by Jon Kendle
It’s a very difficult process for a lot of usually tough-minded and resilient men. For many it’s the first time in their football careers that they will feel the failure of being cut from a team. Every situation is different and emotions vary from player to player. One thing that has remained the same year after year is when cut down day comes, rookies and veterans alike hope to steer clear of “The Turk.”
Each preseason draws to close with the tough task of the 32 NFL clubs needing to perform the final cuts and trim to the required 53-man roster for the regular season.
Unfortunately, this means that many NFL hopefuls will be released from their current teams this weekend. Some players will be placed on the team’s practice squad, while others become free agents with the hope of signing with another club.
You’ve got the wrong man.
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Most rookies come into their first NFL training camp and have no idea who “The Turk” is or what he does. But by the end of the summer, one better believes that the players quickly learn who he is and to avoid him at all costs.
“The Turk” is the NFL’s version of the Grim Reaper. He is the individual assigned by the team who is responsible for tracking down players and explaining to them that they are being released. “Coach wants to see you, and make sure you bring your playbooks” are the famous last words that no player wants to hear come from “The Turk.”
In years past he was known as “Squeaky Shoes.” Players said they could hear his shoes squeaking down the halls of the dormitories during training camp as he made his way from room to room cutting players that didn’t make the final roster. It wasn’t until the 1950s in Los Angeles that the name “Turk” became synonymous with the man given the distasteful duty of releasing players.
Don Paul, a former linebacker with the L.A. Rams from 1948-1955, reportedly came up with the name. His coach, Clark Shaughnessy, had a specific method of releasing players. He would send someone in the organization to wake the player in the middle of the night.
That way the individual would be less apt to get angry since he would still be trying to wake up. The player would be told to grab all of his stuff because the coach wanted to see him.
The player would then have an exit interview with the coach, turn in his playbook and be gone by breakfast. Shaughnessy’s method made everyone uncomfortable, which one can only assume was part of the reason he used this method. From rookies to seasoned veterans, nobody felt safe. Rams players often went to sleep and when they woke up their roommate was gone. No time to say goodbye, simply out of sight and out of mind. Don began proclaiming “The Turk strikes at night.” The story began floating around the league. Soon everyone was on alert to beware of “The Turk” who lurks in the halls of the teams’ facilities waiting to utter those dreaded words, “Coach wants to see you…and bring your playbook.”
For obvious reasons it’s a hard thing for NFL teams to do. Nobody likes the process and clubs are very aware to try and make the task as professional and personal as they can. But it’s a necessary part of any NFL season. Unfortunately, all the players in camp are competing for just 53 spots and something has to give. So whether it’s a late night knock at the door, an early morning greeting on the way to the locker room after breakfast or being pulled from the weight or meeting room, the time will come for many NFL hopefuls. It’s a numbers game that is just part of the business. And, the number will be up for many players by tomorrow afternoon.
It’s the job of “The Turk” to come find the players to report to the coach’s office. And, this time of year “The Turk” is the most feared man in the NFL.
Kendle is a researcher at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He joined the Hall of Fame's staff in 2006.