When current Fallbrook resident Dick Enright was the University of Oregon head football coach in 1972 and 1973, one of his quarterbacks was Norv Turner. Turner spent the past six National Football League seasons as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers before being fired December 31 after his first losing season as the Chargers’ coach and after the first instance of a team which had previously fired Turner winning its division.
“Is some if it his fault? Maybe. It could be,” Enright said of Turner’s firing.
Turner took over a football team which had a 14-2 regular-season record under head coach Marty Schottenheimer in 2006.
“He inherited great talent,” Enright said. “Marty left really good talent.”
One of the alleged reasons for Schottenheimer’s firing was his inability to communicate with Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, who was fired December 31 along with Turner. Turner had a better relationship with Smith.
“To get along with Smith he’s got to say ‘I’ll coach whatever you get’,” Enright said.
“What is Smith’s job? Players. Getting them, cutting them all that,” Enright said. “Norv is not the personnel director.
He is not the general manager. He got the job initially, in my opinion, because he could get along with Smith.”
In 2007 Turner became only the second head coach in Chargers history to win his first Chargers playoff game and then became the only Chargers coach to win his first two playoff games. He won a total of one playoff game during the ensuing five years.
By the end of the 2012 season only ten players from that 2007 team were on the Chargers’ active or injured reserve rosters. One of those, backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, spent 2010 and 2011 elsewhere before returning to the Chargers in 2012.
“Smith is the guy who’s hiring and firing,” Enright said. “When you go in as head coach you really, unless you have absolute power in picking people, you better have a good second year.”
Enright explained that players are essential to a coach’s success.
“You’re at their mercy,” he said. “The key is to keep the great players.”
The Chargers have only two offensive linemen who have been with the team since 2007: right tackle Jeromey Clary and center Nick Hardwick. Clary was a rookie in 2007 and started six of the team’s 16 games.
“You have to start with the offensive line,” Enright said. “Is the offensive line as good talent-wise? Not even close.”
Chargers left tackle Marcus MacNeill played in the Pro Bowl after the 2007 season. MacNeill was released prior to the 2012 season. “That’s your open side. That’s where the blitz comes from,” Enright said of left tackle.
In 1972 Turner was Oregon’s second-string quarterback. The first-string quarterback was Dan Fouts, who would spend the next 15 seasons playing for the Chargers.
“They were the comics of the team,” Turner said. “Norv was almost kind of the straight guy.”
During Turner’s first year as the Chargers’ head coach, Fouts and Turner teamed up again at a University of Oregon fundraiser Enright attended.
“It was like old times,” Enright said. “It was fun to see.”
During that fundraiser Enright told Turner that he’d rather inherit a 14-2 team than a poor team. Turner agreed. Turner mentioned at the fundraiser that the key to success was to keep his best players.
“They haven’t done that,” Enright said. “When you look at the talent of the team now as compared to the team two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, it’s incredible.”
One of the ten players who has been with the team since 2007 is quarterback Philip Rivers. Rivers was selected to play in the 2006 Pro Bowl. He played the 2007 American Football Conference championship game with a torn ligament and was selected as a 2008 Pro Bowl alternate but declined due to an injury. Rivers was selected to the Pro Bowl for the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons (he missed the 2010 season game due to the birth of one of his daughters).
“You give him enough time and he is as good as anybody who’s ever played,” Enright said of Rivers. “He can move the ball around in that pocket.”
In 2012 Rivers was sacked a career-high 49 times. He threw 15 interceptions and had a career-high 15 fumbles.
Enright blames the Chargers’ offensive line for the deterioration in Rivers’ statistics.
“They’re coming close to ruining this guy,” Enright said.
“The killer, what got Norv, was the offensive line,” Enright said. “I’m not blaming the offensive line coach. I’m saying it starts with the offensive line.”
In addition to Fouts and Turner, Enright’s quarterbacks at Oregon included June Jones, who also became a National Football League coach. Enright also coached at Gardena High School, where his players included future NFL quarterback Don Horn and subsequent University of Southern California quarterback Steve Sogge, and at Capistrano Valley High School, where he coached future Raiders quarterback Todd Marinovich.
“I was lucky to have these quarterbacks, but basically I know how to coach line,” Enright said.
Enright was a guard when he played at Gardena High School and USC. He was Oregon’s line coach for two years before becoming the Ducks’ head coach, and after he was fired by Oregon he was the line coach for the Southern California Sun of the World Football League in 1974 and 1975. He spent his only NFL coaching season as the San Francisco 49ers line coach in 1976.
The offensive line of that year’s 49ers was called the “Soup Line” due to changes in players during the season. In some cases 49ers head coach and general manager Monte Clark would cut a player after one game.
Just prior to San Francisco’s game against Denver the team didn’t even have five linemen. Kaz Banacek still played despite a dislocated elbow. Enright brought in a former World Football League tackle who was out of shape to play left tackle, while the 49ers’ left tackle was moved to center. Enright and the trainer caught a recently-cut fullback and former linebacker at the airport to have him start at left guard.
“He had never played line in his life, but he was an athlete,” Enright said.
The right guard had been plucked from New Orleans’ waiver wire; Enright had to get him ready for the following day’s game.
“We stayed up all night blocking chairs,” Enright said.
The Broncos had three all-pro players on their defense.
“We had to go against them,” Enright said.
To make matters worse, 49ers quarterback Jim Plunkett was hurt so rookie quarterback Scott Bull started the game. Yet the 49ers prevailed over a team one year away from a Super Bowl.
“They had good feet. They were good athletes. They just had never played line before,” Enright said.
Enright stresses conditioning to stay healthy.
“Great athletes in great shape are less likely to get hurt,” he said.
Turner’s comments at the Oregon fundraising banquet also mentioned the importance of character.
“If you’re dirty, and this has been the same for 50 years, then they will get you,” Enright said.
Enright stressed that an offensive line must be several players working together rather than several individuals, which requires knowledge of teammates in addition to a teamwork attitude.
“You’ve got to have continuity. These guys have got to work together,” he said.
Enright understands that salary considerations dictate player retention matters at the pro level.
“This is a business. It is only a business,” he said. “It’s a cold business.”
That contrasts with Enright’s experiences at Gardena and Capistrano Valley.
“I never cut a kid, ever, when I was coaching high school,” he said.
“I’m not a general manager dealing with money,” Enright said. “I know when a guy’s a good football player, but I don’t know how you move money around.”
In Turner’s final full season with the Washington Redskins he led the team to a 10-6 record and the National Football Conference’s Eastern Division championship. Although the Redskins posted a 10-6 record and reached the NFC playoffs as a wild card team in 2005, the Redskins did not win another division championship until the 2012 season which also included a 10-6 regular-season record.
“Why are they back? It’s players,” Enright said of the Redskins’ 2012 success.
Turner posted seasons of 5-11 and 4-12 in his two years as the Oakland Raiders coach in 2004 and 2005.
“He improved them and they were in the game,” Enright said of Turner’s experience coaching the Raiders. “You could see the improvement.”
The Raiders fell to 2-14 in 2006 and did not exceed 5-11 again until posting 8-8 seasons in 2010 and 2011. The team still hasn’t reached the playoffs or had a winning season since Turner’s firing.
“I know that Norv is a great coach,” Enright said.
“He’s a good guy,” Enright said. “He never blames people.”
Enright noted that Rivers also took responsibility himself without sharing fault.
“He’s kind of like Norv,” Enright said. “He doesn’t blame other people, and that’s great leadership.”
In addition to his career as a head coach, Turner was also the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys when they won the Super Bowl following the 1992 and 1993 seasons, and he was also the offensive coordinator for the Chargers, the Miami Dolphins, and the 49ers.
“He’s a genius,” Enright said. “He is maybe the smartest offensive coordinator in pro football.”
Turner’s six years as the Chargers’ head coach included a 56-40 regular-season record and a 3-3 playoff record. His three playoff wins tie him with Don Coryell and Bobby Ross for the most in Chargers history.
“I am so proud of him. I’m proud of all the accomplishments he’s done,” Enright said.
Enright predicts that Turner will have a subsequent job in football, either as a head coach or as an offensive coordinator.
“He’ll be picked up by somebody again,” Enright said. “He’ll hook on. He’ll have a better life.”