Nate Turner, the new head football coach at San Marino High School, recently wrapped up the Titans’ summer program with his new charges. The structure and focus of the three phases of the program provides a window into the coach’s mindset.
Phase one, according to Turner, is the development phase, with focus on developing confidence, athleticism and skill sets. Phase two is the teaching phase, with focus on leadership, camaraderie, teamwork, communication and accountability, while also teaching the “schematics of the game.” The third is the competition phase, with focus on adversity, character, resilience, persistence, courage and “ultimately” trust.
“You can’t expect something from someone if you don’t develop them first,” Turner said. “You can’t expect them to know something if you don’t teach them and can’t expect them to perform if they haven’t had the opportunity to make mistakes.”
Now, with this process started, and a little time with his squad in the books, Turner is learning about his team as they get to know him.
“They impressed me. I didn’t know what to expect initially,” Turner said. “They are hard workers. They’re extremely committed to what we want to do as a team and they play for each other. They are selfless.”
Turner has had many jobs in football and coached at a number of levels, including on the staff at Long Beach Poly and head coach at Taft High School. Most recently, Turner has had short stints as head or associate head coach at several junior colleges, including L.A. Southwest College, Moorpark College and L.A. Valley College. However, Turner, who found out about the San Marino position from a search firm, wanted to go somewhere for an extended stay for his next stop.
“San Marino just so happened to be a place where the opportunity to be here for a long time, plant roots, create an athletic program and have an impact throughout the community was the most attractive piece,” Turner said.
After starting as the head coach at SMHS in late April, Turner has been busy learning more about his players, the school culture and the community at large. He hopes those connections will grow and flourish over time with a focus on relationships.
“There is a lot of pride in this community. There is a lot of support in this community. So, once things settle down here, I want to start to make my rounds, get out and meet the community, and see if we can start to network and build long-term relationships.”
One of his priorities in his first season is a commitment to the players he will know for the shortest time.
“I want to do a good job for the seniors. My goal for the seniors is to give them a great experience. I won’t have those guys for four years, but I’ll have them for one and I want them to walk away with something.”
Turner has experience playing at the top level of the sport. He started his college playing career at Mount Sac, before transferring to Compton College and then ending up at University of Nevada Las Vegas. There he found enough success to be drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2001 as a wide receiver and kick return specialist.
“I remember walking into our facility down on Aero Drive in San Diego and the first guy that was there was Junior Seau,” Turner said. “He kind of welcomed me into the building and showed me around the locker room. I thought that was pretty cool.”
After two seasons with the Chargers, Turner spent the next three playing for the New Orleans Saints.
It was his experience in the NFL that ushered him into the coaching ranks.
“I started through the NFL Players Association, when they did a minority internship program,” Turner, who had his internship with the Oakland Raiders, said.
The new Titan head coach cites his head coach at Los Angeles’ Jordan High School, the late NFL Hall of Famer Willie Brown, as a formative influence who got him started on his road to the highest levels of football.
“He took me under his wing and was the first person to show me what an NFL training camp looked like. He taught me the language of that level of football and I was able to start to understand the language [and] translate that to my game. I saw the game through a different set of eyes, a different set of lens, just through his experience.”
Turner considers Cornell Ward, who he played for at Compton College, as a major influence on his team building and coaching philosophy.
“He led with love. He called us all his sons. He called us babies,” Turner said. “I’ll never forget how he led with love. That is something I also take away, is that these [players] are our babies. These guys are our children and it takes a village to give them opportunities to move forward through life.”
It will be new ground for San Marino High and the coach as they venture into what Turner hopes is a long tenure and a fruitful journey for his players both on the field and in life.
“It’s not necessarily about wins and losses on the football field, but, more importantly, wins and losses in life. Football is just a vehicle to create tools to navigate through life’s journey.”