Why Not Pursuing Norv Turner Was A Good Decision For The Cowboys

Otto Greule Jr

Norv Turner experienced great success as the offensive coordinator of the Dallas "Dynasty Teams" which prompted recent calls for his return. Let's delve into why Turner might not have been the answer.

It is no big secret that fans of the Dallas Cowboys are not overly thrilled by the performance that was turned in by offensive coordinator Bill Callahan. Even with the fifth-highest scoring offense in the NFL, the team stumbled to an 8-8 record for the third straight season. Despite a defense that resembled a giant blue sieve, had the in-game play-calling been more rational, Dallas could have achieved a better record for the season.

Enter the calls for a former offensive coordinator who had previously helped guide the Dallas Cowboys to the promised land as part of the 1990's dynasty teams - Norv Turner. Also no secret is the love that long-time Dallas fans have for Norv; after all, he helped make the triplets a Hall of Fame trio. For 2013 he served as the offensive coordinator of the hapless Cleveland Browns, and when Browns owner Jimmy Haslam fired head coach Rod Chudzinski, speculation abounded that Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones were now presented with a golden opportunity to "Bring Norv Home." Of course we now know that Turner will likely be joining the staff of former Cowboys defensive coordinator and current Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.

This "missed opportunity" has prompted a round of "What might have been" speculation around Dallas.

There’s no good reason for the Cowboys failing to make an attempt to bring back the best offensive coordinator in the franchise’s history. - Tim MacMahon, ESPNDallas

In all honesty, I was an initial supporter of bringing Turner in to assume the play-calling responsibilities, and I still think that it's possible he would be an improvement in that aspect, but I have also hit on some things that I feel make a rational argument for not going "Back to the Future" with Coach Turner.

Irrational Expectations

Over his three-season tenure with the Dallas Cowboys, the team was a combined 36-12 in the regular season and won back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1992 and 1993. For that and the development of Troy Aikman into a Hall of Fame QB, Norv Turner deservedly received a lion's share of the credit. He took an offense that ranked near the bottom of the NFL and turned it into a dynamic threat. That is a hard standard to live up to for any offensive coordinator. Expectations in Dallas are always high, how much higher would the standard be set for someone who had previously proved himself to be capable of achieving such a mark?

Since he had won two consecutive Super Bowls in the past, only Super Bowls would be acceptable this time around. In spite of a nearly two-decade drought, that is the only way we measure success in Cowboys Nation. Even if he experienced a decent amount of success, with expectations being what they are and the media scrutiny that the Cowboys are always under, how long would it be before there were calls for Turner's head? Considering the talent level in Dallas is not nearly at the level it was during the 1990's, Turner would be stepping in to a no win situation.

Blurred Lines

Giving credit where credit is due, MacMahon raised this potential red flag in his article.

One of the possible concerns at the time was that there would be an awkward dynamic with Turner working for Garrett, potentially blurring the lines of command and eroding Garrett’s respect in the locker room.

In 1993, Jason Garrett was a back-up quarterback on the Norv Turner-led Dallas Cowboys offense. This brings up a potentially troubling situation where the subordinate would now be the boss. Although we would like to presume that each man is a professional and would have no issues with a reversal in the chain of command, the reality is that there are many circumstances where one party's ego cannot fully allow that person to function effectively in the new command structure.

Would Norv be totally comfortable taking direction, perhaps even criticism from his former quarterback? Would Garrett be totally secure in providing it? Perhaps it is best that we never find out. Such a move, if it lead to conflict, could damage the careers of both coaches, and destroy the chemistry of the Cowboys locker room.

Limited Success

Following his time with the Dallas Cowboys, Norv Turner has only found limited success in the game. As a head coach, his career record is 118-126-1. That includes his time as the head coach of the Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders, and the San Diego Chargers. Of course, some guys were meant to be coordinators rather than head coaches, and since leaving Dallas, Norv has held down offensive coordinator posts with several teams. In his post-Cowboys career as a coordinator, Norv's teams have only had two winning seasons out of five, so his track record of success is not strong there either. His combined record is 35-45 and his average scoring rank has been 19th in the league. The following table shows an ongoing decline in his success as an offensive coordinator in the NFL.

YEAR TEAM RECORD RANK
1991 Dallas Cowboys 11-5 7th
1992 Dallas Cowboys 13-3 2nd
1993 Dallas Cowboys 12-4 2nd
2001 San Diego Chargers 5-11 14th
2002 Miami Dolphins 9-7 12th
2003 Miami Dolphins 10-6 17th
2006 San Francisco 49ers 7-9 24th
2013 Cleveland Browns 4-12 27th

Beyond his time with the Dallas Cowboys, and a limited degree of success as the San Diego Chargers head coach, Norv Turner has not met with a great deal of success during his journey around National Football league. To look at him as the savior is a belief that is not founded on a very solid foundation. Based on the three factors listed above, to presume that Norv Turner might be one of the ingredients needed to complete the "secret sauce" that team VP Stephen Jones spoke of is a stretch of the imagination. Bringing him in to serve as the offensive coordinator would have elevated expectations to an unrealistic level, placed both the head coach and Turner in a situation where their motives could be subject to questioning, and it would replace one man with limited success with another whose recent track record is very similar to his own. Given the success that Bill Callahan has experienced in improving the offensive line, a strong argument can be made that perhaps he is the more qualified of the two men to head the Dallas offense during the 2014 season.

While Norv Turner will always have a special place in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, perhaps it is wise to keep in mind an old saying attributed to the twentieth century American novelist Thomas Wolfe:

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing's sake, back home to aestheticism, to one's youthful idea of 'the artist' and the all-sufficiency of 'art' and 'beauty' and 'love,' back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermude, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time--back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."

The Norv Turner ship left port in Dallas a long ago, and to bring it back now would most likely tarnish that which had gone before. Let's savor the memories, hope for more good times to come, and wish Norv Turner and Mike Zimmer a degree of success (but not TOO much) in their endeavors in the frozen north. Say thanks for the memories and move on from there.

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