|Daunting task, yes, but Norv's in AFC title tilt with Chargers|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 20 January 2008 10:44|
Definitely not the Norv of those two dreadful years in Oakland.
Finally, Norval Eugene Turner has gone from a guy who couldn't get his teams into the playoffs to being one step from the Super Bowl.
Granted, it's going to be one gnarly, enormous step his banged up, underdog San Diego Chargers will have to take in Sunday's AFC championship game to get past the record-setting New England Patriots and their quest to go 19-0.
But he's here, having taken the Chargers at least as far as only two other coaches have in the Super Bowl era, Don Coryell and Bobby Ross.
Plus, he's doing some un-Norvlike things.
He did a quick salsa on the sideline in the closing minute of San Diego's wild-card win over Tennessee, mimicking Luis Castillo's sack dance. He was animated on the sideline during Sunday's upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, loudly complaining about questionable calls.
He's gone from being Nervous Norv at news conferences to Funny Norv.
So much has changed since the Chargers were 1-3 - a shocking start during which they were overpowered 38-14 by the Patriots. Turner was considered Public Enemy No. 1.
They turned it around by winning 12 of 14, including eight straight.
``I hope it's focus, but we've got into a rhythm where we're preparing well, our guys are working and we're playing with confidence,'' Turner said. ``So you have to go in with confidence.''
They also go in with some serious injuries. Quarterback Philip Rivers is doubtful with a sprained right knee and Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates is still limited by a dislocated left big toe.
Two-time NFL rushing champion LaDainain Tomlinson expects to play after missing much of the Colts game with a hyperextended left knee.
``There's a lot of concern because we're not as healthy as I'd like to be,'' Turner said. ``It's a great opportunity for us, and I hope we can be at our best because obviously to be competitive in this game and have a chance to win, we're going to have to be at our best.''
If Rivers can't go, the Chargers (13-5) will ask Billy Volek to do what no other QB has done this year, beat the Patriots (17-0). While Volek scored the winning touchdown at Indy in relief of Rivers, he's made only 10 career starts.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the NFL MVP, is 13-2 in the postseason alone, including three Super Bowl victories.
The Patriots don't expect much of a difference whether it's Rivers or Volek,
``You're not looking at Tom Brady and Vince Young different,'' linebacker Mike Vrabel said. ``More similar than dissimilar.''
The Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer a month after their playoff flop against New England last season. Their choice of Turner seemed a safe, uninspiring pick.
Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, who twice got the Chargers within a victory of the Super Bowl only to fall short, has been watching his old team with more than the usual interest. He and Turner were teammates at Oregon in the early 1970s and remain close friends.
``Well, you know, I'm not an I-told-you-so guy, but I was very optimistic when he got the job, especially with the talent that he finally had to work with as a head coach, knowing him and what a solid guy he is,'' Fouts said. ``But I'm a little biased, too. Obviously, I'm very happy for him.''
Fouts knows as well as anyone how hard it's going to be for the Chargers to contain Brady, all of his receivers and a defense that features two former Chargers stars - linebacker Junior Seau and safety Rodney Harrison.
``The thing about Norv is he'll come up with something,'' Fouts said. The ex-QB pointed to two big screen passes the Chargers completed against the Colts, a 56-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Darren Sproles, and a 27-yarder from Volek to Legedu Naanee on the winning drive.
``It's going to be a hell of challenge, no doubt about that, because of how good the Patriots are,'' Fouts said. ``I suspect the Chargers will go in loose and let things go. That's the type of plan I see Norv running.''
Until the late-season surge, Turner seemed to be a perfect example of a great coordinator who couldn't handle the tasks of being a head coach. He was the offensive coordinator with Dallas for two of its Super Bowl wins in the 1990s before embarking on what until now was an unremarkable head coaching career.
Turner was 58-82-1 with Washington and Oakland. He was fired by Redskins owner Dan Snyder with three games left in the 2000 season after getting Washington to the playoffs just once, going 1-1.
His two-season run under Al Davis in Oakland ended in a 9-23 mess.
``As he will say, the key is the personnel,'' Fouts said. ``The other two spots where he was a head coach were with difficult owners. He's in a very good situation now.''
``I think it has to feel good, you know, just because of the simple fact that I think he's always known that he can be a good head coach, a successful head coach, if he had some talent to work with,'' Tomlinson said.
Turner was unusually loose at his weekly news conference Monday. He was asked about blowing up at the refs after a holding call negated Antonio Cromartie's brilliant interception return for a touchdown.
``That one was easy because there were three seconds left in the half. I didn't have to make a call; I didn't have to do anything,'' Turner said. ``So I got to entertain myself, I guess.''
The topic turned to the freezing weather that's forecast for Sunday at Foxborough. Turner mentioned watching Fouts and the Chargers lose in the subzero cold in Cincinnati in the 1981 AFC title game.
Someone sought a clarification, wondering if Turner had recently seen a replay of the game.
``No, not recently, years ago,'' the coach responded. ``I'm not that weird.''
Asked if he ever had a chance to beat out Fouts at Oregon, Turner said, ``I beat him out of the beer tavern we used to go to. I'd leave a little earlier than him. Dan and I were on a different level and I was on the wrong end of that level.''
Fouts got a laugh out of that one.
``He's just one of the guys,'' Fouts said. ``I tell you what, Norv's being very modest. He is a great poker player. I don't know how that translates to football, but he's had a few of my dead presidents.
``There's a lot more to Norv,'' Fouts said. ``He may appear to be low key, but his message isn't, his discipline isn't, his teaching isn't. He's very exact.''