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Our long local nightmare is over.
Nobody other than himself pitied Norv Turner by the time he delivered that whiny, blame-the-kickers farewell sermon on Monday. Turner never achieved anything in his seven years as Redskins coach worth getting righteous about, so he brought up the Dallas Cowboys. “I’ve been part of a couple Super Bowl teams,” he blathered. Aww, shut up already. (Turner also sniveled that in three of his last four losses, the Skins had driven to “inside the 51-yard line” before coming up short or wide. The 51, huh?)
Turner was mislabeled as a gridiron sage when he got here, all because of what the Cowboys accomplished while he happened to be on their payroll. The Dallas offense already had more tools than a Snap-on distributor when Turner took over as the Cowboys coordinator in 1991including Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and the best O-line in NFL history. That team also had a head coach, Jimmy Johnson, who, unlike Turner, could motivate his boys to come in out of the rain. (It’s worth noting that Barry Switzer, the most upbraided coach of the ’90s, won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys after Turner left.)
Contrary to billing, Turner’s Redskins record indicates that when it comes to handling quarterbacks, he’s more of a tormentor than a mentor. To a man, every quarterback Turner tutored either saw his career nosedive in Washington or thrived after getting out from under the overrated coach. Given all the field generals who have suffered during Turner’s dreadful tenure, it’s clear that his reputation as an Offensive Genius, along with that deathbed contract extension he somehow wrested from Jack Kent Cooke, was the only thing that kept Turner employed.
Rich Gannon was the first victim of the Turner Myth. Gannon was on the Skins roster when Turner came here for the 1994 season, but the Genius didn’t give him a look. Gannon had completed nearly 60 percent of his passes in 1993, his one season with the injury-ravaged Redskins, and had shown himself to be Washington’s most agile QB since Joe Theismann. But while Turner was insinuating he’d soon be turning Heath Shuler into the next Aikman, he let Gannon walk away.
Smooth move, Genius. After sitting out of football one year, Gannon got back into the league and, season by season, made the Genius look like an idiot. Gannon made the 1999 Pro Bowl, with the Oakland Raiders, and he’s a contender for NFL Most Valuable Player honors this year.
Then came Heath. Whenever Turner tries to claim he developed Aikman, his dealings with Shuler should be thrown in his face. Turner used the third pick in the 1994 draft on the Tennessee gunslinger, who was only 21 years old. The Genius fostered comparisons between Shuler and Aikman before the draftee had even signed a contract.
Turner, who went 3-13 his first season here, was having too much trouble mastering his own job to help Shuler adjust to the pro game. By the end of his run here, Shuler was so shellshocked that he couldn’t even hand off the ball: On his final play as a Redskinand his only play of the 1996 seasonShuler bungled a handoff to Leslie Shepherd on a reverse in a game against the 49ers and lost 14 yards. Shuler was so eager to get away from the Genius after that season that he agreed to void the last few years of his eight-figure Redskins contract. Shuler now sells real estate in Knoxville, Tenn. Nobody compares him to Aikman anymore.
Then there was Gus Frerotte. While the Genius was busy screwing up Shuler’s head, Frerotte got guidance on how to play quarterback from Skins broadcaster and Hall of Fame QB Sonny Jurgensen. Shuler got hurt, so Turner had to play the seventh-round pick from Tulsa in Week 8 of the 1994 season. In his very first start as a pro, Frerotte led the Skins to a 41-27 victory over the Indianapolis Colts and won NFC Player of the Week honors.
It didn’t take the Genius long to undo Sonny’s handiwork. Frerotte never won Player of the Week honors again, and within weeks of his first start he began a slow ride out of town. And by the end of his relationship with the Genius, Frerotte was also a certified head case. In a 1998 game against the Giants, he intentionally banged his noggin against a wall at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium during a bizarre touchdown celebration, suffering a whiplash injury that ended his Skins career.
Gus has gotten well since escaping the Genius. While Turner’s charges were having trouble putting up points against the Giants on Sunday, Frerotte was quarterbacking the Broncos to a 38-23 upset whupping of the overdog Saints.
Brad Johnson, Turner’s final pupil/conquest, looked like a tough nut for the Genius to crack when he came to Washington from Minnesota in return for three high draft picks last year. The former Pro Bowler showed his pedigree early, winning Player of the Week honors twice in his first four starts with the Redskins.
Then, alas, he too got Turnerized. By the end of his first season with the Genius, Johnson was short-hopping receivers on short routes and zeroing in on opposing safeties whenever he tried going deep. He completed his fall from competence last Sunday, with that two-interception, no-points performance against the Giants, the latest in a string of sorry showings. The Genius kept him in the game just long enough for the Skins to lose and for Johnson’s psyche to suffer irreparable damage.
Johnson won’t throw another pass as a Redskin.
And Turner, we now know, won’t coach another game here. The Skins went 49-59-1, a full 10 games under .500, under the Genius.
Let the healing begin. Dave McKenna