Norv Turner: Will 2016 be his last year in Minnesota?


Norv Turner is entering the final year of his contract with the Minnesota Vikings and there’s a good chance he won’t be back in 2017.

Mike Zimmer surrounded himself with a veteran staff when he came to Minnesota, hiring established coaches George Edwards, Andre Patterson and Jerry Gray and retaining long-time Vikings staffers George Stewart, Jeff Davidson and Mike Priefer. But the biggest and certainly most highly-publicized move of all came when Zimmer hired grizzled warhorse Norv Turner as offensive coordinator.

Fans were enthusiastic about the arrival of Turner and his vaunted offense with its emphasis on the vertical pass, but things didn’t exactly go as planned. Year one under Turner was sabotaged somewhat by Adrian Peterson’s almost-year-long suspension, rookie Teddy Bridgewater’s premature debut and the team’s lack of a genuine deep receiver. Year two was supposed to be better with Peterson returning, Bridgewater growing and Mike Wallace on-board to provide that downfield threat.

Peterson did his job in 2015 at least on the stat sheet, but outside of AD putting up solid fantasy numbers very little went right for Minnesota offensively. The offensive line struggled to protect Teddy Bridgewater, who consequently struggled to get the ball downfield to Mike Wallace. And even when Bridgewater had time, he still had difficulty keeping the proper arm-slot and delivering the ball.

Things got so frustrating for the Vikings that they were forced to more-or-less ditch Turner’s usual offense with its seven-step drops and go to a timing-based spread attack that basically transformed Wallace into a high-priced decoy. This approach helped Bridgewater play better and the Vikings managed to find enough offense to make the playoffs, but a punchless performance in the postseason seemingly sent everything back to square one.

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Given how things played out in 2015, the Vikings could easily have put Norv Turner out to pasture and attempted to re-work the entire offense, perhaps with QB coach and Turner son/protege Scott at the helm. Instead the Vikings elected to retain Norv and make other changes on the staff, canning O-line coach Jeff Davidson and adding established coaches Tony Sparano and Pat Shurmur.

Shurmur’s addition in particular made waves, given his background with various offenses including the up-tempo spread attack employed by Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. Speculation ran wild that the Vikings were adding all these offensive minds as a way of gently nudging the aging, out-of-touch Turner aside. Recent remarks by Mike Zimmer were made seemingly to address this very speculation (via ESPN):

"“Norv has changed a lot,” Zimmer said. “I used to go play against him a long time ago. Over the course of the years, a lot of the no-huddle, the [shot]gun stuff, the zone read, those are all new things. Norv is not hard-headed. I’m probably more hard-headed defensively than he is offensively.”"

The Vikings can spin things any way they want but it still looks like they are slowly phasing out Norv Turner and his antiquated offense. The fact is, the Vikings have absolutely no choice but to phase out Norv Turner and his antiquated offense. If anything became clear last season it’s that Teddy Bridgewater can’t run Turner’s offense unless it’s been tweaked to the point where it’s no longer Turner’s offense.

Much is being made of the Vikings’ plan to “merge” the approaches of Shurmur and Sparano with Turner’s scheme, but this is all a kind way of saying that Bridgewater and Turner simply do not mix. The plan is clear: Get more physical on the offensive line so Bridgewater and Peterson don’t get beat up, integrate passing looks that take advantage of Bridgewater’s short accuracy while de-emphasizing the deeper passes he’s bad at throwing and get less predictable in the playcalling.

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That last point may be the most important of all. The Vikings ran more on first down than any other team in the NFL last year, and though Minnesota still figures to be a run-first team in 2016, they clearly have to change things up on first down to avoid falling into such predictable patterns. Pat Shurmur’s background in West Coast-style offenses should come in handy as the Vikings try to devise some first-down pass plays that will hopefully give defenses a little more to think about.

Where does this all leave Norv Turner? Let’s just say, I believe at the end of the season Norv will be free to seek other work if he chooses. If the Vikings’ offense struggles during the season, Turner could easily be the guy they throw under the bus. None of this should be taken as an indictment of Turner’s offensive mind, it’s just the reality of today’s NFL and the particular personnel the Vikings have assembled.

Let’s put it this way: If I were going back in time to 1996 and wanted to put together a team to compete in the NFL, I’d be happy to have Norv Turner as my offensive coordinator. And I would get a QB who could sling it.