- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2001

LA JOLLA, Calif. — He could have taken the year off and lived well on the money the Washington Redskins owed him. He could have gotten out of the business altogether after being bruised by his seven years in Washington.

But Norv Turner had been a football coach for 26 years. That's who he is. So after being fired by the Redskins in December, he was out of work just five weeks before he swallowed his pride and went back to being an assistant, this time as the offensive coordinator for San Diego Chargers coach Mike Riley.

That Turner loves to coach was never more evident than it was 15 minutes after the end of yesterday morning's practice at the University of California-San Diego. Almost everyone else had headed off to lunch, but there was Turner working with a pair of 19 year olds his son Scott, who will be a freshman quarterback at Nevada-Las Vegas in the fall, and Michael Sanford, the son of Chargers receiver coach Mike Sanford on their passing motions.

"I got away from it in December, gave some real thought to what was best for me and my family," Turner said. "But I love football. I love coaching. I didn't want to take a year off. A lot of people called and were interested in me coaching for them. That was flattering. People look at a lot of the things we did in Washington through the years and feel they were done real well.

"There's no question one of the things that was going to be important to me was the guy I was going to answer to. I've known Mike for a long time, and we had very similar thoughts and backgrounds from an offensive standpoint. And I visited with [Chargers president] Dean Spanos and [general manager] John Butler. It made me feel good that people felt me being here was going to give them the chance to get better."

Of course, as Turner said, after a 1-15 season (with the lone victory coming by a point on a late, 52-yard field goal), the Chargers almost can't help but get better. San Diego was last in the NFL in rushing, 28th in total offense and 27th in sacks allowed.

Having overachieving, gung-ho veteran Doug Flutie instead of alienated, underachieving kid Ryan Leaf at quarterback is a big plus, as will be the addition of rookie halfback LaDainian Tomlinson, assuming the top draft pick ever signs. And then there's Turner, the offensive coordinator for Dallas' 1992 and 1993 Super Bowl champions. Butler termed the hiring "a no-brainer" despite Turner's 49-59-1 record in Washington.

"Norv may be the best offensive coordinator I've ever been around because he has a run mentality," said Chargers offensive line coach Joe Bugel, a 26-year NFL veteran. "It's run first, pass second. If you do that, your pass protections are aggressive, too."

Defensive coordinator Joe Pascale, whose unit ranked among the NFL's best the past three years, said Turner's scheme is "a package that thoroughly tests all the concepts that you try to teach defensively."

Riley, on shaky ground coming off a 1-15 season and with a new GM in charge, wasn't fazed by the hiring of Turner, whom many see as the coach-in-waiting. He and Turner have been friends since 1991, when Riley was coaching San Antonio of the World League and Turner had just taken over the Dallas offense. Riley had the summer off so he attended the Cowboys' training camp, even sitting in on the offensive meetings.

"Norv was great to me when I was in San Antonio, and we added a bond when I worked for [Turner mentor] John Robinson at USC," Riley said. "Norv and I had stayed in touch over the years, but more important to me was that Norv is one of the best in the business. I'm proud that he's here because he had many choices. I don't really care about the [rumors he will replace me]. The better people you can have, the better off you and your players are."

Veteran Chargers watchers have been impressed by Turner's energy, citing one day that he even yelled at the normally dynamic Flutie to get his butt in gear, a big change from the past, when there was seemingly no penalty for running a wrong route or missing an assignment. Riley agreed that San Diego's practices have been more physical.

"The thing I'm really enjoying is the energy and the enthusiasm of the players," Turner said. "They're excited with the change, with what we're doing. They really believe that we can be a good offensive team. Based on what this team has done defensively the last couple of years, if we can do that we can become a good team."

Ironically, San Diego's opening opponent is Washington, but Turner said "life's too short" to get caught up in trying to prove Redskins owner Dan Snyder wrong for firing him.

"I haven't had time to miss being a head coach," said Turner, who had rented an apartment but was virtually living at the Chargers' facility until his family moved to California in June. "When you're putting in a new offense and you have new coaches and new players, you spend a lot of time doing it. And I can spend all of my time on football instead of some of the other things that head coaches have to do."

But neither his 3-13 debut in 1994, the nightmarish 0-7 start in 1998 or the waiting for the ax to fall feeling of last year have soured Turner on being the man in charge again.

"I enjoyed being the head coach," said Turner, whose Redskins won the NFC East in 1999 and just missed playoff spots in 1996 and 1997. "Over time, you learn to be organized so you can handle all the different things that go with the job. I'm proud of the way our guys handled some circumstances over the last three or four years that could have been real distractions. We didn't accomplish what we wanted to, but it could have been a lot worse.

"Somewhere down the road, I'd love to be a head coach again. But right now, I want to help this team win. I learned from John Robinson and Jimmy Johnson [Turner's Dallas boss] that if you win, everyone benefits. I don't have to be in a hurry. I don't have to take a job that wouldn't be a great situation. I can have some patience and stay where I'm at."

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