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Inside the NFL | Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

Turner Keeps Broncos on Run

September 17, 2004|Sam Farmer

Bobby Turner is kind of like the guy who delivers your newspaper -- you hardly ever see him, but you'd sure know if he weren't around.

Turner, in his 10th season as coach of the Denver Bronco running backs, quietly has helped build a ball-carrying dynasty. He worked most closely with Denver's seemingly endless stream of top-shelf running backs, among them Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary, Clinton Portis and emerging star Quentin Griffin, fresh off a three-touchdown, 156-yard rushing performance Sunday against Kansas City.

Yes, Denver has consistently had good offensive lines. And, yes, Coach Mike Shanahan knows a lot about establishing an offensive system and drawing up a game plan. But Turner's contribution cannot be underestimated, especially when you consider that in the last decade, eight Bronco backs have rushed for 100 or more yards in a game.

Since Turner was hired, the Broncos have produced the most yards rushing, 20,342, and second-most total yards, 52,550, in the NFL, and have gotten 1,000-yard rushing seasons from Davis, Gary, Anderson and Portis.

Still, Turner is hounded by the question: Who are you, again?

"It has been overlooked a little, I guess," Turner said, when asked how Bronco fans viewed his contribution. "Everyone says, 'When did you get there? How long have you been around? Too bad you didn't get a chance to coach Terrell Davis.' "

Ah, but Turner did. Under his tutelage, Davis went from a sixth-round pick out of Georgia in 1995 to the greatest running back in Bronco history, and most valuable player of the league and Super Bowl XXXII.

"I've always said no one ever mentions Bobby Turner and how important he was to our offense," Davis said.

Turner starred in football and basketball at Indiana State. An all-conference defensive back, he intercepted nine passes as a sophomore and returned two for touchdowns. After college, he began coaching, working as an assistant at Indiana State, Fresno State, Ohio State and Purdue before joining the Broncos.

"He's able to relate to us from a football standpoint as well as a personal standpoint," said Anderson, who is on injured reserve with the Broncos this season, recovering from a groin injury. "He had a rough childhood, ... just like a lot of us, and he's able to relate. He's just a guy who's worked his tail off his whole life to get where he is, and it's the same path a lot of us took."

Turner's persistence borders on nagging. Anderson tells of his rookie year, when he kept getting caught from behind. Turner pestered him about it at every practice, comparing defenders to cheetahs and Anderson to their prey.

"You can't let those cheetahs get you," Turner told him time and again.

Finally, in the 12th game, Anderson broke free on an 80-yard touchdown run in Seattle, high-stepping just in time to miss a diving Shawn Springs.

"I kept thinking, 'I'm not going to get caught this time,' " Anderson said. "I guess I just got so tired of hearing Coach Turner say it, I made sure it didn't happen again."

So did he look for Turner on the sideline after that run?

"I didn't need to," Anderson said. "He was the first guy hugging me."

*

Jackie Slater, a Hall of Fame tackle for the Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams, was fined twice by the NFL in his 20 seasons -- after run-ins with Chicago linebacker Otis Wilson in 1980 and New York Jet defensive lineman Mark Gastineau in 1983.

To hear the eloquent Slater tell it, he was "trying to get Gastineau's attention," and, after getting pushed over a pile by Wilson, Slater simply "expressed my disappointment. Physically."

Sounds innocent enough.

And those are just the kinds of sanitized euphemisms Slater is bracing for in his new job as the league's appeals officer for player discipline, a position vacated by Art Shell, who moved on to become the NFL's vice president of football operations.

It's a good job for Slater not only because of his vast playing experience -- his 259 regular-season games played were the most by an offensive lineman when he retired after the 1995 season -- but because he tends to be a stickler for the rules. (For the record, he didn't bother appealing his two fines.)

"I was always a guy that adhered to the rules," he said. "When I was supposed to be somewhere, I was there on time."

That's not always easy these days, especially because Slater lives in Orange County and works in Manhattan, flying to New York for three or four days each week. He also maintains a consulting business, overseeing the training of budding offensive linemen. Perhaps his top priority, though, is watching his sons play football. Matthew Slater is a redshirt freshman receiver at UCLA, and younger brother David is a two-way lineman for a lower-level team at Santa Margarita High.

That's an awful lot of football for Slater, who spends most of the week studying videotape from NFL games, trying to decide whether equitable fines were imposed.

"It seems like I've been watching tape for 37 years," said Slater, 50, who probably has been.

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