Things haven’t always been easy for Norv Turner in his career. He hasn’t had a losing season in San Diego, but his Chargers teams have struggled to live up to expectations, keeping Turner squarely on the hot seat in the past few seasons.
One thing that can never be a knock on Turner, though, is his offensive prowess as a coach, especially when it comes to running backs.
Before breaking his clavicle in the Chargers’ preseason opener, third-year RB Ryan Mathews appeared on track for a huge season with 300-plus carries, drawing comparisons to how Turner used Emmitt Smith when he was the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator. Backs who played for Turner often had heavy workloads and put up big numbers as runners and receivers.
In 15 of Turner’s 21 seasons as either a head coach or offensive coordinator, he has had a running back rush for more than 1,000 yards. Here’s a look at those backs and the seasons they rushed for 1,000 yards with Turner calling the plays.
1. Emmitt Smith / Cowboys (1991-93) — Smith led the league in rushing in each of the three seasons Turner was in Dallas, rushing for 1,563 yards in 1991, 1,713 in ’92 and 1,486 yards in ’93. He also led the league in attempts in ’91 with 365 and rushed for a league-high 18 touchdowns in ’92. Those three seasons kick-started a Hall of Fame career for Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.
2. Terry Allen / Redskins (1995-96) — During Turner’s time as the Redskins’ head coach, Allen was his primary rusher from 1995-98, rushing for more than 1,300 yards in back-to-back seasons in ’95 and ’96. Those two campaigns marked Allen’s career-highs in rushes and yards and he led the league with 21 rushing touchdowns in ’96 and earned his one and only Pro Bowl berth.
3. Stephen Davis / Redskins (1999-2000) — A three-time Pro Bowler, Davis made two of those with Turner as his head coach in Washington. In 1999, Davis led the league with 17 touchdowns and 100.4 rushing yards per game. The next season, Davis had career-highs in receptions and yards (33 for 313) and rushed for 1,318 yards.
4. LaDainian Tomlinson / Chargers (2001, 2007-08) — In L.T.’s rookie season, Turner was his offensive coordinator, and Tomlinson exploded onto the NFL scene with 1,236 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs. Tomlinson certainly didn’t need Turner to be productive, but when Turner returned as head coach in ’07, L.T. led the league with 1,474 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Tomlinson’s final 1,000-yard season came in ’08, when he rushed for 1,110 yards.
5. Ricky Williams / Dolphins (2002-03) — Williams had his best season and only Pro Bowl selection in Turner’s first season as Miami’s offensive coordinator. In ’02, Williams led the league with 383 carries, 1,853 rushing yards and gained 115.8 rushing yards per game. He also had 16 rushing TDs and 47 catches for 363 yards. The next season, Williams led the league in carries again with 392, tied for the seventh-most carries in a season all-time.
6. LaMont Jordan / Raiders (2005) — Turner struggled to find success in his two seasons as the Raiders’ head coach, but he did help Jordan to his best NFL season. Jordan set career-high marks in carries (272), rushing yards (1,025), rushing touchdowns (nine), receptions (70) and receiving yards (563) in Turner’s final season with Oakland.
7. Frank Gore / 49ers (2006) — In Turner’s one season with San Francisco, he helped launch Gore into the consistent, productive runner we know today. But that ’06 season, Gore’s second in the NFL, was his best season as a runner. He rushed for a career-high 1,695 yards on 312 carries, adding eight rushing TDs. Continuing the trend of backs being dual threats under Turner, Gore had a career-best 61 catches for 485 yards.
8. Ryan Mathews / Chargers (2011) — Only twice in Turner’s 21 years as a head coach or offensive coordinator did he go back-to-back seasons without having a 1,000-yard rusher, including 2009-10. Mathews, a first-rounder in ’10, had high expectations, but injuries forced him out of four games. He had 1,091 yards rushing and 455 yards receiving in ’11, giving good reason for the high bar set for him in ’12. Mathews could miss two games because of the clavicle injury but is expected to carry a heavy workload upon his return.