The University of Illinois
As Illinois head football coach Ron Turner enters his eighth year at the helm of the program, he looks to continue to build a program that just three years ago enjoyed an outright Big Ten Championship. Turner has engineered offenses that have broken school records and have the Illini among the top scorers in the country. During his tenure, the Illinois offense has posted the best total yards numbers in consecutive years (2001 and 2002), recorded more points than any other Illini team on two occasions (1999 and 2001) and passed for over 3,000 yards twice (2001 and 2002). Looking at the all-time rushers in school history and you will find three of the Top-5 from the Turner era. Just two years ago, the Illini bid farewell to the greatest receiving corp the program has seen with four players making NFL rosters in 2003.
The 2002 offense set a new school mark for total offense, averaging 446.3 yards per game, which also ranked ninth nationally. Turner's high-powered offenses now rank in three of the school's top-5 spots. Quarterback Jon Beutjer led the conference in passing and the team held the top spot as well for the second straight year. Illinois fans saw the compilation of probably the greatest wide receiving corp in school history as Brandon Lloyd, Walter Young, Aaron Moorehead and Greg Lewis accounted for 57 touchdowns and over 7,700 receiving yards their four years. At least three of the four rank on every career receiving record list and all four are on NFL rosters.
Not to leave out the rushing game, the Turner era has produced three of the best running backs in school history. In 2002, Antoineo Harris capped his career with a 178-yard performance to break the single-season record. He also moved to second on the career list, behind only Robert Holcombe who set the career mark in 1997. A 2001 graduate, Rocky Harvey ranks fifth on that list.
The championship run in 2001 marked many firsts for the Illini. It was the first outright Big Ten title for Illinois in 18 years and the team's first-ever berth in the Bowl Championship Series. The 10-win season was only the fourth for an Illini squad in its storied history. For his efforts, Turner was unanimously named the 2001 Big Ten Coach of the Year. He also was a finalist for the Eddie Robinson, Bear Bryant and the AFCA Coach of the Year awards. Illinois' No. 7 ranking in both the Associated Press and coaches' poll at the end of the regular season was the highest for an Illini squad since 1990. The team finished No. 12 in both final polls.
Considered one of the game's great offensive minds, in 2001 Turner once again led his Illini to the highest scoring offense in school history, scoring 390 points for an average of 32.5 points per contestant. In 1999, Illinois scored 388 to break the previous scoring record set in 1902.
Turner is also known for his development of quarterbacks and his most recent protege, Kurt Kittner benefited from his tutoring. Kittner was a Johnny Unitas Award finalist and a Davey O'Brien Award semifinalist. He became only the sixth Illinois quarterback to pass for over 3,000 yards in a season and with the win over Northwestern in 2001, he became the winningest quarterback in school history (24-15). He set the school record for touchdown passes in a career with 70 and broke his own single-season record of 24 set in 1999 with 27 in 2001.
Kittner also became one in a long line of successful Turner-coached quarterbacks to head to the NFL. Others on that prestigious list are: current San Francisco 49er starter Jeff Garcia, Erik Kramer, Jim Harbaugh, Steve Stenstrom, Sean Salisbury, Rodney Peete, Bucky Richardson, Sandy Schwab, John Congemi and Dave Kreig.
During Turner's tenure, the Illini have been very successful in the NFL draft with at least one player selected in each of his six seasons. In 2003, the Illini broke school records with five players taken in the draft. Cornerback Eugene Wilson became the highest player drafted since 1996 when he was selected as the 36th pick. Receiver Brandon Lloyd went in the fourth round, followed by offensive linemen Tony Pashos and David Diehl in the fifth and WR Walter Young in the seventh. In 1998, Robert Holcombe was taken in the second round by the St. Louis Rams, while offensive lineman J.P. Machado was a sixth-round pick for the New York Jets in 1999. In both 2000 and '01, two players went in the April draft, placekicker Neil Rackers and linebacker Danny Clark in 2000 and offensive tackle Marques Sullivan and fullback Jameel Cook in 2001. Kittner was the sole selection in 2002 as an Atlanta Falcons fifth-rounder. In addition to players drafted, many former Illini have signed free agent contracts to play professionally.
Currently 21 Illinois players from the Turner era are on NFL rosters. LB Danny Clark, FB Jameel Cook, TE Matt Cushing, OL Dave Diehl, RB Antoineo Harris, LS Nathan Hodel, RB Robert Holcombe, S Bobby Jackson, QB Kurt Kittner, WR Greg Lewis, WR Brandon Lloyd, OL J.P. Machado, OL Brandon Moore, WR Aaron Moorehead, OL Tony Pashos, PK Neil Rackers, OL Marques Sullivan, DE Fred Wakefield, CB Eugene Wilson, LB Michael Young and WR Walter Young.
Turner has also been tabbed as one of the best coaches for turning under-recruited players into All-Big Ten selections (by Lindy's in 2001). In his five seasons, Turner has boasted 49 All-Big Ten selections (first, second-team and honorable mention), including first-teamers DE Fred Wakefield in 2000, CB Eugene Wilson, OL Tony Pashos and OL Jay Kulaga in 2001 and Pashos again in 2002. Turner had a record number of all-conference picks after the championship in 2001 with 13.
Following the 2001 season, junior cornerback Eugene Wilson was named to many All-American teams (Playboy, Football News, Sporting News and CNNSI.com) after leading the nation in passes broken up and intercepting six. Wakefield, OL Marques Sullivan Sullivan and Kittner earned Football News honorable mention All-American honors in 2000 and Sullivan garnered third-team All-America accolades from the Football Writers.
The 1999 season was the breakthrough year for the Illini as the Turner-led Illini produced an 8-4 overall record with a 4-4 Big Ten Conference mark. It was the school's first winning season and bowl appearance since 1994. Turner finished fourth in the Associated Press Coach of the Year voting that season.The Illini's 63 points scored in the lop-sided 63-21 victory over Virginia in the Micronpc.com Bowl were the fourth-most ever scored by a college team in NCAA bowl history. During that game, the squad shattered 22 Illinois and Micronpc.com Bowl records.
With wins at Michigan and Ohio State in 1999, Turner led the first team since 1952 (Michigan St.) to wins at "The Big House" and "The Horseshoe" in the same season.
As on the field, the Illinois program has had a steady turnaround in all facets of its football operation, including the creation of innovative ideas such as the "Camp Rantoul" two-week training camp at the former Chanute Air Base in nearby Rantoul. The Illini also have seen dramatic improvements in the overall well-being of the football student-athlete under Turner, ranging from an increased emphasis on strength and conditioning, nutrition, academic services, time management and gambling and drug awareness programs all designed to create a positive atmosphere for the Illinois football student-athletes.
The academic standards also have been raised by Turner. Prior to the 1997 season, the cumulative team GPA for the Illini was a 2.19 which has since improved to a 2.67. Turner has placed 64 players on the Academic All-Big Ten team in the past six years, while also boasting three GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-Americans, first-teamer Josh Whitman and on the second-team, Fred Wakefield, in both 1999 and 2000 and Tony Pashos in 2001 and 2002. Whitman represented the school at the College Football Hall of Fame banquet in New York speaking on behalf of 16 scholar-athlete award winners. Offensive lineman Tony Pashos also garnered academic all-district honors in 2002.
Although only 50 years old, Turner is a seasoned coaching veteran, spending 20-plus seasons in the collegiate ranks and four years as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the National Football League's Chicago Bears.
Turner became the 21st head coach in Illinois football history on Dec. 2, 1996 and recently signed a contract extension that keeps him in Champaign through January of 2007.
The Chicago Bears
In four seasons working with the Chicago Bears, Turner coordinated an offense that improved every season, breaking the club record for passing yards with 233 yards per game in 1995 and producing a 1,000-yard receiver and rusher in the same season. The diversity of the Turner offense in Chicago found success under four different quarterbacks in Jim Harbaugh (1993), Steve Walsh (1994), Erik Kramer (1995) and Dave Krieg (1996). In 1994, the Bears led the NFC Central Division for much of the regular season and defeated division rival Minnesota, 35-18, in a first-round playoff game.
San Jose State
The Martinez, Calif., native entered the professional ranks in 1993 after a long and successful college coaching ledger. In 1992, Turner was named head coach at San Jose State. In just one season, Turner led a remarkable turnaround at SJSU, leading the Spartans to a 7-4 record and a second-place finish in the Big West Conference. Turner guided San Jose State to its best record in six years and directed a potent offense that churned out 400 yards per game while averaging 30 points per contest, good for 15th in the nation.
The Assistant Coach
A proven offensive teacher and tenacious recruiter, Turner spent the previous 16 years as an assistant at the major college level. He earned the San Jose State post after coordinating the Stanford offense for three seasons under Dennis Green. Turner began his coaching career as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Pacific before becoming the receivers coach at the University of Arizona, a post he held for two seasons (1978-79).
After coaching the Arizona running backs in 1980, Turner joined Green at Northwestern University in 1981 where he spent two seasons as quarterbacks/receivers coach. At Northwestern, Turner helped turn the Wildcat offense into one of the most exciting in the Big Ten, tutoring NU quarterback Sandy Schwab to several school and Big Ten records. As an assistant at Northwestern, Turner also recruited all-time NU punt and kickoff return leader Steve Tasker, who went on to a long career in the NFL.
In 1983, Turner became the quarterbacks coach at the University of Pittsburgh, working with Panther QB John Congemi for two seasons. He joined the Ted Tollner staff at Southern California in 1985 in a similar role before he was elevated to offensive coordinator in 1986, coaching 1988 Heisman Trophy runner-up Rodney Peete.
In 1987, new head coach Larry Smith retained Turner on the USC staff as receivers coach as the Trojans romped to the Pac 10 Conference title. The following season, Turner moved to Texas A&M University as the quarterbacks coach before moving to Stanford University in 1989. With the 2002 Sugar Bowl appearance, Turner has been a part of nine bowl teams, including the 1988 Rose Bowl team and the 1991 Stanford Aloha Bowl squad.
As a player, Turner was a second-team junior college All-American wide receiver at Diablo Valley Community College. He earned a scholarship to the University of Pacific and led the Tigers in receiving in 1975 and 1976, catching 40 passes for 666 yards (16.7 avg.) and three touchdowns. The following year, Turner began his coaching career at his alma mater.
The Personal Files
Turner's older brother, Norv, is in his first season as the head coach for the Oakland Raiders. Turner and his wife, Wendy, are extremely active in the Champaign community and reside in Champaign with their four children, sons Morgan and Cameron and daughters Cally and Madison.