Head coach more than football guy

Online Poster

By Lisa Koulias

During football season, Illinois head coach Ron Turner arrives at the office early in the morning – around 6:30 a.m. – and doesn’t leave until late at night.

Even if he doesn’t make it home in time to say goodnight to his children, he always makes sure he calls them and talks to them everyday.

That’s just the kind of guy he is.

“He talks to us everyday,” Morgan Turner, a freshman at Illinois said. “If he’s working late, he’ll call home and talk to us. And every day we at least get to talk to him if not see him. He’s good about that.”

Although Turner finds most of his days consumed with Illinois football, especially during the season, he is always trying to keep a close relationship with his family – his wife Wendy, daughters Cally and Madison, and sons Cameron and Morgan.

“His kids come first and I think that puts a lot of things in perspective,” Wendy said. “You realize that those kids are the most important things in your life and that keeps him very well-grounded, and I think that’s what helps him day to day with his football.

“The kids call him, we’ll pop up there. We just try to get up there as much as we can. Thursday is the one day he gets home early, and that’s 6:30-7 p.m., and if one of our daughters has a game, he’ll try to get to that or we will sit down and have a family dinner.”

Turner isn’t like most dads. His job is a high-profile position in a college community. As a head football coach for a Big Ten team, a lot of Turner’s time is devoted to the football program. But that is all pushed aside as soon as he walks in the front door of his Champaign home. Football and family are always separate at the Turner household.

“When you come home and you realize that you have family there, they want to be with you and don’t want to be with your job,” Wendy said. “And Ron knows it. He wants to spend time and find out what the kids have been doing – how their school is going, how their sports are going and academics for them.”

Turner admits that it is hard to make it to everyone’s open house or soccer game, but tries to stay as involved as possible.

His son Cameron is a junior in high school and nearing the end of his football season. Turner said he gets to about half his son’s games, depending on whether Illinois is home or away that weekend. But if he can’t make the game, he makes sure to get a videotape of it. He watches them with his son – as a dad, not a coach.

His oldest son, Morgan, is a freshman at Illinois and a student assistant coach for the team. Although Morgan loves football, he also likes that he is able to see his dad everyday.

“I’ve been around football all my life,” Morgan said. “I played in high school and didn’t play here, so I decided I wanted to be around the game. I thought it would be great to spend more time with him. I get to see him every day now.”

Support staff

Turner is able to be the person he is today thanks to his wife. During the season, Wendy takes on the head-of-the-household role because her husband is home so little during this time.

“I am a single parent from beginning of August to the first week in February when recruiting is over,” Wendy said. “What’s so good is I know when he’s going to be home. I know his schedule, so we adjust to it accordingly and I do pretty much run the household.

“I don’t mind it at all. A marriage is 50-50. He takes care of things and I take care of things. We work very, very well together because I know what he can and can’t do during the season and offseason and we just work from there.”

Turner agrees with his wife and admires her because she has to be so independent. Not only does Wendy have to be the main disciplinarian, but she also has to run the household and make sure the kids are where they need to be for sporting events or other activities.

“She has to be (an amazing woman) and she is,” Turner said. “All of our coaches’ wives have to be very independent because we are never there. Basically they run the family.”

Wendy says the reason their relationship works so well is because they can depend on one another.

“He’s a wonderful dad and a wonderful husband,” Wendy said. “I don’t know where I would be without him because I lean on him as much as he leans on me and we are both there to support each other.”

Tough skin

Although the Illini finally snapped their 14-game Big Ten losing streak with their win Saturday, rumors still circulate in regards to Turner’s future as head coach. The Illini are 3-7 this year with one game left. They finished last year 1-11. In 2001, the team won the Big Ten Championship and went to the Sugar Bowl.

While Turner says he doesn’t pay attention to all the rumors, he does admit that his family is most affected by what people are saying.

“They hear a lot more of it than I do, and it is hard for them,” Turner said. “What I tell them all the time is that we are doing the best job we can – that we believe in what we are doing.

“And I also told them that in 2001 when we won the championship, everyone was saying all kinds of good things about me and that wasn’t necessarily true either. I’m the same person I was then as I am now. You have to keep things in perspective. People are going to say really good things and want to be our friends when we are doing well, and they are going to say a lot of nasty, ugly things when we aren’t doing well.”

Wendy said although she and her children are probably the most affected by what is said, she said that is part of what comes along with being a coach’s kid.

“You just keep going and you get a pretty thick skin and ignore it,” Wendy said. “That goes along with (being a coach’s kid) and I think that’s what makes them well-adjusted kids, to be able to handle many different situations in life.”

Growing up

Part of the reason Turner values his family so much is because of the way he was brought up. The youngest of five kids, Turner grew up without a father figure. His dad left when he was 10 months old. His mom, who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, worked hard to raise a close-knit family with strong values.

The Turner family grew up in a housing project in California. He and his three brothers shared a single bedroom in their small, three-bedroom, government-run house.

“We grew up a very close family. There were five of us kids all within five-and-a-half years,” Turner said. “My mother raised us to be very strong and understand what is important. (She told us) if you work hard and treat people decent then you will be successful. She taught us about integrity, morals and values, and to me that was more important than the financial part of it.”

Football was always around the Turner household, and still is today. His older brother, Norv, is in his first season as head coach for the Oakland Raiders. Turner also has several nephews who are coaches.

Before coming to Illinois, Turner played wide receiver at Diablo Valley College (1973-74) and Pacific (1975-76). He then started his coaching career at his alma mater and continued it at Arizona, Northwestern, Southern California, Stanford and San Jose State. His most recent position before Illinois was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Chicago Bears (1993-96).

“I played all the time growing up. I knew at an early age that I wanted to be a coach,” Turner said. “Football is definitely a huge part of our lives and my kids’ lives because that is what they have grown up with.”

Community affair

Although Turner spends a lot of time with the football program and his family, he also tries to get involved in the community. His wife, however, does enough for the both of them.

Wendy volunteered at Westview elementary school the entire seven years her children went there and now helps out at Jefferson Middle School. She also teaches first- and second-grade Sunday school, has been on the education committee at her church and is a Girl Scout leader for two troops.

During recruiting, she has the players and their families over for Sunday brunch and is also known to have her son’s high school football team over for a pregame meal.

“I love doing things with the kids and I like doing things that affect kids because they are just an enlightening part of our lives,” Wendy said. “You’ve got to give back to the community. It energizes me to help the kids. I have fun. I probably get more out of it than they do.”

Wendy said she doesn’t know if people recognize her in town, but she says she still goes on with her normal, daily activities.

“I like to think that they don’t (know me), but I think they do,” Wendy said. “Sometimes we’ll go to the grocery store and I will go with Ron, and sometimes I’ll walk in front of him or behind him so they don’t know. I still go to the grocery store and do all that in my sweats and workout clothes. We’re a real family and that’s all we can say.”

Practice is winding down for the day and Turner makes his rounds to each group of players on the field, giving some extra advice or instruction.

But as he walks toward a group of reporters, he has his arm around his son, Morgan. The two are laughing and talking – both with huge smiles on their faces. And at that moment the Illinois head football coach is simply a dad.