California-raised-and-trim; 59 years old with a wife, four kids, grandkids; a coaching lifer fluent in coachspeak…FIU head football coach Ron Turner can come across as vanilla and West Coast as the offense he prefers.
Most wouldn’t assume Turner was raised in the projects and once hung out in a hotel suite with George Carlin. That’s why you don’t assume. You ask.
When did you decide to make coaching your life’s work?
“Oh, when I was young. I knew I would be a teacher or coach. I didn’t know what sport. I played football, basketball, baseball and loved all of them…I remember as early as junior high [thinking] that I’d coach something.”
How’d you come to that realization?
“No. 1, I loved sports. I grew up in a single parent home so the male figures in my life were coaches. And there were some good ones who helped influence me. Our mother directed us toward sports for that reason, to have those kind of relationships…I’m sure that had something to do with why [Cleveland offensive coordinator and former NFL head coach] Norv [Turner] and I both got into [coaching].”
What did your mom (Vicky Lee Turner) do for a living?
“She didn’t work. She raised five kids, we were all within five and a half years [of each other]. My father left when I was 10 months old, so I never knew him…She came down with multiple sclerosis. It got progressively worse. By the time I was in junior high, she was confined to a wheelchair. By the time I was in high school, she was in a wheelchair at best. Sometimes, not even that.
“But she raised five of us and taught us our values. Special lady.”
Which kids were de facto heads of the family?
“My two older sisters. The oldest in the family was my oldest brother. Then we had two girls and they kind of acted like “Mom.” I think we all had to grow up a little bit faster. The older ones provided great leadership.
“But [my mother] always stressed to us ‘It’s not about what you don’t have, it’s what you have. And what you have is your dignity, your self-respect. You don’t have to have money to treat people the right way. You don’t have to have money to treat people with respect and do the right things.’… I remember on the weekends, when I was young, still light out, 8 o’clock at night during the summer, we were in bed. She said, ‘Bad things are going to happen if you’re out there.’ We’re looking out the window, kids are out playing and we were inside. She kept a close watch on us and made sure we stayed out of trouble.”
Has the way you were raised given you more of an ability to relate to some recruits?
“I think so. We were in a single parent home... We were on government aid and lived in a housing project until I was a freshman in high school. I think I can understand what these kids are going through who weren’t raised with the guidance of two parents at home, even though there’s a high percentage of people who had a lot worse than I did.
“I remind the staff of that all the time: for some kids on this team, we’re the only family they have. For a lot, we’re the only male figure in their lives.”
What’s the best coaching job you’ve done at any level and why?
“Two come to mind and I guess it’s because we won those years…
“In Champaign [at the University of Illinois], in 2001, we won the Big Ten championship…We did it truly, truly as a team. We did it with a bunch of guys who weren’t very heavily recruited all the way across the board. We had [future NFL veteran] Brandon Lloyd as a receiver….But, other than that, we had receivers who were former walk-ons...[Quarterback] Kurt Kittner wasn’t heavily recruited. Our offensive line [was] a bunch of guys who had one offer, and that was University of Illinois. Defensive line, Brandon Moore, who just retired from the NFL as an offensive lineman, had about two offers, us and a MAC school. But they came together as a team and far exceeded what they probably should have and whatever was thought they could have.
And, I think Chicago Bears, ’06, when we came to Miami and played in the Super Bowl, even though we didn’t win the Super Bowl. I was there five years, and we had five different starting quarterbacks. To do what we did, again have that group come together as a team and exceed expectations, but, most importantly, played at the highest level we could possibly play at.”
What’s the worst coaching job you’ve done at any level and why?
“After the 2001 season, we actually started getting more highly recruited players who were not as good. I learned a lesson from that. Part of it was [before] the guys we got who weren’t heavily recruited had a tremendous passion for the game. They were going to succeed. As we had success, we were able to recruit the so-called higher level guys, but they didn’t have the same passion. The next year after that, I didn’t do a good job of getting the leadership. I look at it and say ‘How could I have gotten that better, done a better job of getting the player leadership going?’ ”
Can you remember when you first heard of FIU?
“No, because I always got FIU and FAU mixed up. I shouldn’t admit that (laughs). ‘Is Howard [Schnellenberger] at FIU or is he at FAU?’ Probably when they hired what’s his name? [Isiah] Thomas, as the basketball coach [in 2009].”
What’s the difference in recruiting now vs. 1997-2004 when you were at Illinois?
“It’s nonstop. It’s 24 hours a day because of the social media. Before it was phone calls and handwritten letters, stuff we still do. But now it’s everything else — Twitter and Instagram and Facebooks. I guess it can be a good thing. You can find out more about kids now. We follow their Twitter and Facebook and all that. There’s kids we were looking at that we said, “I don’t want anything to do with that kid.” You do have an opportunity to get to know them better. And they have an opportunity to get to know you better.”
First printable words describing your thoughts/emotions after the Kedrick Rhodes incident (FIU’s two-time leading rusher shot a gun into the air on campus while inebriated and was dismissed from the team)?
“Very mad. Very disappointed. Once I thought about it, I felt bad for him. He made a very big mistake that can be extremely costly to him. I like him…He’s got a bright future. I do think he’s a good kid, who made a huge, huge mistake. I tell them all the time, every decision you make, everything you do, there will be consequences. Sometimes, those consequences may be mild. Sometimes, you may do one thing, it may be very severe…I told him, “You’re not going to be part of this program and rightfully so. But if I can do anything to help you, I’m going to help you. That’s what I’m here for. Learn from that mistake. You’ve got to move on. Obviously, we’re moving on.’”
Who’s a better coach, you or Norv?
“I have no idea. We have our different styles. He’s a very, very good coach. I’ll probably say he is. I think he’s one of the top coaches in the history of the NFL. I’ve learned a lot from him.”
Dog or cat?
“Oh, dog. I can’t stand cats.” (“Except for Panthers,” he adds later).
Richard Pryor, George Carlin or Bob Newhart?
“All very, very good. I don’t know if I could pick.
“Norv was coaching in the Rose Bowl [as a USC assistant]. [USC head coach] John Robinson had a suite. I happened to go in there, just visiting. There were six to eight of us in there. [Carlin] was there. They asked him a couple of questions. He got up and started to do a routine for about 50 minutes. So, because of that personal experience, I might have to say him.”
California cuisine or Midwestern meatiness?
“California cuisine. Some of the Miami cuisine is fast becoming a favorite.”