- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The clothes have changed, but little else has.

Norv Turner still drops the same catchphrases — “good gosh” and “all three phases” of the game — into his conversation.

As always, his offense (14th) ranks much higher than his defense (24th).

And he still can’t win the close ones or the big ones.

Turner returns to Washington on Sunday, not quite five years after he was fired as coach of the Redskins, wearing the silver and black of his new team, the Oakland Raiders.

It is not exactly a triumphant return.

The Raiders are 3-6. In Turner’s two seasons, they have established a pattern of losing games that are close or critical: The Raiders are 4-9 in games decided by a touchdown or less and 1-9 against their AFC West rivals. That trend has continued despite the offseason addition of wide receiver Randy Moss and running back LaMont Jordan.

“We’ve had our moments,” Turner said. “We’ve just struggled to have consistency. Certainly 3-6 is not where we envisioned ourselves being, but our guys have hung in there and continued to compete.”

Those comments could have come from Turner’s mouth in 1996, when his Redskins tumbled from a 7-1 start to a 9-7 finish. Or in 2000, when they sank from 6-2 to 7-6 before he was fired by owner Dan Snyder.

Turner left Washington with a 49-59-1 record and one playoff berth after nearly seven full seasons.

“We won the division. We won a playoff game … and we were a field goal away from beating Tampa [Bay to reach the NFC Championship following the 1999 season],” Turner said. “We were a good, young team. The decision was made … to bring in a lot of older guys and change the team when it didn’t need to be changed. All we needed was to keep building.

“It took longer than we’d like [to build a playoff team], but we [had] worked hard to get the team to that point, and it was an opportunity to me that was wasted.”

Seven current Redskins played for Turner.

“Norv’s a great play caller, plain and simple,” H-back Mike Sellers said. “The man’s an offensive genius. He didn’t have the right players. We had a lot of individuals. Now we have a lot of team players. But it just happened that some of the guys who weren’t the best team players were making plays for us. They had no choice but to keep them.”

Center Cory Raymer likewise praised Turner’s ability to call the offense and to teach schemes, and he said the coach’s apparent failure — an inability to motivate players — was overrated.

“With Marty [Schottenheimer], when you were leaving the locker room, if you missed the door, you would just run right through the wall,” Raymer said. “But that lasts for just the first five minutes, and then you’re back on what you’ve been taught and what you’ve gone over that week.

“There’s a time when you need encouragement, and there’s a time when you need a foot in the backside. Norv was good at both of those.”

Guard Ray Brown, the only current player who was with the Redskins before Turner arrived in 1994, never really got over the fact Turner had been the offensive coordinator of archrival Dallas and imported eight former Cowboys.

“Norv was a Dallas guy,” Brown said. “That bugged me a little bit. When you sign on here, you’re supposed to hate the Cowboys. I don’t think that group understood who we were. They came in with somewhat of an arrogance: ‘We beat you guys. We’ll show you guys how we do it down in Dallas.’ That didn’t go over well.

“If you’re a new guy, you have to take inventory of what’s in the locker room because there’s always going to be a pecking order. You have to respect those guys who have been here. As a group, that didn’t happen with those guys.”

But, Brown said, he enjoyed playing for nice-guy Turner. And as Raymer noted, the Redskins haven’t made the playoffs since Turner was fired.

At 5-4, they will be hard-pressed to end that streak if they don’t beat Turner and the Raiders on Sunday.

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