Trial By Firing: The Rise and Fall of Ron Turner

Antwan FieldsContributor IJanuary 8, 2010

CHICAGO - 2008:  Ron Turner of the Chicago Bears poses for his 2008 NFL headshot at photo day in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Getty Images)
Getty Images/Getty Images

Monday afternoon, after a victory over the worst team of the 2000's of any sport except the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Bears made a decision that every single Bears fan knew was coming. No, Lovie Smith was not fired, ticket prices were not increased (yet) and Tommie Harris was not shown the door. For the second time, Ron Turner was escorted out of Halas Hall by security.

Turner's first stint in Chicago was long before Al Gore began taking credit for inventing the internet, including this website. He worked with Erik Kramer, producing the best season by a Bears QB to that point, and others. But when Dave Wannsteadt wore out his welcome with the Bear front office (long after having worn out his welcome with Bear fans) Turner was swept out the door along with Wanny and the rest of his crew. Okay, actually he took the job at the U of I, but I'd rather think that he was dumped along with Wanny, when Wannsteadt was dumped in 98, the year after Turner left.

Turner went to Illinois and spent eight years at war with Illinois fans and alumni. In those eight years, he had two winning records. Two. And four times he won three games or less, including two seasons where he didn't win a single conference game, which no other coach has done in the history of the Fighting Illini

But Turner was known for offense, and after Terry Shea did his best impression of Lou Tepper, Turner's predecessor at Illinois, and was fired, Turner's record with the Bears back in the 1800's-sorry, I mean, 1995-97-was instrumental in his re-hiring by the Chicago Bears.

Oddly, Turner helped make Kyle Orton into a winner, but unwittingly made Bears fans into Orton's disciples. Personally, I'd rather be a disciple of Randy Orton, but that's probably just me. Kyle Orton is not and never has been a Pro Bowl QB, but then again, the underrated Thomas Jones was doing yeoman's work, and the defense, which according to Brian Urlacher is the identity of this team, was solid. Orton was a game manager.

To me, the absolute WORST thing you can ask of your QB is that he be a "game manager." Unless your running back is LaDanian Tomlinson in his prime or Barry Sanders at any time, game manager QB's are invariably stiffs. The most exciting-and winning-teams in the NFL don't have "game managers." They have QB's that are household names, that are held up as superstars.

Ben Roethlisberger is a prime example of a guy that was supposed to be a "game manager." Somewhere along the way, though, his status changed. He became one of the ten, and possibly five, best quarterbacks in the NFL because his OC placed faith in him, and he's got two SB rings because of it.

Since the role of the quarterback was expanded and redefined in the 90's, only one QB has won a Super Bowl as a "game manager." That quarterback? Trent Dilfer of the 2001 Baltimore Ravens, a team who I absolutely loved, not because of Ray Lewis, but because of Jonathan Ogden and the rest of the O-line.

This is a lesson the Bears thought they could overturn in 2006, when Turner's offense actually made Rex Grossman look good. But cracks appeared in the armor immediately. The Bears ranked 15th in total offense that season, which is almost squarely in the middle of the pack. The team they faced? The Indianapolis Colts. Do I have to say any more about that? Also, Grossman's top receiving threats? An old Mushin Muhammad, Desmond Clark, and screen passes to TJ. Grossman also threw 21 interceptions against 23 touchdowns and was sacked 21 times, though he did throw for 3,193 yards.

But old habits die hard, and after Grossman faded badly, Orton game managed the Bears into a 9-7 record in 2008.

Since virtually halftime of Super Bowl XLI, Turner has been under fire. Bears fans refer derisively to the screen pass on 3rd and 9, but this actually seemed to be the case. Turner's offense, however, netted a record that previous Bears offenses should actually be ashamed of: three straight years with three thousand or more passing yards, a first since 97-99.

To put it in perspective, Peyton Manning has thrown for a minimum 3,700 yards EVERY SEASON OF HIS CAREER. That's 11 straight seasons. Brett Favre has never played a full season where he didn't throw for a minimum of 3,200 yards. THAT'S EIGHTEEN YEARS. So when the Bears made a deal for Jay Cutler, for some reason Bear fans were predicting 11, 12, or 13 wins.

I wasn't one of them. Cutler's talent is overwritten by the awfulness of the Bear receivers, and the awfulness of Ron Turner's built-for-Orton offense. Also, as I've written before, Devin Hester as a wide receiver fails. Horribly.

Was it really a shock that Turner was fired? No, of course not. When Cutler and the Bears put up six points against the San Francisco 49ers in week 10 after being bullrushed by the Arizona Cardinals, that was all for Turner. And coals would later be heaped on the fire by one of the worst performances I've ever seen a Bears team achieve, and that includes the Ray Zellars game back in either 97 or 98, the smackdown laid by the Baltimore Ravens. And in the end, that comes back to Turner. Despite not being as ferocious as they were in the beginning of the decade, it seemed like the Ravens were prepared for everything.

Turner deserved to be fired. He was uncompromising in his offense, he wouldn't adjust to what Cutler could do, he kept trying the same plays with Matt Forte, who this year looked suspiciously like Ron Dayne, and the Bear offense, despite their performance in the final two games of this season, failed to show up when it mattered most.

So what will the new OC do? Hopefully, something that utilizes the talents of Cutler and Forte, and something that doesn't involve Devin Hester as a #1 WR. And hopefully, something that doesn't involve Orlando Pace in a Bear uniform. Thanks to Jerry Angelo, though, Ron Turner will not be involved in the potential disaster that could be the 2010 Chicago Bears. And I breathe just a little easier knowing that.


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