BEREA: Norv Turner wasn’t long into his new job as Browns offensive coordinator when he stopped at a local bar/restaurant for a late snack and a beer.
Since he arrived in Northeast Ohio in mid-January, the former San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins coach has been welcomed by fans everywhere he’s been. This night was no different, except for the carrot it provided.
“A guy came over to me and said, ‘Coach, it’s great to meet you. If you get us a winner, you’ll never have to buy a drink again in your life,’ ” Turner recalled Monday during the 34th annual Akron Browns Backers banquet at Tangier restaurant. “You talk about motivation … that will get you rolling.”
Turner just turned 61. He and wife Nancy could be sitting on the beach in San Diego, spending the $3 million the Chargers still owed him after he was fired Dec. 31. As strange as it seemed for Turner to join the Browns – and as much of a coup as well – there is plenty in Berea to get him rolling even when he’s not thirsty.
And conversely, no matter the issues the Browns face, the new schemes they must install and the multiple holes they must fill, Turner provides the most reason for optimism this season. The partnership of Turner, first-year coach Rob Chudzinksi and Turner’s son, Scott, the Browns’ receivers coach, could result in an offensive attack not seen here since the days of Lindy Infante. Derek Anderson’s 29 touchdown passes, 16 to receiver Braylon Edwards, in 2007 when Chudzinski served as offensive coordinator could be an appetizing slice of what’s in store, especially for a team whose quarterbacks tossed just 16 touchdowns in 2012.
Turner is considered a better offensive coordinator than a coach, compiling a 114-122-1 record in heading three teams. Statistically he hasn’t had a top 10 offense as a coordinator since he left the Dallas Cowboys and quarterback Troy Aikman after the 1993 season. Offenses he ran ranked 11th (San Diego, 2001), 15th (Miami, 2002), 24th (Miami, 2003) and 26th (San Francisco, 2006), but those numbers could be as much a reflection of personnel than his play-calling prowess. (In every case, they were ahead of the Browns, who stood 31st, 23rd, 26th and 31st, respectively, in those years.)
Turner lives for Sundays, the strategy-filled three hours with a play sheet in his hand. Starting his 29th year in the NFL and more than 50 in football, he said, going back to his days as a youngster growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, that’s what really gets him rolling. Some have speculated he might still be Chargers coach if he’d hired an offensive coordinator who was his equal and surrendered the play-calling duties that seemed to stretch him too thin.
That decision proved fatal for Chudzinski’s predecessor, Pat Shurmur, who stumbled through his rookie year before bringing in Brad Childress.
Turner will take that burden off Chudzinski, whom Turner employed as tight ends coach for two years with the Chargers. The offensive collaboration the Browns have created with Chudzinski, Turner and Scott Turner seems almost reminiscent of close friends Terry Francona, Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro working together with the Indians. (In the latter case, it seems as if three heads are better than one.)
Asked why he came to the Browns on Monday, Turner said the “No. 1 selling point” was Chudzinksi, whom he greatly respects. No. 2 was the fact that Chuzinski was working with Scott Turner in Carolina and wanted to hire him.
“That’s a big deal,” Turner said.
Should the new Browns’ regime prove successful, Turner might envision passing the torch to his son when he retires.
“If you merge the things I’ve done in my past with the things Rob’s done, I think we can put together an exciting offensive football team,” Turner vowed at Tangier. “And we’re young, that’s a plus. When you take a bunch of young guys, they have a chance to improve at a faster rate than a team with a lot of veteran guys.”
Turner has been the most vocal supporter of quarterback Brandon Weeden. He seems to realize that Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in 2012, needs pumping up rather than tearing down, which surely played a part in the failures of the Browns’ previous 10 opening day starting quarterbacks since 1999.
But Turner tempered expectations on Monday even as he touted the aggressive nature of the passing game he and Chudzinski seek.
“We’re not going to be reckless, we’re not going to be foolish,” Turner said. “We’ve got to get really good at what we’re going to do.”
If that doesn’t happen right away, it’s hard to imagine Turner calling for a handoff to a tight end (Alex Smith), who wasn’t ready for the ball, or repeated passes to a fullback (Owen Marecic), who dropped every chance. At the very least, the Browns seem to be searching for running backs with better than average receiving skills that can make something happen in space.
Turner tried to downplay his role, insisting, “Coaching is a big part of it, but players still win and lose these games.”
But if Chudzinski and Turner can awaken the Browns’ offense and bring at least eight victories, a feat achieved only twice since 1999, fans might eat dog biscuits for lunch to pay Turner’s bar tab.
If happy days return, the crafty inhabitants of the Dawg Pound who used to sneak in a beer keg disguised as a dog house will be more than happy to roll that barrel right into Turner’s office.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.