Turner handled hardship in rags-to-Redskins story

September 04, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- This was a typical weekly menu: turkey on Monday, turkey sandwiches on Tuesday, turkey salad on Wednesday, turkey soup on Thursday, the turkey smorgasbord on Friday.

Hand-me-downs bounced a long way, from Richard to Norval to Ron, three of five children born in four states in seven years. The Turners lived in a two-bedroom project home in Martinez, Calif., a one-time fishing village that later became an oil pit just outside of San Francisco.

Norval Eugene Turner shared a bedroom with two brothers.

"It was no bigger than a closet," Norv Turner said.

Norv was 2 when his father left home, abandoning his wife, Vicki, who was in the early stages of multiple sclerosis.

"My mother was a tough woman who kept our family together. We never missed a meal," said Turner, in his first year as coach of the Washington Redskins. "Some people call it public assistance, but I call it welfare. We were on it until I was 13 or 14.

"She didn't like being on welfare, but she thought being home with her children was very important. That's why she stressed education.

"She gave me a strong work ethic, and I've always had a fear of failure, of not completing what I've started. I've always wanted to be successful. That's been with me as long as I can remember. This team will have the same work ethic."

What you see in Turner, 42, is what you get. The clean-shaven face. The mop hairdo. He's a former college quarterback with the beginnings of a beer belly.

He has studied the running game under John Robinson at Southern California and learned the passing game from Ernie Zampese when both were assistants with the Los Angeles Rams. He's bright, articulate and at times brutally honest. He also reads John Grisham and Robert Ludlum novels.

"If I wasn't coaching, I'd probably be teaching history or sociology," Turner said. "I like reading the mystery stuff, it intrigues me."

How about the 1994 Redskins?

"Too early to tell right now," Turner said, smiling. "The book is


Competitive child

Richard Turner was a Marine who fought in World War II and Korea. The battle he lost was with alcoholism. He left Martinez, Calif., in 1954 on a Greyhound bus bound for an unknown destination. Norv has had no contact with his father since.

That left Vicki Turner, a Tennessee farm girl, with the chore of holding the family together. By the time Norv was 9, his mother had begun long stays in the hospital, and she was getting around with the aid of a walker.

But she seldom missed an event in which her kids were involved, walking from her home to the elementary school around the corner.

The Turners couldn't afford a car.

"We never realized we were poor until we started visiting other kids' houses," said Ron Turner, the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator. "Our mother encouraged us to play sports.

"Even at an early age, Norv didn't like to lose, whether it was one-on-one in basketball, chess or checkers. He was a perfectionist who would not tolerate mental mistakes. You could sense then he would become a leader."

Norv Turner became a self-made athlete.

He was once a paper boy and later worked in a furniture factory. Charlie Tourville, Turner's coach at Alhambra High, recalled that Turner began the team's first weight program in Turner's garage. Scrap metal, cement blocks and empty tin cans were made into weights.

Turner was never exceptionally gifted, but he always wanted to be bigger, faster, stronger and smarter.

The day before a game, Tourville and Turner would walk the field with Tourville calling out situations and Turner calling the right play.

"I thought his mind was ahead of his age," Tourville said.

Turner said: "Athletics gave me a chance to be equal with my peers. When you put on a uniform, it didn't matter how much money you had or the type of jeans you wore. All that mattered was winning."

By his senior year, Turner was an all-area quarterback recruited by Oregon, Oregon State, California and the University of Southern California. He chose Oregon. Two of the assistants there were John Robinson and George Seifert.

Turner never starred at Oregon, playing behind Dan Fouts, who later became an NFL Hall of Famer. Turner's college career consisted of 11 touchdown passes, 22 interceptions and two knee operations.

Simple deception

Ever since Turner signed the five-year, $3.1 million contract with the Redskins last February, he has preached balance. Balance as in a running game behind a huge offensive line, as Robinson engineered at USC, complemented by a Don Coryell-type passing attack.

Turner installed the system in Dallas as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator in 1991. The year before, the Cowboys had the worst offense in the NFL and young players such as quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin were on the verge of becoming big busts.

Aikman, Irvin and running back Emmitt Smith became the heart of an offense that has led the Cowboys to two consecutive Super Bowl titles.

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