Norv Turner, Super Bowl, BB Luncheon
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 10, 2007

WHAT REALLY happened in Dallas? Maybe Norv Turner realized that being the offensive coordinator for the 49ers was a whole lot better than being a head coach for the third time under an owner who waned to control everything.

There’s much to be said about staying at a level where you can be most effective. I’ve seen two A’s pitching coaches, Dave Duncan and Rick Peterson, remain in those positions instead of trying to move up to be a manager. In both cases, they’ve been exceptonal pitching coaches, now with the Cardinals and Mets, respectively. Would they have been good managers? Probably not.

Years ago with the 49ers, Bobb McKittrick was the best offensive line coach I’ve ever seen and responsible for designing the running game. At one point, the Los Angeles Rams wanted to hire him as their offensive coordinator. McKittrick told club president Carmen Policy that he didn’t want the job but he had to think of his family and the Rams job meant more money. Policy gave McKittrick a substantial raise and he stayed, the best decision for him and the 49ers.

The job of coordinator, both offense and defense, has grown in importance since those days. Now, the coordinators essentially run both offense and defense. With the 49ers, head coach Mike Nolan has considerable input with the defensive game plan but virtually none with the offensive strategy, for which we can all be thankful.

With their added authority, coordinators are also getting much higher salaries, even adjusted for inflation, than they ever did before. Turner was getting around $1 million, and his contract extension with the Niners will boost him to $1.3 million.

In common with most coaches I know, Turner is not a man with expensive tastes. I don’t know his favorite restaurant, but I’m sure it isn’t The French Laundry, as mine is. Nor does he fly off to Paris on vacation. When we’ve talked, he’s told me he and his family like to spend his short down time before training camp begins at a cabin he owns on a lake in New Hampshire. I doubt that’s high-priced real estate.

So, the salary he gets as a coordinator should be more than enough for his lifestyle.

That means his decision came down to which job could give him the most satisfaction. As he talked to Dallas owner Jerry Jones, it no doubt became obvious that he’d be in the same situation he was in at both Washington and Oakland, with an owner who was constantly telling him what do do.

When I interviewed him last spring for a website column, shortly after he had been fired as Raiders coach and quickly hired as the 49ers offensive coordinator, he looked as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders.

I’m sure he thought about that as discussions continued with Jones, and he sought assurances from the Dallas owner that he would have control of the operation. Jones wouldn’t give them, of course, and had already undercut Turner by hiring Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator and announcing that he’d be calling plays.

So, Jones went to Wade Phillips, who will do the owner’s bidding and will, of course, be the scapegoat for a losing season. For those of us who hate the Cowboys only slightly less than the New York Yankees, their demise will be one of the feel-good stories next season.

Having Turner back as the offensive coordinator is an unalloyed bit of good news for the 49ers. As I wrote in my Tuesday Examiner column, it would have been difficult for Nolan to find a replacement. He had acted quickly to hire Turner last spring, but he did not have good options to replace him.

The 49ers’ chances to move into the playoffs next season are dramatically improved with Turner handling the offense again. There are still holes to be filled, of course, but the 49ers have extra draft picks and room under the salary cap to sign free agents, so at least some of those holes should be filled.

Equally important, Alex Smith’s improvement should continued. Though many fans – and some media observers, too – still doubt Smith, I think he has the potential to be a top-tier NFL quarterback. Because the quarterback position is so important, his play will be critical to the 49ers’ chances to move up.

Smith couldn’t have a better tutor than Turner, who was so important to Troy Aikman’s progress that Aikman asked him to be his presenter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies last Sunday.

Turner isn’t just a quarterback coach. Significantly, running back Frank Gore praised him effusively when he learned that Turner would be staying on as offensive coordinator. Turner has always believed in a strong running game, and he designed an offense last season that gave Gore a chance to get to the Pro Bowl.

I still hear from 49er fans who are unhappy that Turner doesn’t use the “West Coast offense” that was originated by Bill Walsh. But even Walsh says that, though many NFL teams supposedly use the offense, the only one he sees that closely resembles what he ran is the one in Seattle, run by Mike Holmgren – who, of course, was an offensive coordinator under Walsh with the 49ers. Certainly, the offense run by Mike McCarthy in his year as a 49ers offensive coordinator didn’t have much in common with Walsh’s offense, in design or execution.

The fact is, change is ongoing in the NFL. In part, Walsh’s system was effective because it was unique when he became the 49ers’ head coach. Every other team was running predictable offenses, running on first down, passing on third down, throwing the ball deep down the field. Walsh threw on what were regarded as “running downs,” including first down. He used short passes in a way other teams used runs, to control the ball. His teams “moved the chains,” making first downs, eating up time, which kept his defense off the field.

But the concepts of Walsh’s offense are no longer unique in the NFL, and defenses have changed to combat it. From the time he came to Stanford in 1977, I’ve been an ardent supporter of Bill Walsh, even as the 49ers finished 2-14 in his first season. But there is no perfect system and I’m quite comfortable with the system Turner runs.

SUPER BOWL LEFTOVERS: Strategy played an important part in the Colts’ win, and the Bears flunked on both sides of the ball.

Chicago coach Lovie Smith went into the game thinking his team could run right at the Colts, with no attempt at deception, and wear them down. But that strategy broke down because the Bears had the ball only about half as long as the Colts until late in the game, when it was already decided.

The Bears’ defensive strategy was to cut off the deep pass, so Peyton Manning just threw underneath. The Bears were able to shut down the Colts three times in the red zone and force them to try field goals, one of which missed, but the Colts just chewed up the time and kept their defense fresh.

Makes me wonder why coaches even bother watching game videos of their opponents if they don’t understand what they’re watching. The Colts had done the same thing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

Maybe it didn’t matter what the Bears did because they were champions of the pathetically weak NFC. There were at least two other AFC teams, the Patriots and San Diego Chargers, who would also have beaten the Bears. In the last seven Super Bowls, the only AFC loser was the Raiders – and they’d probably have won if Jon Gruden has still be on their sidelines instead of Tampa Bay’s.

HUH? I’m always amused by the way sports people use different words for the same thing. Baseball people can’t say “speed”, for instance; it’s always “velocity.” Now, in the NBA, coaches talk in terms of a player’s “length,” instead of the more mundane “height.” But that’s really appropriate only if you’re measuring an object on the floor. It’s my understanding that basketball players are supposed to remain upright.

BASEBALL LUNCHEON:

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom has been pummeled for his admissions of an affair and problem drinking, but at the annual FSBA baseball luncheon, he showed he hasn’t lost his sense of humor when he said, “I never thought anything could knock Barry Bonds off the front pages of San Francisco newspapers.”

Oakland mayor Ron Dellums noted that he and Frank Robinson were in junior high school together in Oakland. “The yearbook predicted that we’d both be major league baseball players,” he said. “Frank Robinson went on to a Hall of Fame career. I once pitched for the House Democrats against the Republicans in an exhibition at RFK Stadium before a Senators game.”



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