This is the second post in an offseason series where I break down the various stops of Norv Turner's NFL coaching career in the hopes of discovering how good, or bad, of a coach he is.
Washington Redskins (Head Coach)
Norv Turner was hired as the Head Coach of the Redskins at 42 years of age and with only three seasons of experience as a coordinator in the NFL. He was a star, as far as first-time Head Coaches go.
The Redskins brought in Turner's old buddy Henry Ellard from the Rams to play Wide Receiver and the team drafted Heath Shuler with the 3rd overall pick in the 1994 draft.. Luckily for Norv, they used a 7th rounder on another young QB by the name of Gus Frerotte.
Shuler was a terrible QB that couldn't stay healthy and the Redskins' defense in 1994 was quite bad (26th in the league). Norv's first year as Head Coach was worse (3-13) than the Redskins' previous season (4-12). Shuler was benched the following year in favor of Frerotte and the team improved gradually, going 6-10 in that season.
In the following year, Norv started getting comfortable. Frerotte was his franchise QB and the offense had jumped from 26th before Norv got there to 17th in Turner's first season to 9th in 1996. The team finished 9-7 but missed the playoffs due to an ultra-competitive NFC East division. Still, in three seasons Turner had taken a bad team and a 7th round QB and turned them into a winning franchise.
Things were setting up well for the Redskins in 1997. The offense was coming into its own and the defense was coming around as well (coached by Mike Nolan). The team was 6-5 against a tough schedule and heading into the homestretch of the season before Gus Frerotte got a little crazy...
That headbutt to the wall injured Gus' neck and knocked him out for the rest of the season. The team finished 8-7-1 behind 36 year old Jeff Hostetler, missing the playoffs again.
Norv was pissed and Frerotte was embarrassed. The following year, journeyman Trent Green was given his first shot as a starting QB in the NFL and Frerotte was given a spot on the bench to keep warm. It was a mistake. Green held onto the ball far too long and ended up getting sacked 49 times in 15 games. The offense remained adequate, but it was obvious that they weren't operating as well as they should or as well as they had with Gus. The defense slid back as well under the increased pressure and the team finished 6-10.
1999 was a good and bad year for Norv. Daniel Snyder purchased the Redskins and began to drive Turner crazy, the way he does with every coach that's there. However, Snyder's big pockets did bring in Brad Johnson to play QB. Apparently, a competent QB was all Turner needed, as the team finished with the 2nd best offense in 1999 and made the playoffs with a 10-6 record despite having the 30th ranked defense in the league.
Turner's first playoff run was bittersweet. His powerful Redskins offense ran the Lions out of the building (beating them by two touchdowns), but were no match for the incredible Tampa 2 defense of Tony Dungy and the Buccaneers.
In 2000, with expectations of fans (and the owner) running high, it was devastating when the team's best WR (Michael Westbrook) went down with a season-ending injury in Week 2. The offense could still move the ball and avoid turnovers, but it struggled to get the ball into the end zone.
After a Week 14 loss to the New York Giants, who would eventually go on to lose in the Super Bowl that season, Daniel Snyder fired Norv Turner. The team's record was 7-6, making Norv Turner the only NFL Head Coach to be fired mid-season with a winning record (since the NFL-AFL merger). The message was clear: Daniel Snyder was not going to accept just having a "winning franchise". They needed to be dominant. They needed to be great. Daniel Snyder was crazy.
In his first two seasons, Norv went 9-23 with the Redskins (remember that for later). In the (nearly) 5 seasons after, with 3 different "franchise QBs" over that span, his team went 40-36.
I've heard through different channels since Norv came to San Diego that he enjoyed his time in Washington, right up until Daniel Snyder purchased the team. He's not the only one to feel that way, even Mike Nolan holds a special grudge against the man, and I can't imagine getting fired with a winning record helped that relationship get better.
I think Turner did a good job of coaching in Washington, all things considered. I think whoever the GM was did a poor job of drafting and signing talent, and I'm sure at least some of that has to be put on Norv as well. However, he took a down-and-out franchise and turned them into a fairly-consistent winning team without much in the way of talent improvement.