There’s a good reason Mississippi State assistant coach David Turner has felt nostalgic this week.
Turner is in his 29th season as an assistant coach – and third as defensive line coach – with the Bulldogs, who will play N.C. State in Wednesday’s Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium.
“It’s flown by – it just seems like yesterday that I became a coach,” said Turner, 53. “It sure doesn’t seem like it’s been almost 30 years. I remember seeing guys who’d been in this business 30 years, and I’d think to myself, ‘Gosh, I don’t know if I could be in that long.’ ”
Turner, a native of Goldston, 45 miles southeast of Greensboro, played college football at Davidson from 1981-1984. That’s also where he got his start in coaching, with two years as a Wildcats offensive assistant (1986-1987).
“I was working in a sporting goods store at the time in Raleigh,” said Turner, who graduated from Davidson with a degree in sociology in 1985. “It just so happened that one of my former coaches, Bob Guarini, called and asked if I’d like to come back and coach.
“The rest is history. I didn’t set out to coach, but I missed football. The good Lord looked down, and everything was kinda laid out for me. … I kinda had to do some on-the-job training, though.”
So how does a former running back – the position Turner played at Davidson – become one of the nation’s top defensive line coaches?
It actually began at Turner’s second coaching stop, N.C. State – ironically, Mississippi State’s opponent in the Belk Bowl – where he was a graduate assistant for two seasons (1988-1989).
Turner had spent his time coaching at Davidson on the offensive side of the ball, working with running backs and tight ends. But that changed when he became a Wolfpack graduate assistant under former coach Dick Sheridan.
“Every year, (Sheridan) had GAs, and he wanted them to work one year with offense and one year with defense,” Turner said. “He wanted you to be exposed to both sides of the ball. The first year there, I was with the defensive line. … After that year, I enjoyed it so much that I went to him and asked to stay with the defense.
“That first year, it was so unique for me because I had never looked at things from the defense’s perspective, it was always from the offense. It was unbelievable – it opened up a whole new world.”
After a season at NCAA Division II runner-up Indiana (Pa.) in 1990 and two seasons at James Madison, Turner returned to the NCAA Division I ranks as defensive ends coach at Kentucky.
Those are among the many stops in Turner’s coaching career, which included a return to N.C. State as defensive tackles and linebackers coach under former coach Mike O’Cain in 1995-1996.
He’s also coached at Virginia (1997-2000), Minnesota (2001), Vanderbilt (2002-2005) and Alabama (2006), and his first stop at Mississippi State was 2007-2009 with former coach Sylvester Croom .
After leaving to join longtime friend Joker Phillips’ staff when he became coach at Kentucky in 2010, Turner returned to Mississippi State in 2013.
Coach Dan Mullen said he’s pleased Turner returned as the Bulldogs’ defensive line coach.
“He’s such a quality coach, to me it was pretty easy” to bring him back, Mullen said. “He’s a guy that understood our program and knew what was going to be expected – that he coaches his guys not only on the field, but off the field as well, helping them develop in life.
“Our job is not just winning football games, it’s also developing young men to be champions in life. He understands that philosophy, and believes in it.”