the personnel, that with a little prodding, cajoling and, if necessary, in-your-face ultimatums, he can right the wrongs before it is too late.

"Everything I've ever done I've done through motivation," Robiskie said. "That's all I've done. That's my coaching style."

Robiskie was careful not to imply that Turner was somehow deficient in this regard.

"I don't want to compare my motivational skills to Norv Turner," he said.

Robiskie, in fact, began his comments by apologizing to the team's fans and to Turner and his wife, Nancy.

"I know I have been part of the process," Robiskie said.

Coaches come and go, as do players, their departures often precipitated by a series of unpleasant circumstances, and one day, despite the hint of promise in the Virginia countryside, Robiskie likely will be on the other end of a change.

That is the deal. That is the business.

At least in Turner's case, he leaves knowing he was given the benefit of the doubt, and then some.

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