Norv Turner steps down as Vikings OC
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — After spending the night at the office, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had a surprise early-morning visitor.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner, following the offseason hire of a potential replacement and feeble performances by the Vikings in losing the last two games, came to tell the boss he was quitting for the “best interest” of both Turner and the team.
After taking the league’s only remaining undefeated record into their bye week, the Vikings have stumbled badly. Turner’s abrupt resignation Wednesday was the latest stunner, with players returning from a day off to learn of the change in leadership on offense. Pat Shurmur, who has five years of experience as an NFL offensive coordinator plus two as a head coach, was picked to replace Turner.
“I obviously didn’t see this coming. I was in here yesterday talking to him. I didn’t really think anything was different,” said quarterback Sam Bradford, who found out via phone from his wife as he pulled into the parking lot at team headquarters.
Zimmer’s voice cracked and his bottom lip quivered near the end of his news conference while discussing his relationship with Turner. He hired Turner to run the offense after getting the job with the Vikings in 2014. Zimmer said the decision was made entirely by the 64-year-old Turner, but after two seasons of lagging production by the offense Zimmer hired Shurmur as an overqualified tight ends coach for 2016.
“Norv is a very, very good friend of mine. He has helped me tremendously in the three years that I’ve been here,” Zimmer said. “He’s had an unbelievable career. He’s been, really, my right-hand man.”
Turner released a statement through the Vikings, stating his “tremendous respect” for Zimmer, the staff and the players, and his desire to see them succeed without him. He said in subsequent interviews that the decision stemmed from differing views with Zimmer about the direction of the offense.
“It just got to the point where I didn’t think it was going to work with me, so I removed myself,” Turner told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The Vikings have scored only 10 points in each loss after the 5-0 start, with the offensive line’s performance the primary concern. Bradford, sacked 11 times over the last two games, said he had no problem with the scheme and that the players felt responsible for Turner’s departure.
“The first thing you think about is what you could’ve done differently, what we could have done as an offense to prevent this from happening,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “We’ve just got to get everybody to do their job. We have the talent and ability to make that happen. There just has to be a little bit more sense of urgency on our side of the ball to go out and execute.”
The Vikings (5-2) host the Lions on Sunday, still in first place in the NFC North and second in the conference despite their recent struggles. They’re averaging 2.7 yards per rushing attempt, by far the lowest in the league, and are fourth worst in sacks allowed. The original starters at quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater), running back (Adrian Peterson) and tackle (Matt Kalil and Andre Smith) are all on injured reserve.
So while Turner’s departure could further the post-bye spiral, Shurmur’s takeover could also provide a system restart needed for a sputtering group.
“It’s really hard to say. I know that the players really respect Norv. I know the coaches do. I know I certainly do. So we’ll just have to see how that goes,” Zimmer said. “I do think that it’s hard to do a lot of things different during the season.”
Turner, who was calling all of the plays, has been with nine NFL teams over 32 years, almost half of that as a head coach. This was his 10th season as an offensive coordinator in the league. Turner’s son, Scott, remains Minnesota’s quarterbacks coach, and the rest of the staff remains intact.
Zimmer became more involved in the offensive planning last year and hired Tony Sparano as offensive line coach along with Shurmur, putting three former NFL head coaches on the offensive staff.
“Since Norv has been here I’ve given him almost 100 percent total free will in everything that they’ve done offensively,” Zimmer said. “Obviously I’ll come in and make suggestions, but there really has not been a time where I’ve demanded everything from there.”
Last season, Shurmur had Bradford as his quarterback with the Eagles. His input helped Vikings general manager Rick Spielman make the emergency trade for Bradford on Sept. 3 after Bridgewater was hurt. Shurmur was also Bradford’s offensive coordinator in 2010, the quarterback’s rookie year with St. Louis.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with Pat,” Bradford said. “I think he’s a great football mind.”