Cowboys' hiring of Phillips is a blessing for the 49ers
February 8, 2007 at 2:10 PM • 0 comments
The San Francisco 49ers dodged a bullet yesterday. Multiple sources reported that the Dallas Cowboys had decided to hire San Diego defensive coordinator Wade Phillips as their head coach replacement of Bill Parcells, who retired the morning of January 22nd.
It has been an emotional rollercoaster for 49ers fans since that date. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner was immediately listed as a likely candidate for Dallas’ then vacant head coaching position. Turner then interviewed for the job with Jerry Jones on January 28th. On January 30th, another member of the 49ers coaching staff interviewed for the position. Mike Singletary, the team’s assistant head coach became the eighth candidate to interview for the job. Many felt that he would be the last and that Jones would eventually choose Turner, who had the support of former Cowboys players like quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin.
Jones passed on Turner, most likely due to some of Turner’s implied conditions to his potential hire. While Turner was fond of former Cowboys quarterback Jason Garrett, currently assumed to be taking over the role of offensive coordinator in Dallas, he would have rather had assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tony Sparano call the shots on offense. Turner simply did not feel that Garrett was ready to take on that role. Various other sources seemed to feel that Jones was looking for a coach that he could bully. Turner, with his demands, did not meet this profile. Add to that the fact that Jones loves having controversial wide receiver Terrell Owens on the team. Any coach coming in would have to play nice with Owens. While Turner publicly praised Owens for his abilities on the field, it was widely assumed that Turner would eventually grow tired of Owens’ antics and not want the distraction on the team.
So where does the hiring of Phillips leave Turner? Back with the team that he helped improve since his hire as offensive coordinator last January. Hopefully with no ill will from the rest of the coaching staff or any of the players. It is unlikely that anyone on the team will hold a grudge against Turner for his attempted retreat out of San Francisco. After all, the temptation of being a head coach in the NFL can be very motivating and there are not many in the league that would have turned down the opportunity to coach a storied franchise like the Cowboys, the team that Turner helped coach to back-to-back Super Bowl as offensive coordinator in the 90’s. While his stints as a head coach did not go too well with the Washington Redskins or Oakland Raiders, Turner is widely regarded as a brilliant offensive coordinator.
In 2005, the 49ers averaged 224.2 yards per game on offense. The passing game only provided 118.6 yards per game while the running game provided 105.6. The addition of Norv Turner helped to improve those numbers to 303.6 yards per game. The passing game compiled 167.8 yards per game while the running game improved to 135.8 yards per game with the help of Turner’s offense and Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore.
Alex Smith has improved within Turner’s offense and tutelage as well. The second year quarterback’s QB rating has gone from an embarrassing 40.8 to a more respectable 74.8. In fact, he had four games with a QB rating over 100 and one with a QB rating of 120.5 against rival Oakland. In 2005, he completed only 51% of his passes. In 2006, he completed over 58% of his passes. That is better than Roger Staubach, John Elway or Terry Bradshaw’s career completion percentages. His 16 touchdowns to 16 interceptions ratio is much better than the 1 touchdown to 11 interception ratio he had during his rookie season. Turner helped Smith to become a better decision maker and know when to and when not to force a pass or just get rid of the ball. Turner also helped Smith by working with him on his mechanics, improve his throwing motion and focusing on the way he drops back in the pocket. Smith was use to the shotgun formation in college and struggled in his debut 2005 season. In an offense that is so reliant on timing, Turner showed Smith how to drop back and get the ball to his receivers quickly and more efficiently. His understanding of quarterbacks greatly benefits his teaching style when working with young passers. With Turner staying, Smith’s development, paired with veteran quarterback Trent Dilfer’s helpful advice, will continue to improve.
Even though 49ers head coach Mike Nolan had promised that they would keep Turner’s offense in place had he been offered the coaching position, the transition from one offensive coordinator to another, even one from within the organization, would have been an adjustment for the players. They would have had to get acquainted with the coaching style of their third offensive coordinator in three years. Turner’s added benefit is his deep involvement with the players’ development during training camp and practices.
Turner is such a favorite among the players for his offensive schemes and coaching abilities, that once word got out that he may be leaving for Dallas, players like Frank Gore and Alex Smith attempted to contact him to persuade him otherwise.
When asked about the prospect of losing Turner, Gore said, "It would hurt…We need him to stay. With the young team that we have, we could keep getting better and better. Last year from the first week to the last week we kept improving every game. You could see it."
It was Turner that convinced Gore to hit the weight room during the last offseason in order to become a more powerful running back in 2006. Needless to say, it paid off. Gore’s 1,965 rushing yards lead the NFC and broke the team record held by Garrison Hearst. It also contributed to Gore’s first Pro Bowl selection.
According to ESPN, the 49ers organization even offered Turner a pay raise in January to stay onboard. The San Francisco Chronicle later stated that the 49ers had not made any such offer to Turner, but Matt Maiocco of the Press Democrat was quick to confirm that the team did, in fact, offer an increase in his salary.
If San Francisco has a solid draft and makes an impact in free agency, many experts view them as a team on the rise and possibly a shocker in 2007. A lot of that is due to the work that Norv Turner has done with offense and the improvement he has helped to generate. The 49ers are lucky to have Turner back and 2007 should be a fun year for the team and its' fans.
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