The masochistic coach

Updated: January 26, 2004, 6:33 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

Norv Turner arose, considered the twists and turns of a life devoted to football in all its whack-job forms, and decided to run the table.

Jerry Jones ... Danny-Boy Snyder ... Wayne Huizenga ... and now Al Davis.

Somewhere, Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, is saying, "Man, that boyo's got a set on him, eh mate?"

By now, the nation has determined that Turner is your basic closing-time hire. The tavern is nearly empty, the waitress has finished counting her tips and is grabbing her coat, the bartender is saying, "C'mon, c'mon, you can keep drinking but you can't do it here," and the last two customers are Al and Norv.

But rather than consider this a marriage of convenience between two desperate people, let's think rather of Turner as the fire-walker, the guy in the circus who gives the tiger the tonsillectomy with the end of a cotton candy stick, the one who puts the thorn back in the lion's paw, the man who eats fire to coat his stomach for the liquid nitrogen chaser.

The man who makes his wife look at him in amazement and say, "Norv, you're a brave man, I believe you, you can stop showing off now."

But Norv can't. True, this is the only head coaching job left, and quite possibly the last one he shall ever receive, but he is under no obligation to keep seeking out the toughest working conditions for the least forgiving bosses he can find.

Yet, he does, over and over again. He is the one-man bomb squad, tackling the jobs most people shrink from so they can see the carnage an hour later on CNN.

Hell, Norv Turner is a damned American hero, and I defy you to argue with me.

He goes to a team that is:
A) Old.
B) Cranky.
C) Unafraid of authority.
D) Undertalented.
E) Demoralized.
F) Rooting against the University of Nebraska with all its might.

And while he has five years to turn this toad into Renee Zellweger, there is nothing that says he won't cross the boss long before then. Bill Callahan, after all, blew his welcome four games after coaching the employees to the Super Bowl, and Al has had more coaches in the past decade than any other football team.

In other words, Norv Turner is already day-to-day, and he hasn't even gotten out of his honeymoon skivvies.

But it isn't like he doesn't know this already.

He knows he will make more money, get to tell people what to do occasionally, and maybe even rehabilitate the image he left behind in Washington.

In other words, he's like Leon Spinks before the Ali fight. He's got nothin' to lose.

And that's what we like about this. Not that it's going to inspire the true believers, or sell any more season tickets, or make NFL insiders do anything but split their sides in helpless laughter. More people are making fun of Norv Turner today than at any time since he left Washington.

But as a what-the-hell statement for the ages, it's hard to beat. There aren't any seven-figure coordinator's jobs out there, he isn't an idiot, and he might actually make this work, which he wouldn't be able to say if he didn't take the job.

So he looked at Al and said, "OK, dip me in the gasoline, put the flare in my mouth and point me toward the motor pool, boss."

Will this hire make the Raiders great again? Will it wash the taste of the Callahan/Tim Brown spitfest that punctuated their worst season in 40 years? Will it save the franchise from rampant tumbleweeds where ticket-holders used to roam?

Probably not, but who the hell knows? This looks like an impossible job, but so was the Redskins' gig when he took that. He'll do what he can as long as he can do it, try not to end up on the business end of the spit at the players' postseason dinner, and if/when it all blows up anyway, he'll at least be able to say, "I gave it a shot."

We'll know he's crazy, but even crazy people are entitled to seek their bliss, even if it comes wrapped in razor wire dripping with tetanus.

This is Norv Turner's bliss, and you know what? How much worse could Al be than Jerry, Danny or Wayne? Who else do you know who's lived through all of them?

Hero? Hah! We do the man an injustice. He is the bravest single man alive not currently wearing a badge, a camouflage helmet, or polling in Connecticut for Gov. John Rowland.

Norv Turner, we salute you, you great loopy bastard.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com