When the awards for the Broncos MVP come up next month two names won’t be on the short list. They aren’t players – they get less press, but have greater responsibilities. Jim Goodman is the architect of the Denver youth movement, and has been rightfully praised to the rafters on this and many other sites. But there is probably a man who is getting more press this year than he has in his 13 year history with the Broncos – running backs coach Bobby Turner.
Bobby (Robert) Turner was born on May 6, 1947 in Midway, Alabama but grew up in East Chicago, Indiana. He stayed a Hoosier for his college days, and earned his bachelor's degree in health and physical education from Indiana State University in 1972. Although working as a full time coach, he continued his education, receiving his master's degree in education/administration from the school in 1976.
Turner was an all-conference defensive back while playing for ISU in both football and basketball. He tied the school's single-season record as a sophomore with nine interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns. He would finish his college career with 16 interceptions and go on to a well-rounded career in coaching.
He began his career at Haworth High School in Kokomo, Indiana, where he was an assistant coach with the football and basketball teams from 1972-74 before returning to ISU and taking a position as their strength and conditioning coordinator from 1976-77. Finding his calling early, he became the team's running backs coach and special teams coordinator from 1978-81.
In his final year at Indiana State in 1982, he coached defensive backs and served as their special teams coordinator. Turner was also the running backs coach at Ohio State University from 1989-90, a period when the Buckeyes went to two bowl games and, unsurprisingly, had one of the best running games in the Big Ten Conference. In his final collegiate coaching stop before moving to the NFL, Turner served as assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and running backs coach at Purdue University from 1991-94. It was then that he and Mike Shanahan began a long-standing personal and professional relationship that has proved invaluable to both men.
Mike asked Turner to come on as the running backs coach before Shanahan’s first season with the Broncos in 1995. According to the Denver Post, over the past 13 seasons no program has gained more rushing yards than the Broncos. Turner has seen his progeny rack up nine 1000 yard seasons by 6 individual runners (also re: the Denver Post). Turner coached Mike Andersen to his Rookie of the Year status, sharpened Olandis Gary, hung bling on Clinton Portis (according to CBS 4), has seen Tatum Bell come and go and come again and oh, yes – he coached Terrell Davis as well. In fact, most folks don't know that Turner is the man who found TD for the Broncos.
While compiling tape on Garrison Hearst in 1993, Turner noticed Davis and was so impressed that he put some film together. But, the way for TD was about to get rocky. A lot of folks wonder why TD fell to the 6th round, and how he was discovered. Shanahan gets the credit most of the time, but it was Turner that made the find.
When Hearst was selected by Arizona in the first round of the 1993 draft, Terrell Davis thought he would have the Georgia spotlight all to himself. But the Bulldogs restructured the offense to feature the passing attack, spearheaded by quarterback Eric Zeier (who became a backup with the Baltimore Ravens). Davis rushed for only 445 yards as a senior and then had a poor workout at the scouting combine. He didn't even think he would be drafted. He hadn't counted on the fact that Turner already had some film put together on him.
''I was really impressed with Garrison Hearst,'' Turner said. ''But every time he went out, this No. 33 came in. It was Terrell Davis. When I looked at that tape, I saw him picking up blitzes and blocking downfield, and he was even running some of the same pass routes that we run. He was a north-south runner. We don't like dancers here."
Dancers are about the only profession that the Broncos haven’t seen at RB in 2008. From veterans to rookies, linebackers to fullbacks, phone salesmen, missionaries and truck-pull specialists to knockout artists, Turner has been the glue that has held the much talked-about Broncos running attack together this year. Ranking 16th in the league with this many starters is unheard of.
Even for Turner, it’s not just another year at the office. Last Sunday, Turner called his remaining charges together.
"He was pretty animated about the situation," said running back Cory Boyd, who was promoted off the practice squad Tuesday to take Hillis' roster spot. "He's under a lot of pressure." Boyd appears to have a gift for understatement.
Ryan Torain said, "The way he coaches, he’s really a great coach and he works hard at his job. He works hard so we have to work even harder just because of the competition. When you’ve got a coach working every back like he could be the starter, and like five backs really wanting to be the starter, it has us working all the harder."
Tatum Bell, now a recovering phone salesman, was the last Bronco to have a 1000 yard season, before being traded for Dre Bly. The perception that anybody could rush for 1000 in Denver’s backfield began in 1999 after Davis’ devastating knee injury, when replacement Olandis Gary topped 1,000 yards. Mike Anderson followed suit in 2000, followed by Clinton Portis from 2002-03, Reuben Droughns in ’04, Anderson again in ’05 and Tatum Bell in 2006.
It won’t happen this year, but just the total output of the RB team is astounding given what the Broncos have had to work with. Everyone agrees that Turner is the reason why. It’s a tribute to his skill that he hasn’t worked with a #1 draft choice other than Ron Dayne (#11, NYG).
Bobby Turner is well known throughout the league as a coach who may be ready to take the next rung on the ladder. He interviewed in 2005 for the OC job in New Orleans and again in 2007 in Miami. So far he’s decided to stay with the Broncos. No one can know if next year will bring a new offer and a chance to work as a coordinator, but one thing that we can know is this – If Bobby Turner is half the offensive coordinator that he is a running back coach, Lord help the rest of the league. The defenses are in for a heck of a time.