Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: THURSDAY, February 3, 1994                   TAG: 9402030290
DATELINE: DALLAS                                LENGTH: Long


A TOUGH CHILDHOOD, tempered by a loving mother, gave Norval Turner the dedication and drive he needed to succeed as a coach in the National Football League.

It was another dark and stormy night in the Northern California hills, and again a young Norval Turner was long overdue. Once more, his worried mother, in the early stages of battling multiple sclerosis, was forced to organize her four other children into yet another search party for her 10-year-old Norval.

Vicky Turner had lectured her middle son about the dangers of pneumonia, but Norval continued to ignore his mother's warnings. He had a job to do.

Norval Turner delivered newspapers. He trudged not one route, but two. Already, he had sold enough subscriptions to win an all-expense-paid trip to Disneyland. So what if he had lied about his age to get the job? He was his family's only breadwinner. He would not return home to the public housing project until the last newspaper had reached its destination.

Norval Turner's diligence in delivering the Richmond Independent is still legend around his hometown of Martinez, Calif. So much so that three decades later, his former high school football coach still refers to the Dallas Cowboys' assistant head coach who choreographs plays for Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin as "the paperboy."

"The No. 1 thing that drives me is the fear of failure," Norv Turner says over lunch almost three decades after he delivered his last newspaper. "The fear of not finishing what I've started. . . . The fear of not being successful. . . . They have been with me as long as I can remember."

It is 1 in the afternoon, and already Norv has been on the job eight hours. His daily 5 a.m. reporting time was legend at the Cowboys' Valley Ranch training complex.

The sweat he has poured into game plans, his football knowledge and his meticulous attention to detail fueled the Cowboys' offense since his arrival three seasons ago.

And still, Norv Turner is running scared.

Perhaps 41-year-old Norv Turner's fear, his dedication to hard work and commitment to finishing what he has started were born of the sins of his father.

The son was 2 years old the last time he saw his father. Richard Turner walked away. It was 1954. A tough ex-Marine with World War II and Korea on his resume, Richard Turner could not make his own peace with anything but a bottle.

One afternoon, Richard Turner, who bounced from job to job, marched to the bus station, muttered something along the way about going to get help for his drinking problem, boarded a Greyhound to anywhere and disappeared forever from the lives of his young wife and five children.

The burden of keeping the family together fell on the mother's shoulders. The family that had flitted from home to home - five children born in four states over seven years - was about to move again. Vicky Turner moved her children into public housing. She considered going to work, but decided staying home would be more productive.

The only way to survive was to accept welfare.

Sometimes at night, when she thought her children were in bed, Vicky Turner, who grew up working a Tennessee farm, would sit at the kitchen table and cry.

"She was upset that she had to be on welfare," says her oldest son, Richard, named for the father who abandoned the family. "The only thing I could think of was to thank her for having the strength to stay home and be there for us."

Multiple sclerosis may have eaten away at Vicky Turner's physical strength, but it could not affect her resolve or her spiritual guidance.

Many of the children the Turner children grew up with "are dead or in jail," reports Wanda Silveira, a year older than her brother Norval and still living in Martinez, a blue-collar town about 30 miles east of San Francisco.

From her wheelchair or her bed, Vicky Turner never tried to shelter her young children from the world around them. But she did have one rule: No one left the house after dark.

"I am here today, and we survived, because my mother did an amazing job of keeping us together," Norv Turner says. "She gave us love. She taught us right from wrong. She taught us to treat people the way we wanted to be treated. And she never gave up."

Tears still well in Norv Turner's eyes when he talks of his father who ran and his mother who battled to keep her family together until multiple sclerosis and cancer killed her in 1989.

His father died at 42, leaving the son with many questions and no answers.

It is a rare show of emotion from the man charged with coordinating Jimmy Johnson's electrifying offense. Since his arrival in Dallas from the Los Angeles Rams in February 1991, Norv Turner has been described in print as "introverted," "private," "low-key" and "nondescript."

He says life has taught him not to get too emotional.

"I just try to do my best," he says. "Emotion doesn't help. Work does."

It didn't take the youth league coaches of Martinez long to discover that the city's most successful paperboy was also one of its best athletes.

It didn't take the paperboy long to realize that his athletic skills meant that he would not have to walk to practice. The Turners didn't have a car. They had learned to walk great distances. But coaches were only too willing to go out of their way and venture into the project to pick up Norval.

Norval, however, wasn't content to simply play their games. He was driven to devour them. Always, he had to win. And he learned early that the more he knew, the better his chances.

He could never match the clothes, the spending money and the cars the other boys had.

"But athletics gave me a chance to be equal," Norv Turner says. "It gave me a chance to be equal with all my peers. It doesn't matter who has the nicest jeans or the most expensive tennis shoes when you are playing ball. Winning was all that mattered. . . . And I had to win every checkers game, every football game, every basketball game."

Charlie Tourville, who coached the Alhambra High Bulldogs football team for 15 years and has spent the last 18 years at nearby Santa Rosa Junior College, remembers Norval Turner astounded him with a single question as a freshman quarterback candidate.

"He watched our starting quarterback in practice and asked him who he was reading on defense," Tourville says. "The quarterback was puzzled. `Read?' the kid said. `I don't read. I just throw.' Norval couldn't believe it."

Soon after, when Turner won the starting role at quarterback, he and Tourville would meet early on game days and "walk" the field.

The coach would call out game situations as the two strolled down the field. The quarterback would respond with the play he thought would be correct.

But it was more than just X's and O's. It was a quiet time for coach and player. In his 33 years of coaching, Tourville says Turner is the only player with whom he ever cared to "walk" the field.

High school summers, Norv Turner worked in a furniture factory. He saved his pennies and bought weights. By his junior season, he had organized his teammates into the school's first weightlifting program. He did it not for the obvious reason of building stronger bodies, but rather to build kinship between players in the long months between football seasons.

Away from the field, the teen-ager from the projects assumed another role. On Friday and Saturday nights, when the Bulldog players celebrated their youth, Norval Turner drove their cars. He served as self-appointed "designated driver" long before the label and the chore became fashionable. The son of the alcoholic father would not allow himself to drink.

"Peer pressure didn't bother Norval," says bother Ron, 39, who was never far from his brother's side.

"Most times, older brothers don't want their younger brothers around," Ron says. "But Norval always let me go with him. We had so little. If we didn't have family, we didn't have anything."

Norval Turner grew into an all-area quarterback in his senior year at Alhambra High. Ron Turner was a pretty fair wide receiver.

The Martinez City Council noticed Norval's exploits on and off the field. He was asked to serve as student adviser to the council.

Norval Turner was recruited by the University of Oregon and Oregon State, California and the University of Southern California.

But there was little doubt where he would go. A couple of Oregon assistants named John Robinson and George Seifert recruited Turner for the Ducks. Robinson may be more familiar as the ex-Los Angeles Rams coach who now is in his second tour as coach at Southern California. Seifert is coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

But it was neither who persuaded Turner to go to Oregon.

"He wanted to go where his coach went," says a proud Tourville, who played in the 1958 Rose Bowl for Oregon.

"My Little League coaches, my Scout leaders, my high school coaches, they were my father figures," Norv Turner says. "They helped make my situation normal . . . Charlie Tourville most of all. . . . Maybe I wanted to be like them."

"I didn't look up to coaches like he did, because I had Norval to look to," says Ron Turner, who works for the Chicago Bears and, like his brother, coordinates an NFL offense. "I still call him all the time for advice."

At Oregon, Norv Turner could not duplicate the success he had enjoyed in high school.

He arrived at Oregon to find future NFL Hall-of-Famer Dan Fouts, a year ahead of him, firmly entrenched at quarterback. There also were two knee operations that made it difficult to set up to pass.

"At Oregon, we used to say there were two kinds of passes," says Fouts, "a spiral and a Norval."

By the time his college career was over, Turner had thrown 11 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions.

Some weeks, Norval's older brother, Richard, would take his mother and his sisters on a nine-hour drive to Oregon home games.

Some weeks, Turner's family may have been his only fans in the stands.

"He took a lot of gas at Oregon," Fouts says. "He was getting beat up and sacked. It wasn't pretty."

But Turner never stopped working and studying.

A year after Turner's college career ended, Robinson, who had moved on to the University of Southern California, hired him as an assistant. When Robinson moved on to the Rams, he hired Turner to coach his wide receivers.

But while the Rams' offense flourished, the Cowboys' offense struggled in Jimmy Johnson's first two seasons as head coach. It was ranked last in the NFL in 1990. After the season, Johnson, whose forte is defense, decided a new offensive coordinator to replace David Shula would be in order.

When neither of his first two choices accepted Johnson's invitation, the Cowboys' coach hired the relatively unknown Turner. But not before Johnson called Fouts. for an opinion.

"I told Jimmy that he was getting a good man, a guy without an ego," Fouts says. Johnson listened and then asked Fouts to call Troy Aikman. "I told Troy that Norv would be the perfect man for the job."

Turner's success with the Cowboys has been well documented. In his first two seasons with the Cowboys, Emmitt Smith won two NFL rushing titles, Michael Irvin had the two top receiving seasons in franchise history, and Aikman became the highest-rated playoff quarterback in league history.

On the eve of the Cowboys' 52-17 win over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVII, Aikman called Turner the team's most valuable offensive performer.

Turner grows visibly uncomfortable at the suggestion that he is responsible for the Cowboys' offensive success.

"A successful team is like a successful family," Turner says. "We all depend on each other. We all have to respect one another. My obligation to the guys I work with is to do everything possible to help them. Come Monday mornings, if I have done my job, I can look at everyone in the eye.

"Looking people in the eye has been important to me all my life."

While coaching at Southern California, Norv Turner met and married Nancy Marpe, John Robinson's secretary. They have three children: Scott, 11; Stephanie, 9; and Drew, 4.

\ NORVAL TURNER\ NEW WASHINGTON REDSKINS COACH\ \ Age: 41.\ \ Family: Wife, Nancy; sons, Scott and Drew; daughter, Stephanie.\ \ Playing career: Quarterback and defensive back at Alhambra High School in Martinez, Calif.; quarterback at Oregon (1972-74).\ \ College coaching: Oregon, graduate assistant (1975); Southern Cal, receivers ('76-79), secondary ('80), quarterbacks ('81-83) and offensive coordinator ('84).\ \ Pro coaching: Los Angeles Rams, receivers (1985-90); Dallas, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks ('91-93).


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