Hey, Norv: Enough is Enough
By Frank Ahrens
Forget about that other guy. It's time to get rid of the man who's really an embarrassment to Washington.
With their 38-16 thrashing at the hands of the Denver Broncos yesterday, the Washington Redskins have blundered to an 0-4 start this football season. They've got a quarterback controversy. They've got a knucklehead wide receiver who is merely the franchise cornerstone. They've got a defense with more holes in it than a mob boss after a hit. They've got no direction, no spirit, no promise, no hope and no chance.
Over head coach Norv Turner's five seasons, the Redskins are 26-41-1 with zero trips to the playoffs. Turner is a legendary nice guy, and surely General Manager Charley Casserly deserves blame for his part in lousy draft picks (Heath Shuler? Andre Johnson?).
But enough is enough off with the head! Coach, that is.
Washington being Washington, the argument for Turner's dismissal must be framed politically. Curiously, the Constitution is silent on this matter. So, without a speedily drafted and ratified 28th Amendment barring losing coaches in the nation's capital, it's time to ask: What does Turner deserve? Impeachment? Censure? Censure-plus? Something, everyone seems to agree.
Five years is long enough, says Stephen Hess, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Hey we only give presidents four years."
For a solution to the Turner Affair, we sought opinions in the cafeteria of the Longworth House Office Building, where staffers lunched while their bosses braced for possible impeachment procedures against the nation's head coach.
"We need some accountability," says Louis Renjel, 25, a clerk for the House Commerce Committee. He suggests the Redskins coach ought to be subject to the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, which attempts to hold the bureaucracy accountable to Congress.
"An oversight hearing is a good idea," says Matthew Hawkins, 26, who works in the same office. "We need to drag his [buttocks] in front of Congress and question him."
Hawkins is from New Zealand, and points out that politics and athletics are tightly linked in his country, as well. If the national rugby team does poorly during an election year, he says, politicians have trouble getting reelected. Moreover, after the rugby team opened this season with several losses, the head coach did the honorable thing: He offered to resign. An alternative, perhaps, that Turner ought to consider before things get uglier.
The idea that Turner ought to face some sort of inquisition seemed a common one. Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol suggested that Turner be deposed, but realized it would be double jeopardy for the coach.
"The problem is, he'd tell the truth and get fired," Kristol said. "That's where he's the opposite of Clinton: He's got a bad job rating but good personal character."
Back in the cafeteria, father and son Hugh and Christopher Hatcher and friend Tom Crawford consider the parallels between Turner's and Clinton's situations.
"Turner's become like a lame-duck president," says Crawford, 29, a lobbyist. "Everyone knows he's on the way out, so he's lost his ability to lead effectively."
"He's definitely picked the wrong chiefs of staff," says Christopher Hatcher, 31, a staffer in the office of Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.), referring to the Redskins parade of less-than-stellar quarterbacks, from Shuler to Gus Frerotte to Trent Green.
"And we certainly know he's soft on crime," Hatcher continues, taking a shot at the way Turner handled wide receiver Michael Westbrook after he decked teammate Stephen Davis in a preseason practice last year.
Hatcher's dad stretches the analogy to its esoteric limit: "And there's a lot of videotape around, too."
At a nearby table, several interns are dining. Caleb Ward, 22, suggested that Turner ought to face reelection, with Redskins fans voting on whether he keeps his job.
Michael Estreicher, 21, is an intern in the office of Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who, earlier this month made an influential speech denouncing Clinton's behavior.
Who, then, is the Lieberman in the Turner drama?
That would be Redskins linebacker Marvcus Patton, who yelled at Frerotte during the season-opening loss to the Giants, Estreicher says. "He was the one demanding something be done."
Something could be done if a professional sports franchise ran like a parliamentary government, such as England's. Redskins fans could take a vote of "no confidence" in Turner, said Hess, who knows something of protocol, having just written "The Little Book of Campaign Etiquette." Such a vote would cripple Turner.
But pro teams do not run that way. They are more like capitalist empires. A moneyed despot (the team owner) installs his hand-picked leader (the head coach) with no input from the citizens (the fans, who also happen to provide much of the revenue base). When the team falters because of the head coach, the fans have little recourse and no input on the coach's successor. All they can do is emigrate to another team or become disenfranchised from the system.
There is no place for a legislative body in the czardom of professional sports. But there are individuals who span both worlds, such as Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. (R-Okla.), who has unique insight into the Turner Problem. His Congress may be forced to consider articles of impeachment against a flailing president. And, as a former professional football player, he has been fired from his job for poor performance. He likes Turner and is sympathetic to the coach, understanding that a lot of things can go wrong that are out of a coach's control, like injuries to key players. But he understands the meritocracy of the athletic field and the political arena. They are both stern taskmasters.
"I had an old coach who told me, 'The best way to hush the boo-birds is to produce,' " Watts said. "I think that's where we are now." He also noted that it's easier for a president to fire his Cabinet than it is for a coach to get rid of deadbeat draft choices.
Watts did offer some advice to Turner, assuming that the coach finds himself out of a job:
"Don't do what I did and get into politics. In athletics, you can see the linebackers coming. In politics, you know you're getting hit, you just don't know where it's coming from."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company