"We were losing to a team we were better than, and I was open for three passes without being thrown to," Shepherd says. "I got mad at the team and was yelling at everyone, telling them, 'You need to get your heads out of your asses. This can't happen. You've got to look at yourselves in the mirror and play better.' It was Norv's time to talk, and I got pulled away by some players. I wasn't trying to disrespect Norv." Turner says Shepherd "was out of line in terms of the way he was yelling. But these kinds of experiences aren't unusual, even when you're winning."
Shepherd is hardly Turner's biggest headache. Wideout Michael Westbrook, a talented but temperamental fourth-year player who leads the Skins this season with 17 receptions for 418 yards and three touchdowns, including a 75-yarder in garbage time on Sunday, has hurt Washington on several occasions by losing his cool. Trailing 21-10 during the second quarter of the loss to the Niners on Sept. 14, Washington had a touchdown called back after Westbrook was penalized for yanking the face mask of San Francisco defensive back Antonio Langham. That was one of many plays that set off Stubblefield, who says he apologized to Turner after his sideline blowup.
However, Turner's only public move after the San Francisco game was to cut kicker Scott Blanton, who had missed a pair of first-half field goals. His replacement, David Akers, was released after missing two field goals in the following week's 24-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. "Norv tries to scare guys and act like he'll get rid of them if they don't perform, but nobody believes him," says one Redskins veteran. "Who did he cut? The kicker? Wow, guys are shaking."
Long snapper and backup center Dan Turk, a 14-year veteran in his second season with the club, appreciates Turner's approach. "He gives his team a lot of leniency, and I think that's good," Turk says. "Do some guys take advantage of it? You can see that sometimes."
Brodsky, who coached with Turner in Dallas from 1991 to '93, disputes the perception that Turner is too soft on players. "Whatever the word for it is—being [tough] or whatever—I think Norv has a lot of it, especially with quarterbacks," he says.
Turner's boldest move this season came after a 31-24 opening-week loss to the New York Giants when he benched Gus Frerotte, the starter since 1996, and replaced him with Trent Green, a '93 eighth-round draft choice of the San Diego Chargers who has been with the Skins since 1995. The failure to make Frerotte a first-rate quarterback is widely cited as evidence of Turner's shortcomings. Five years ago, as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson, Turner emerged as a hot coaching candidate largely because of his work with Aikman. Johnson says he spoke with Aikman shortly after leaving the Cowboys in the spring of '94 and asked about the transition under new offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese. "Troy said, 'I wish Ernie would get on me more when I screw up,' because that's what he was accustomed to with Norv," says Johnson, now the Miami Dolphins coach. "The reason he's so demanding is because he's so demanding of himself."
After Dallas won its second consecutive Super Bowl following the 1993 season, the Redskins hired Turner and asked him to find a quarterback who could lead Washington into the future. At Turner's urging, Redskins general manager Charley Casserly used the third pick of the '94 draft on Tennessee's Heath Shuler. Frerotte, a little-known player from Tulsa, was selected as a seventh-round afterthought. But Frerotte outplayed Shuler, and Turner had the guts to cut his losses and name Frerotte the starter heading into the '96 season. Frerotte played well enough to make the Pro Bowl, although the Skins, after a 7-1 start, lost six of their next seven games and missed the playoffs.
Frerotte had his moments last season as well, but he was inconsistent, completing only 50.7% of his passes. He missed the last three games with a broken hip, and a couple of months after the Skins missed the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record, Turner paid a visit to the West Virginia home of backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler. In an effort to persuade Hostetler to return for a 15th season, Turner told him he would probably play if Frerotte faltered again in 1998.
Frerotte felt his leadership was further undermined when, toward the end of an up-and-down exhibition season, he was told by quarterbacks coach Mike Martz not to talk football with his receivers during practice. Frerotte had advised Westbrook to alter a deep pattern so that he would be open in time for the ball to be delivered. "You want communication between the receivers and the quarterback," says Turner, "but you want the information the receivers are getting to be right."
In the season opener, against the Giants, Frerotte had a nearly flawless first half. But early in the third quarter an attempted throwaway was intercepted, leading to a Giants touchdown. Frerotte sprained his left shoulder while making the tackle on the interception return, and his next pass was picked off by defensive end Michael Strahan and returned 24 yards for a touchdown. With Hostetler sidelined by a knee injury that ultimately ended his season, Frerotte was replaced by Green, who gave the Skins a spark by completing 17 of 25 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. The next day Turner named Green the starter for the ensuing week's game against the 49ers. "I wasn't surprised," Frerotte says, "because after I heard about Norv's meeting with Jeff, where he told him he would have a quick hook, I figured it was only a matter of time. But I thought I deserved a little more of a chance than that, especially after I played a pretty good first half."