Role reversal sends Turner back to teaching

The marriage of Norv Turner and the 49ers comes six years after he and Mike Nolan went through a coaching divorce, but don't expect them to run across incompatibility issues this time. Nolan knows what he's getting in his new offensive coordinator with Turner, an experienced hand now running an offense for his sixth NFL team. Likewise, just two weeks after being dumped as coach of the Oakland Raiders, Turner knows well what he's getting into. "I work for Mike," Turner said. "I know my role."

That role will give Turner a heavy hand in the running of the 49ers, since he now will be entrusted with the offense while Nolan focuses on the big picture and his self-admitted specialty – the opposite side of the football.

"My expertise is defense," Nolan said. "Yes (San Francisco's offense is now Turner's) and it's the communication that goes with it. Norv is going to be the one that institutes this and the one who talks to the other coaches on offense. As the game takes its turn there's times that I interject, but most of the times I like to leave the coordinators in a place where they can get a groove. Having been there for 12 years (as a NFL defensive coordinator), I know the importance of that as a coordinator."

Some might see the decision to bring in Turner as the ultimate example of a good ol' boy network hire, but he's actually a good fit for the 49ers and what they are trying to accomplish, and particularly for what stage they are at in that process.

It's arguable that Turner can be considered just another coaching retread because he's now on his fifth NFL team in just the past six years, but that actually is an indication of how hot and in demand he was each time he was fired. Turner was not a good fit as Oakland's head coach, but it could work out much better with the 49ers, where he will give the team the experience and stability it needs at the position instead of a relative newcomer who is still finding his way at football's highest level.

Turner said he had several other opportunities presented to him after being fired by the Raiders on Jan. 3, but "I made three calls (Monday) and told people that this is what I was doing," Turner said. "I told them that I worked with Mike for three years, and that was critical. It meant a lot that he called and was interested. I have a pretty good idea for how Mike Nolan is going to handle things that you have to handle. I know he's going to handle them right."

It's a reversal of roles for Turner, who was Washington's head coach during the three seasons Nolan was the Redskins' defensive coordinator from 1997-1999. Turner was forced to fire Nolan at the behest of impatient owner Daniel Snyder, who took issues with the style and effectiveness of Nolan's defenses. It's the only time Nolan has been forced out of a job during his 19 years as a NFL coach.

Nolan spoke with a select few of his offensive assistants about the job before deciding to go with Turner, whose best seasons in coaching have come while he has been a NFL offensive coordinator, including two seasons in Dallas when the Cowboys finished as Super Bowl champions.

But Nolan ultimately decided he didn't want to disrupt the offensive structure he already had in place, particularly if he could bring in someone with Turner's NFL credentials as an overseer of the operation.

"It was important, from my standpoint, that we keep it all intact and find someone over the top that would pull it all together," Nolan said. "I think we have extremely good position coaches and I didn't want to disrupt that chemistry between the assistant coaches and their players.

"I looked at at least a dozen (NFL) coaches out there. In looking for someone to fill the job, it was important to find someone with NFL experience, someone that had a history of success in the NFL and somebody that also had a history of teaching and developing players, old and young alike. I wanted to minimize the effect of this change. Norv has some experience that is vital to me. It was important to me to get the best guy, the best coach and the best teacher. I believe that's what we have in Norv Turner."

Turner agreed that he now can go back to teaching San Francisco's young offensive players instead of worrying about the manifold details and responsibilities of running a game as head coach. Though Jimmy Raye had the title last year in Oakland, Turner basically has served as his own offensive coordinator during the seasons he has been a head coach.

And it doesn't seem to be bothering Turner that he's making the change from head man in the coaching structure to being solely responsible for a young and struggling offense on a losing team.

"The biggest thing is that you're going to be teaching in all areas," Turner said of his new coaching task. "I think there's a good foundation here in the way the 49ers were running the ball late in the year. It's exciting to me. Their backs are aggressive and talented and are ready to go. There's a young group of linemen. The biggest thing in any coaching is figuring out what your guys do best and give them the best chance to do it. Then you can grow from there. That's the process we'll go through."

And, even though his name will be bandied about again as a potential head coaching candidate if he indeed revives San Francisco's floundering offense, Turner says he plans on growing with the 49ers for a while instead of making this a one- or two-year stop before his next coaching gig.

"I'm truly excited to work for the 49ers, work for the Yorks and to work for Mike," Turner said. "One of the things that I want to do is make a commitment to be here for a long time. That's important to me. I want to win, and when you win there are a lot of things that happen for everybody To me, I hope that question is a long way down the road. I hope I get to be here with Mike and help him win for a long time."

The sooner the better, of course. Norv Turner isn't any high-risk, flashy offensive mind, but he does has proven NFL success over a lengthy period with several teams – and has two Super Bowl rings to show it – and the 49ers obviously can use some of that to get their offense moving in the right direction.


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