For all that he is in life, Steve Turner is confident in one thing: He’s a football coach.
And when that is who you are down to the core, it’s just not something you’re interested in giving up.
After a pseudo retirement saw him still on the football sidelines as an assistant coach at Marist in Eugene the past two seasons, the lure to return to his former stomping grounds at North Medford High was too good to pass up and, as such, he was named new head coach of the Black Tornado football program Wednesday.
Turner replaces Mike Mitchell, who stepped down in January after a six-year run that included the Black Tornado’s first winning season in eight years (2013) and the school’s first conference title in that same span. Mitchell’s teams finished 33-30 overall.
“Life’s full of challenges,” Turner said at his introductory press conference. “Being so-called retired was a horrible challenge. I’m a horrible golfer, I can’t catch a fish if they jumped on my line so I mean what else is there? Football. It’s what I do.”
It’s also something Turner has been very successful at, guiding Class 5A Mountain View to its only state championship in 2011 and 4A Cascade to its second title in 2015, after which he “retired” from teaching and coaching. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Cascade in 1978 and eventually made stops at Rainier, North Medford and Crook County prior to his run at Mountain View and Cascade.
In 18 years as a head coach, Turner has amassed a 106-77 record, highlighted by going 40-7 at Mountain View and 37-9 at Cascade in each of those four-year stops.
“Obviously we’re bringing a person with a winning culture to a place that winning culture is very important,” said Amy Tiger, the director of athletics and safety coordinator for the Medford School District. “One of the other things is that this is a person of character and will bring character to our kids.”
Turner served as defensive coordinator under Rod Rumrey from 1988-97, a span in which the Southern Oregon Conference sent a team to the championship game in eight of those 10 years — having both finalists on three occasions. With Turner’s help, North Medford’s 1993 squad won the state championship over Ashland.
“Somebody asked me in the interview, ‘Why North Medford? Why the Black Tornado?’ And it’s like, ‘Why not?,’” said Turner. “In my mind Black Tornado football is the pinnacle of high school football in the state of Oregon. If you want to coach anywhere and you want to be at the top, this is where you need to be. And for an opportunity again for me to come home, it was huge, so I’m extremely excited to be here and get going with the kids.”
Turner met with about 90 prospective players on Wednesday afternoon and was set for a meet-and-greet with parents later in the evening. His first impression back on the North Medford campus as a football staffer proved to be a lasting one.
“I haven’t had chills like that in a while,” he said of the ovation. “They absolutely thrilled me, it was like, ‘Woah, what a reception.’ And they don’t even really know me yet.”
It was a moment that some in the Rogue Valley considered a long time coming for Turner, who appeared destined to one day take over for Rumrey but instead found himself heading to Crook County in 1998. The North Medford job opened up five times in the years that followed but it wasn’t to be for Turner, until now.
“I’m honored but I’m also humbled,” said Turner of his opportunity with the Black Tornado. “When you look at some of the names that have coached here and gone on to other things … Fred Spiegelberg, (Prince L. “Prink”) Callison, Bill Bowerman, Rod Rumrey — Norm Musser won a state championship here — so I’m humbled to be the head coach. Whether or not I’m going to be those guys, that’s for other people to decide.”
Turner inherits a North Medford squad that finished 3-7 overall and fourth in the Southwest Conference at 3-3 one year ago. With only 13 departing seniors, a bulk of the roster is set to return and will be combined with some talented up-and-coming classes, especially the current crop of freshmen and sophomores.
What those players will get from Turner, in turn, is a coach who promises a lot of energy and enthusiasm and design to “coach them hard” in order to climb back to the top of the 6A level.
“I’ve got a little chip on my shoulder,” admitted Turner. “People have said, ‘Hey, you won at 4A Cascade and Mountain View’s 5A, you haven’t done it at 6A. Well if you know me, don’t tell me what I cannot do. I’m a competitor. Will we get there? That’s the goal.”
It’s among the only reasons Turner was willing to leave his new Creswell home and spend at least the football season living in Medford while his wife of 29 years, Mary, remains in Creswell to continue her work as a volunteer for the Oregon football program and with the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. The couple married in Medford in 1989 and both of their sons were born here.
“It’s an interesting scenario but we feel good with our marriage and there’s no problems,” said Turner. “She goes, ‘You’re home during football season but you’re not there,’ and neither is she because she’s off (at Oregon).”
And in the end, Turner said he’s going to be right where he’s supposed to be.
“We told everybody I was retired but I got the bug and I couldn’t get out,” admitted Turner. “I met (Marist head coach) Frank Geske at church one Sunday and he said, ‘You need to coach,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I do.’ But this was the only school that I’d change for. I’ve had people contact me for other positions, but this was the only school that I would do this for, nobody else.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry