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Thursday, February 8, 2007
Niners happy to keep Turner on staff

Associated Press

Norv Turner won't be the Dallas Cowboys' next head coach after all.

Clayton's take
The 49ers were big winners Thursday because they didn't lose Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator. With Turner working with quarterback Alex Smith and Frank Gore establishing himself as one of the league's top running backs, the 49ers are poised to make a playoff run next year if they have a good offseason signing and drafting defensive players. Turner may be disappointed about not getting the Cowboys job, but he's in a great spot in San Francisco. Blog

That's great news for everybody with the San Francisco 49ers, and even Turner doesn't seem too disappointed to be staying home.

The Cowboys hired Wade Phillips on Thursday, about 10 days after Turner emerged as the apparent front-runner to replace Bill Parcells. Turner, the Cowboys' former offensive coordinator who holds the same job in San Francisco, won two Super Bowl titles in three seasons running Dallas' offense.

But the Bay Area native will be chasing his third ring with the 49ers, whose once-awful offense improved remarkably during his first season in charge. After Phillips' hiring was announced in Dallas, Turner said he had no regrets about his failed bid to take over the Cowboys -- and he reaffirmed his desire to work alongside coach Mike Nolan.

"I have a great situation with the 49ers, and I'm excited about continuing the progress we made on offense last season," said Turner, who never had much success (58-82-1) as a head coach in Washington and Oakland.

"[San Francisco owner] John York and Mike Nolan were instrumental in lending their support to me through the interview process in Dallas. That reassured me how [strong] our structure and leadership is here in San Francisco," he said.

Turner wasn't specific about the reasons he didn't end up in Dallas, but it's widely assumed Turner wanted more control than owner Jerry Jones was willing to give -- control Turner never had in Washington or Oakland.

Nolan, who once worked for Turner with the Redskins, gives his former boss near-complete autonomy to run the San Francisco offense. What's more, Turner will get a sweetened contract with the 49ers, with added years and bigger paychecks, after the Cowboys passed over him.

Turner was the original mastermind behind the Dallas offenses led by Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin and NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith. Even after he left Texas for a tumultuous tenure in Washington, he remained a beloved figure among key Cowboys, including Jones.

But the 49ers are quite fond of Turner as well, even after just one 7-9 season. After the Raiders fired him following the 2005 season, Nolan quickly hired Turner to take over the NFL's 32nd-ranked offense.

While the Niners didn't exactly become a powerhouse, Turner got remarkable progress from quarterback Alex Smith and an improved offensive line. He helped Frank Gore become the NFC's leading rusher in a breakout season.

"I'm happy, real happy, especially with the young team we have," Gore said at the NFC's Pro Bowl practice in Hawaii. "All that progress we made toward the end of the year, that's just going to continue. We can just keep playing off of it. We can keep growing, working hard in the offseason, and next year is going to be crazy, just crazy."

Gore intended to plead with his coach to stay last week but only got Turner's voicemail. Gore set a franchise record while leading the NFC with 1,695 yards rushing, also setting the club record with 2,180 total yards from scrimmage, and breaking the single-game rushing record with 212 yards against Seattle.

Turner's return also allows Nolan to maintain some continuity on his coaching staff. Nolan fired defensive coordinator Billy Davis after the season and replaced him with San Diego linebackers coach Greg Manusky, Phillips' protege with the Chargers. Nolan also hired Al Everest to replace special-teams coordinator Larry Mac Duff, who went to the Texas Longhorns.