By Joe Tash
As San Diego football fans look forward to the start of the Chargers’ 2011 season with high hopes for the home team, one person is leaving nothing to chance — head coach Norv Turner.
Turner, 59, is starting his fifth season as the Bolts’ boss. As with his entire coaching staff and players, Turner has to make up for lost time following the NFL owners’ lockout, which ended last month after players and owners came to terms on a new, 10-year collective bargaining agreement. The lockout meant that training camp and other normal pre-season preparations had to be put on hold through much of the summer.
The Del Mar resident is a self-professed “early guy,” who hits the Starbucks near the Chargers’ Mission Valley headquarters about 5:15 a.m. on his way into work, then spends his day in a non-stop succession of meetings with players and coaches, along with daily four-hour practice sessions.
Turner said he usually heads home about 11 p.m., feeling like he still didn’t get everything done. But he expects the hard work and long hours to pay off.
“We’ve got a very strong nucleus of veterans and a lot of good young players. And we had an outstanding draft,” Turner said. The coaching staff has some new additions: notably, Greg Manusky, former defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, will run the Chargers’ defense, after former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera left to become head coach of the Carolina Panthers.
The Bolts also have a new special teams coach on board, following a series of missteps on special teams during the 2010 season.
“I’m excited about where we’re going,” Turner said.
Charger fans are hoping the team will rebound from last year’s disappointing finish, when it failed to make the playoffs for the first time in four seasons under Turner. There were bright spots, however, the Chargers had the league’s top-ranked offense, with 395.6 yards per game, and scored 441 points, the second-highest in the NFL last season.
Turner has coached football for 35 years, 27 of them in the NFL. One of five children raised by a single mom in the Bay Area suburb of Martinez, Turner played football in high school and college, and coached at the University of Southern California and Los Angeles Rams under John Robinson before becoming offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys in 1991, where he helped the team win back-to-back Super Bowls.
He later served as head coach for the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins before joining the Chargers at the start of the 2007 season.
Football runs in Turner’s family: his younger brother, Ron, served as offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears for nine years, and is now the wide receivers coach for the Indianapolis Colts. Turner’s oldest son, Scott, is offensive quality control coach for the Carolina Panthers.
Turner said he turned to coaching after his college playing career because he thought it was something he would enjoy and a career where he had something to offer. Another reason, he said, was the inspiration of coaches he had growing up, from his Little League coach to the coach of his high school football team, who he said is one of the best coaches he’s ever been around at any level.
“When you’re around strong people like that it does affect you,” he said.
Working with experienced coaches, such as John Robinson, Ted Tollner, Jimmy Johnson and others, allowed him to observe how they handled the daily stresses of such a high-profile position as head coach of an NFL team, Turner said, especially when the unexpected occurs.
“I think the experiences you’ve had throughout your career prepare you for that,” he said. “You’re with those guys, you observe them handle those situations.”
As for the celebrity that comes with his job, Turner said his kids have probably expressed it best. When asked how they cope with being the children of a head coach, they said they had grown up with the spotlight on their well-known father, and it became second nature.
“It’s part of the territory,” Turner said.
Among the highlights of his career so far, Turner said, are winning the Super Bowl with Dallas, and his first season with the Chargers, when the team was undergoing a major transition, and it went on a winning streak after struggling to a 5-5 record. The 2007 Chargers won two playoff games before falling to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
“To come in with this group and accomplish those things, that’s as big as it gets for me, everything we went through that year,” Turner said.
Along with the pressures he faces on the field, Turner has also known adversity in his personal life. When he was a young boy, his mother, Vicky, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which ultimately left her wheelchair bound. His oldest sister, Janis, also suffers from the disease.
Turner and his brother, Ron, lend their names to fundraising efforts, such as an annual golf tournament at the La Jolla Country Club.
In the rare moments when he isn’t sleeping, eating or breathing football, Turner said he likes to walk with his wife, Nancy, and their two dogs along the beach and among the hills of Del Mar. They also like to go down to the 15th Street area, and have dinner with friends at one of the local restaurants. Thanks to the lockout, he snuck in a few extra rounds of golf this summer.
“It’s a great place to live,” he said.
The couple live with their youngest son, Drew, a senior at the University of San Diego. Their daughter, Stephanie, is an actress who lives in Los Angeles, where she has appeared in several movies and television shows.
Turner said one of the best parts of his job is working with players.
“I love the coaching part of it, I love the teaching, the interaction with young men,” he said. “It keeps you young and keeps you going.”
Like any job, there might be things he would change if he could, but he said he’s not the type to dwell on the negative.
Many people, he said, grow up with the dream of playing or coaching in the NFL, which has its tough times along with unbelievable highs.
“The worst day is pretty good when you look at it in that mindset,” he said.