In-game coaching experience: Turner’s greatest strength hits at the previous staff’s greatest weakness. He’s called plays and/or handled a sideline in the Super Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, Ohio Stadium, Michigan’s Big House, etc. There should be fewer wasted timeouts, bad challenges and general “doh!” moments, such as being flagged for having 12 men on the field the play after getting flagged for having 13 men on the field.
Also, conservatism could infect FIU offensively once the Panthers got up big in games. That’s fine when the defense played as well as it did in 2010 and 2011. This past year, getting the squeaky sphincter in such situations cost them. Again, Turner’s been there and done that.
Used to working with limited talent: This could come into play early next year with a young offensive line, an injury-prone Jake Medlock, injury-prone Kedrick Rhodes, not much beyond sophomore E.J. Hilliard in the way of a viable backup quarterback and limited recruiting time. It’s said often enough to be cliché, but Charlie Weis looked like a much smarter coach when he had a quarterbacking Brady, Tom or Quinn, in New England or at Notre Dame than when he didn’t. The best NFL quarterback Turner worked with was Jeff Garcia…at San Jose State.
Who were those quarterbacks directing powerhouse Illinois offenses in 2001 and 2002, Kurt Kittner and John Kitna? Kurt Russell and John Ritter? Who were the dominating defensive linemen, the omnipresent linebackers on his defense? The cupboard’s hardly bare at FIU, but if Turner falters in recruiting or injuries hit, he’ll need similar sorcery.
A questionable recruiter: Going by recruiting rankings – and you know how I feel about what those are worth, but we have to use some measure -- FIU’s recruiting steadily improved under Mario Cristobal. With a still-weak football name (FIU) behind him and unimpressive facilities, Cristobal mined Palm Beach County to Homestead about as well as you could hope and even established a small presence in hypercompetitive Louisiana.
Meanwhile, Champaign’s a fun college town with a gorgeous campus, and a large, active alumni base. While the best of the Illini’s football history dates to Prohibition (Red Grange) or might as well date back that far (Dick Butkus), it’s still in the Big Ten. When Turner and his staff went out to recruit, they could put something on the table. And you should be strong in Illinois and metropolitan Chicago, competitive in the St. Louis metro area.
With that, Turner came back with one recruiting class that enabled him to win in the Big Ten. Then, down the Matterhorn as far as raw talent. Turner’s eight Illinois’ teams dressed zero future NFL first round picks and just three future second round picks. Just to pick out another Big Ten team I ran across in researching that, Iowa had three future first rounders on the same team in 2002 and 2003: Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark, 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders and Oakland offensive lineman Robert Gallery. From Illinois, defensive backs Eugene Wilson and Kelvin Hayden got drafted as second rounders. Defensive lineman Fred Evans, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and offensive guard David Diehl all are still playing in the NFL from Illinois.
Now, he’ll be going into a recruit’s house with much less in a much more heavily swarmed recruiting area. Think it was tough pulling kids away from Michigan and Ohio State’s tradition and Wisconsin’s parties? Welcome to a battle royal for every three-star kid south of Atlanta with a test score or a summer school schedule.
Also, there’s a skill to closing the deal on South Florida kids. Turner doesn’t have it. Until he learns it, he’ll need assistants who do.
You’re not in Palo Alto or Champaign anymore: Since his mid-30s, Turner’s been a college coach at affluent Stanford, rivaled by few when combining academics and football; Big Ten Illinois; and with money-printing NFL teams.
FIU ain’t them. Those places sneeze away FIU’s resources. More money, more support staff, fewer headaches for head football coaches.
Every coach goes through a Ramen-noodles-no-sleep-utility guy era as a young assistant. The FIU head coaching job isn’t as far removed from that as you might think. Turner’s 59. There’s only so much night patrol cop or fireman you feel like playing at that age, unless it’s with your wife.
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said the money for assistant coaches remains the same as last year and will rise in succeeding years.
Pete Garcia said his sights got set on Turner with two weeks left in the NFL season. That puts it just over two weeks after Garcia fired Mario Cristobal. So, either Garcia sacked Cristobal without a clear plan in mind or he ran through his list like a pound of chitlins through my Uncle Dickie, then found Turner.
Turner’s respected enough to remain continuously employed, but has bounced among three NFL jobs in the last three seasons (and it’s not beyond belief that Garcia advisers Greg Schiano and Butch Davis, if Schiano had decided not to bring Turner back, helped lateral Turner south to FIU). The last three years of college head coaching on an overall erratic resume were nine years removed from the start of the 2013 season and show a 9-26 record.
And so does FIU go forward...
Left tackle Caylin Hauptmann will be playing in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, an all-star game for draft eligible seniors, on Jan. 19.
What follows could glaze your eyes thicker than Dunkin does a donut. Get your colada. Pack some healthy snacks (baby carrots, not baby Oreos), some pastrami turkey sandwiches, fill one water bottle with water and another with something from a bottle and let’s go down the long and winding, long-winded analysis road.
This breaks down is what new FIU coach Ron Turner has shown us over the last 23 years. I chose that because I referenced Rich Walker in my last post and it made me nostalgic for 1989-90.
Naw, actually I chose it because it gives us a good sample size on Turner as an offensive coordinator and Turner as quarterbacks coach. Those are the assets on which he’s being sold as the person to move FIU’s program forward.
At Stanford, once a Quarterback U right along with Purdue, BYU and Notre Dame, Turner didn’t have the Luck to work with a passer to rank with Plunkett, Elway or even Guy Benjamin or Turk Schoenert. But in Turner’s three years there on head coach Dennis Green’s staff as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, the offensive numbers improved each year.
1989: Stanford went 3-8, scored 17.0 points per game, beating 30 points only once, in a 40-33 loss to San Jose State. The quarterbacks were Steve Smith (150 of 270, 55.56 completion pct., 1,502 yards, seven touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 102.69 efficiency rating) and Brian Johnson (95 of 153, 62.09, 1,057 yards, four touchdowns, six interceptions, 120.91 efficiency rating).
1990: Stanford went 5-6, scored 23.9 points per game and scored over 30 points four times. The starting quarterback was Jason Palumbis (234 of 341, 68.62 pct., 2,579 yards, 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 137.52 efficiency rating).
1991: Stanford went 8-4 and lost the Aloha Bowl, scoring 30.7 points per game and beating 30 in five games. The quarterbacks were Steve Stenstrom (119 of 197, 60.41 pct., 1,683 yards, 15 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 150.19 efficiency ratings) and Jason Palumbis (80 of 139, 57.55, 806 yards, 0-4, 100.51).
Turner then moved jobs without having to move, about 20 minutes away to the head coaching job at San Jose State.
1992: San Jose State went 7-4, averaging 30.0 points per game, scoring above their average in five games. Turner had sophomore Jeff Garcia at quarterback (209 for 371, 56.33 percent, 2,418 yards, 15 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 118.49 efficiency rating) and running back Nathan DuPree (1,239 yards, 5.25 per carry). DuPree’s numbers dropped off the next year as Turner went to the NFL.
Turner two turns as Chicago offensive coordinator came under two former defensive coordinators-turned-head coaches, Dave “It’s no sin to punt” Wannstedt and Lovie Smith. Working as the Bears offensive coordinator resembles being a compliance director of a school in the old Southwest Conference: the people you’re working with really don’t understand the concept you’re discussing. Smith’s not as bad as Wannstedt in that way, but both fit with the franchise’s historic offensive philosophy: don’t screw it up.
Of Turner’s second turn with the Bears, I saw a fair amount of the 2006 NFC Champions’ games wire-to-wire. Not only did they play the Dolphins that season, I saw a couple of other regular season games and covered all three of their playoff games. They got to the Super Bowl on defense, the occasional offensive big play and more than occasional big kick and punt returns by Devin Hester. Also, nobody seemed to believe their run defense possessed the give that it did.
1993: 28th-ranked offense out of 28 teams with Jim Harbaugh starting 15 games at quarterback, backed up by Peter Tom Willis, a third-round pick in his last of four NFL seasons. The running backs were Neal Anderson (646 yards, 3.2 per carry) and Tim Worley (437 yards, 4.0 per carry) and already shopworn Craig Heyward.
1994: 23rd-ranked offense out of 28 teams with spaghetti-armed UM quarterback Steve Walsh starting 11 games and former Detroit backup Erik Kramer starting five. The running backs were Lewis Tillman (899 yards, 3.3) and Raymont Harris (464 yards, 3.8).
1995: Ninth-ranked offense out of 30 with Kramer starting all 16 games. The running backs were first round pick Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam (1,074 yards, 3.6) and Robert Green (570, 5.3). Wide receiver Curtis Conway, drafted seventh overall in 1993, caught 62 passes for 1,037 yards and 12 touchdowns. The touchdowns and his 16.7 yards per catch were the best of Conway’s 12-season career.
1996: 21st-ranked offense of 30 with Dave Krieg starting 12 games near the end of his career. Conway reached career highs of 81 catches and 1,049 yards. The running backs were Harris (748 yards, 3.9) and, on his way to Bustville, Salaam (496 yards, 3.5).
2005: 29th-ranked offense of 32 teams with Kyle Orton starting 15 games and having an astronomically abysmal 59.7 passer rating. The running got handled by Thomas Jones (1,335 yards, 4.3).
2006: 15th-ranked offense of 32 with Rex Grossman starting every game. Bernard Berrian assumed the deep threat role (15.2 yards per catch, six touchdowns) with Mushin Muhammad as the possession guy (60 catches, 863 yards). The running backs were Jones (1210 yards, 4.1) and Cedric Benson (647 yards, 4.1).
2007: 27th-ranked offense of 32 with Grossman, Orton and Brian Griese starting games because of injuries. Quarterbacks rotated like McCloud, Columbo and McMillan and Wife and the running game went nowhere with Benson (674 yards, 3.4) and (Not That) Adrian Peterson (510 yards, 3.4).
2008: 26th-ranked offense of 32 with Orton and his 79.4 passer rating starting 15 games. Running back Matt Forte led the Bears in rushing (1238 yards, 3.9) and receiving (63 catches).
2009: 23rd-ranked offense of 32 with Jay Cutler starting all 16 games and having a career low 76.8 passer rating. Forte ran for 929 yards, 3.6 per carry. Forte, tight end Greg Olsen, Devin Hester and wide receiver Earl Bennett all caught more than 50 passes.
At Illinois, Turner's prececessor, Lou Tepper, went 25-30-2 in five seasons. Turner went 35-57. His successor, Ron Zook, went 34-51.
1997: The Illini went 0-11, scoring a national-worst 10.8 points per game with a high of 22. The quarterback was Mark Hoestra (115 of 219, 52.5 percent, 1,029 yards, five touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 90.38 efficiency rating).
1998: The Illini went 3-8, scoring 13.5 points per game and beat 30 twice. The quarterbacks were Hoekstra (38 of 104, 36.6 percent, 398 yards, 0 touchdowns, four interceptions, 60.99 efficiency rating) and Kittner (72 of 162, 44.4 percent, 782 yards, one touchdown, seven interceptions, 78.39 efficiency rating).
1999: The Illini went 8-4, scoring 32.3 per game, and beat 30 seven times, including a 63-21 win over Virginia in the Micron PC Bowl. The quarterback was Kittner (216 of 396, 54.55 percent, 2,702 yards, 24 touchdowns, five interceptions, 129.34 efficiency rating).
2000: The Illini went 5-6, scoring 26.7 points per game, scoring over 30 five times, ranking 51st nationally in offense, sixth in the Big Ten. The quarterback was Kittner (173 of 297, 58.2 percent, 1,982 yards, 18 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 128.92 efficiency rating).
2001: The Illini went 10-2, scoring 32.5 points per game, scoring over 30 eight times, ranking 27th nationally in regular season offense, fourth in the Big Ten. The quarterback was Kittner (221 of 409, 54.0 percent, 3,256 yards, 27 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 135.8 efficiency rating).
2002: The Illini went 5-7, scoring 28.8 points per game, scoring over 30 six times, ranking 10th nationally in offense, second in the Big Ten. The quarterback was John Beutjer (193 of 327, 59.0 percent, 2,511 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 137.99 efficiency rating).
2003: The Illini go 1-11, scoring 16.92 points per game and breaking 30 once. The quarterbacks were Beutjer (162 of 257, 63.0 percent, 1,597 yards, 10 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 121.1 efficiency rating), Dustin Ward (63 of 108, 58.3 percent, 648 yards, three touchdowns, five interceptions, 108.6 efficiency rating) and Chris Pazan (49 of 82, 59.8 pct., 511 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, 115.3 efficiency rating).
2004: The Illini go 3-8, scoring 21.82 points per game and breaking 30 three times. The quarterbacks were Beutjer (107 of 188, 56.9 percent, 1,082 yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions, 115.0 efficiency rating), Brad Power (57 of 100, 57.0 percent, 658 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions, 119.4 efficiency rating) and Pazan (37 of 63, 58.7 pct., 292 yards, one touchdown, one interception, 99.7 efficiency rating).
Here are the NFL quarterbacks under Turner as quarterbacks coach:
2012: Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Josh Freeman. Career high in yards, 4,065; tied for career high yards per attempt, 7.285; career low in completion percentage for starting 10 games or more; his 27/17, touchdown/interception ratio was second best of career. Freeman’s 81.6 passer rating was the second best of his career.
2011: Indianapolis’ Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky. Played well enough for the Colts to be in position to draft Andrew Luck No. 1 overall. About all you can say is Orlovsky didn’t run out of the back of the end zone.
1996: Dave Krieg, Shane Matthews, Steve Stenstrom as quarterbacks. Krieg started 12 games, had a 14/12 touchdown/interception ratio, 59.9 completion pct., 76.3 passer rating near the end of his career.
1995: Erik Kramer, Steve Walsh. Kramer started all 16 games and had a career-year: 93.5 passer rating, seventh best in the NFL, with 29 touchdowns, 10 interceptions. He was sacked 14 times.
1994: Erik Kramer, Steve Walsh. Kramer started five games, through eight touchdowns and eight interceptions, had a 79.9 passer rating and a 62.7 completion percentage, second highest of career. Walsh started 11 games, threw 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, took 11 sacks, had a 77.9 passer rating, second best of his career, and a career-best 60.6 completion percentage.
1993: Jim Harbaugh, Peter Tom Willis. Harbaugh started 15 games in his last season with Chicago, which drafted him in 1986. His 72.1 passer rating was the second lowest of his career as a starter, but his 61.5 completion percentage was his third best as a starter. Seven touchdowns, 11 interceptions and got sacked 43 times.
Overall, as an offensive coordinator, it’s not as if he’s on the level of Don Coryell, Sid Gillman or any other offensive mind who once head coached the San Diego Chargers, including brother Norv. Ron Turner’s done decent work with middling talent. The NFL skill position players he’s worked with have football cards that fill the bins tagged “commons” and most of the college ones likely work in cubicles. He managed the No. 10 offense in the nation with inexperienced John Beutjer at quarterback.
As a quarterbacks coach, Turner’s got a mixed record. Again, though, look at the names he’s been asked to coach. Erik Kramer going from Detroit backup to Chicago starter for two seasons speaks to the Bears ineptitude at player personnel judgment. Then again, somebody probably consulted the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before making that acquisition, so some of that's on him. And Kramer did have a career year under Turner. Sometimes, though Turner probably felt like a chef on Chopped making an edible entrée with black licorice, peas and chicken in a can.
But at Illinois, that’s somewhat his fault. As a recruiter, those rosters say, “ehhh.”