The Norv Turner All-Stars

The Norv Turner All-Stars
The Norv Turner All-Stars
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Tom Gower

Three years ago, we started a series on "coaching all-stars," the best player-seasons in the history of some of the NFL's best and/or most famous coaches. For this latest installment, we're looking at Norv Turner.

After backing up Dan Fouts at Oregon, Turner coached collegiately at Oregon and USC before jumping to the NFL as the wide receivers coach of the Los Angeles Rams. He became offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys in 1991 and guided a top-four offense by DVOA for three seasons, winning two Super Bowl rings in the process. After the 1993 season, Jack Kent Cooke hired him to coach the Washington Redskins. He served as head coach of the Redskins from 1994 until he was fired late in the 2000 season by new owner Dan Snyder. During his tenure, the Redskins went 49-59-1 and made the playoffs once, beating the Detroit Lions in 1999 before losing at Tampa Bay on a botched field-goal attempt.

After three more seasons as an offensive coordinator, one in San Diego and two in Miami, he got another chance as a head coach in Oakland, leading the Raiders to 5-11 and 4-12 marks before he was fired. He spent 2006 as the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, then A.J. Smith hired him as head coach of the Chargers. In San Diego he won the AFC West in his first three seasons, but failed to make it to the Super Bowl. After missing the playoffs from 2010 to 2012, he and Smith were both fired.

As we chronicled in Pro Football Prospectus 2007, Norv is perhaps the least fortunate head coach in NFL history, as his teams have consistently underperformed their Pythagorean win projections. His career record is 114-122-1, while his by-season cumulative Pythagorean record is 124.6-112.4. Over fifteen seasons of coach, that's underachieving by about two-thirds of a win each year. Only once in his career, when the 2009 Chargers went 13-3 with 11.3 Pythagorean wins, did his team overachieve their Pythagorean record by more than one win. By way of comparison, six teams did that in 2012.

Beyond underachievement, Turner is renowned as a fine offensive mind and developer of quarterbacks, while perhaps not being the most inspiring leader or having the best defenses. Let's see what kind of team we can put together with that.


QB: Philip Rivers, 2009 Chargers
RB: Stephen Davis, 1999 Redskins
FB: Lorenzo Neal, 2007 Chargers
WR: Vincent Jackson, 2009 Chargers
WR: Malcom Floyd, 2011 Chargers
TE: Antonio Gates, 2010 Chargers

Brad Johnson had a nice year in 1999 and Gus Frerotte made the Pro Bowl in 1996, but Rivers has been Norv's star pupil at quarterback. He led the NFL in DVOA and finished second in DYAR in 2008 and 2009.

At running back, I thought LaDainian Tomlinson's 2007 All-Pro season would be a lock, but Davis had a phenomenal season in 1999. He ran for 1405 yards and 17 touchdowns, similar to what Tomlinson did, but his advanced statistics are even better. His 526 rushing DYAR ranks tied for second in DVOA history (1991-present). He had a 60 percent success rate, one of the best ever for a high-usage back, and is one of only three backs to have a rushing DVOA of at least 30% with 200 or more carries. (Marshall Faulk in 2000 and Jamaal Charles in 2011 are the others.) His receiving value was minimal or negative, but he was so valuable as a runner it did not really matter. Lorenzo Neal in Tomlinson's great season should help clear the way for him.

Wide receiver was less impressive than I thought it would be. His star receivers in Washington were Henry Ellard and Michael Westbrook, both of whom had seasons ranking toward the bottom of the top ten in DYAR. Jackson led the NFL in DVOA and ranked second in DYAR in 2009, when he made the Pro Bowl and at least one All-Pro team. Floyd's game, meanwhile, seems tailor-made for him to play in a Norv Turner offense, and he finished second in DVOA and seventh in DYAR in 2011.

Tight end was "pick Gates's best season," though Stephen Alexander did make the Pro Bowl in 2000. Gates only played in 10 games in 2010, but I ultimately decided I could not ignore a career-best and then-record-tying for tight ends 358 DYAR and insane 76.3% DVOA.

*-"Skill players" is a convenient, widely-understood way to refer to these positions. Other NFL players are skilled, too.


LT: Marcus McNeill, 2009 Chargers
LG: Kris Dielman, 2008 Chargers
C: Nick Hardwick, 2010 Chargers
RG: Tre' Johnson, 1999 Redskins
RT: Ed Simmons, 1995 Redskins

McNeill's 2007 Pro Bowl appearance was the only postseason honor for a Turner-coached offensive tackle. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a rep pick as he suffered from a slump after a fine rookie season. His 2009 campaign was better, with fewer blown blocks leading to sacks and more success for the Chargers running to his side. At right tackle, I struggled a lot to find a candidate I was very comfortable with selecting. Simmons was a member of the Hogs that protected Mark Rypien in that fabulous 1991 season, but was in his thirties by the time Turner arrived in Washington. A young Jon Jansen, who became a starter in Washington in 1999, was my other candidate.

Dielman made four consecutive Pro Bowls from 2007 through 2010 and was a second-team All-Pro in 2008 and 2009. Johnson made the Pro Bowl and Dr. Z's All-Pro team as he helped pave the way for Davis in 1999. Hardwick lacks postseason awards, but played all 16 games in 2010 for a Chargers team that was very good running up the middle.

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DE: Marco Coleman, 2000 Redskins
NT: Jamal Williams, 2007 Chargers
DE: Derrick Burgess, 2005 Raiders
OLB: Ken Harvey, 1995 Redskins
ILB: Marvcus Patton, 1997 Redskins
ILB: Stephen Cooper, 2009 Chargers
OLB: Shaun Phillips, 2010 Chargers

Outside of Williams and Harvey, who made the Pro Bowl from 1994 through 1997 and made Dr. Z’s All-Pro team in 1995, this position grouping was a bit of a struggle. The defensive ends both made the Pro Bowl thanks to double-digit sack seasons; Coleman had 12.0, while Burgess led the league with 16.0 and gives us a representative from Norv's Oakland tenure.

The other outside linebacker spot came down to Phillips or Shawne Merriman. 2007 was Merriman's last good season, but I ultimately went with Phillips as a better all-around player. Inside linebacker lacked a single standout player, nor did any obvious candidates come to mind. Neither Patton nor Cooper, let alone any other inside/middle linebacker Turner has coached, earned any major postseason honors. I also considered a young Derek Smith from late in Turner's Washington tenure, Kirk Morrison in Oakland, and Donald Butler for his work in 2012.


CB: Darrell Green, 1997 Redskins
CB: Champ Bailey, 2000 Redskins
FS: Eric Weddle, 2011 Chargers
SS: Sam Shade, 1999 Redskins

Both Green and Washington's other starting corner, Cris Dishman, made the Pro Bowl in 1997 as the Redskins finished eighth in the league in pass defense DVOA. Green also made the Pro Bowl in 1996. Bailey made the Pro Bowl in 2000, his second season in the league. The other cornerback to earn postseason honors under Norv was Antonio Cromartie in 2007, when he had 10 interceptions despite starting only eight games.

Eric Weddle is one of the best free safeties in the NFL. He finally made the All-Pro team in 2011 after snagging seven interceptions to help prove his point. Shade was a runner-up on Dr. Z's All-Pro team in 1999. Lacking another standout candidate at safety, that was good enough for me.


K: Sebastian Janikowski, 2004 Raiders
P: Matt Turk, 1996 Redskins
RET: Brian Mitchell, 1994 Redskins

Turner has rarely had an outstanding kicker. Nate Kaeding made the All-Pro team in 2009 and came out best on placekicks by our numbers, but San Diego was below average on kickoffs. Janikowski had a very good season in 2004, making 25-of-28 field goals, and was better on kickoffs. I give the slight edge to Janikowski, though Kaeding has a case.

Punter was not quite the surfeit of riches it was for Dan Reeves, but it was a surprisingly strong position. Reggie Roby in 1994, Turk in 1996, and Shane Lechler in 2004 were all All-Pro punters for Turner. Turk's 1996 season comes out best by our numbers, just ahead of his 1995 season, with Mike Scifres' 2008 season in third place.

Mitchell made the All-Pro team in 1995, but I ultimately went with the season before. His conventional statistics were very similar in both seasons, and 1994 came out better by our numbers (25.6 points of combined return value compared to 19.3).

When you coach for 15 seasons and finish with a sub-.500 record, this is the kind of team you end up with. The traditional Achilles' heel of a Norv Turner-coached team has been defense, as only the 2000 Redskins, 2007 Chargers, and 2010 Chargers have finished in the top ten in defensive DVOA under his watch. The secondary is somewhat better than I thought it would be, but is the defensive front seven really better than the one the San Francisco 49ers had this year? You would think you would be able to luck your way into more good defensive players if you coached for 15 years, but apparently Norv could not.

Previous coaching all-star teams:


25 comments, Last at 26 Feb 2013, 10:51pm

2 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

One small correction, the Chargers year of exceeding their pythag. was in 2009, when they went 13-3 (they went 11-5 in 2007).

3 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

It's unsettling to open the F.O. front page and find Norv Turner staring at you.

There should be a way to add the Windows "error" sound when the page loads.
" has encountered a Norv. We apologize for the inconvenience."

4 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

Charger fans have to be sick when they see this article. How not one of those teams from the late 2000s does not at least make it to one SuperBowl is a mystery?

Considering Norv, I guess not a mystery... Still a huge disappointment and missed opportunity.

9 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

Except for 07 when the Pats were dominant, they were near or at the top in terms of DVOA, and/or all the subjective rankings in the late 2000s. One year, i believe they either were number one (or close to it) in DVOA failed to make playoffs.

8 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

I'm going to assume you meant 2006 for Tomlinson, not 2007. (I hope you didn't only look at Tomlinson's 2007 season. That would have been a major error.)

I know everybody loves DVOA, but looking at the raw stats, I would have to go with Tomlinson over Davis.

Rushing Yardage: 1815 to 1405
TD: 28 to 17
Yards/carry: 5.2 to 4.8
Yards/game 113.4 to 100.4
Receiving yards: 508 to 111

not to mention
Games: 16 to 14

Stephen Davis had a nice season in 1999. Tomlinson was the NFL's MVP in 2006. And he had over 800 more yards from scrimmage in 2006 than Davis did in 1999.

Success rate is nice, but it's still only one stat. I cannot see it making up for the 800 yard difference in yards from scrimmage.

One last thing:

Fumbles: 2 to 4

Pro-football reference assigns approximate values to all seasons since 1950. They give Davis a 13 for 1999, and give Tomlinson a 25 for 2006. That's considered to be in a 4-way tie for the 5th best season by any player, ever. The best season by a RB was Jim Brown's 1964 season, which they give a 26. The best season by anybody was Alan Page's 27 from 1969. (PRF really loves those Vikings.)

Edit: this is all a great argument, but I see Norv didn't get to San Diego until 2007. Never mind.

The argument between LDT in 2007 and Davis in 1999 is much closer, and I have no problem with taking Davis there. I would still go with Tomlinson but at least the difference isn't mind-boggling. I suspect anybody would take Tomlinson's 2006 season. My bad.

11 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

2006 Tomlinson v. 1999 Davis would be an interesting argument. Without getting into the numbers too much, I would lean Tomlinson simply because Brian Mitchell played a significant role for the Redskins in obvious passing situations.

The AV difference doesn't bother me so much. Davis had a great season in 1999. Marshall Faulk had an insanely great season, so he drew the All-Pro and other top honors that AV values so much. Tomlinson's competition for honors wasn't nearly so fierce, and I think he loses his awards to Faulk (or Warner, for non-RB specific ones) as well.

12 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

Actually, 2006 Tomlinson mops the floor with 1999 Davis.

The big problem for Davis is that he was a horrible receiver. At least according to DVOA/DYAR.

If you look at rushing alone, 1999 Davis is well ahead of 2007 Tomlinson, and even a smidgen ahead of 2006 Tomlinson:

1999 Davis 526 DYAR 32.6 DVOA
2006 Tomlinson 460 DYAR 23.1 DVOA
2007 Tomlinson 285 DYAR 13.8 DVOA

But if we look at receiving...

1999 Davis -37 DYAR -39.5 DVOA
2006 Tomlinson 119 DYAR 12.9 DVOA
2007 Tomlinson 133 DYAR 15.1 DVOA

DYAR is additive here (I don't think DVOA is...otherwise Davis would be below average)

Rushing + Receiving

1999 Davis 489 DYAR
2006 Tomlinson 579 DYAR
2007 Tomlinson 418 DYAR

That seems like about the right ranking. Tomlinson's 2006 season was phenomenal.

For comparison

1999 Faulk Rushing 339 Receiving 418 (!!!!) for a monstrous total DYAR of 757.

Yes, Faulk as a receiver only was exactly as productive in 1999 as Tomlinson was in 2007 adding both rushing and receiving.

Edit: Yes, there's obviously a thin line between "mops the floor" (90 points) and "smidgen" (66 points). Let's modify that to say that 2006 Tomlinson was significantly ahead of 1999 Davis if receiving was considered, but if rushing alone was the consideration, Davis was clearly ahead. Yeah, that's better language.

22 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

AV doesn't value all-pro honors, etc, for skill position players at all, such honors are used only for tallying the value of players at positions without traditional stats.

25 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

1. The 2006 Chargers scored more points per drive (2.78) than the 1999 Redskins (2.31), which leads to more team offense points as well (153 to 124) to get divided among the players on the '06 Chargers than the '99 Redskins.

2. The '06 Chargers had a considerably higher percentage of the team's total yardage via rushing (44.1%) than the '99 Redskins (34.2%).

3. Tomlinson's percentage of his team's rushing yards was slightly higher in '06 than Davis's percentage of his team's rushing yards in '99.

4. Tomlinson's percentage of his team's receiving yards was much higher in '06 (14.9%) than Davis's percentage of his team's receiving yards in '99 (2.7%).

Those are all factors in AV. See here:

14 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

I was about to say Donnie Edwards for ILB but then I realized that Norv only got to SD after Edwards last season as a charger. That 2006 team really had no business losing to the Patriots and Reche Caldwell, and that coming from a Pats fan.

16 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

Well, when you muff a punt, commit a PF penalty on a 3rd down stop to give the Pats a 1st down when they would have punted, drop an easy interception on the Pats 30 yard line, and (of course), instead of knocking it down, fumble an interception in Patriots territory that would have come close to icing the game, it is easy to see where it all went wrong.

17 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

The greatest team that could be Norv'ed doesn't seem anywhere quite as strong as I thought it would.


21 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

I've been a Chargers fan and a sports fan in general since the late 70's and that was the most painful loss of my life.

23 Re: The Norv Turner All-Stars

You mean never mind that Phillip Rivers couldn't handle the blitz, missed open receivers, and seemed to be overwhelmed by what the Patriots threw at him? Chargers should've been up by a TD or 2 and it should not have been on the defense to pull out a win.

Or that if AJ Smith put the franchise tag on Brees, the Chargers could have gone 16-0 (their 2 losses that year were by less than a TD to the Ravens and Chiefs, Rivers stared down his receivers and resulted in INTs), beat the Patriots, and probably could've gone to win the Superbowl?

Yeah, frustrating season...