When he answered the phone Wednesday afternoon, hours after making one of the more shocking decisions of the 2016 season, Norv Turner had just woken up from a lengthy nap.
“Forgive me, I haven’t slept in days,” Turner told NFL.com. “This is the hardest thing I’ve done in football.”
Turner abruptly stepped down as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator Wednesday morning, leading to former tight ends coach Pat Shurmur’s ascension on a short week and creating more questions than answers. What in the world happened?
In Turner’s mind, after some difficult soul-searching, it boiled down to this: “Sometimes, you feel like you might be holding them back,” Turner said, “holding them back from things all getting on the same page. I don’t want anyone to think I was bailing. It just wasn’t working.”
Turner clarified a few things. He’s completely healthy. He doesn’t know if he’s retiring at age 64, though he admits moving around has been difficult for his wife. He still has immense respect for Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.
“It’s something people may not understand,” Turner said. “It’s not me against somebody else. The situation was such … I don’t think I could get done the things we needed to get done. It wasn’t something you just wake up and decide. It’s been building. It wasn’t going to work with me. So let me get out of the way and let them have a chance to make it work.”
A source involved with the situation was adamant that Turner was not forced out by the team. Turner’s decision caught Zimmer by surprise, and Zimmer got emotional at the news conference discussing the departure.
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In a way, Turner’s comments are stunning. He was one of the NFL’s most respected offensive coordinators. His arrival in Minnesota in January 2014 immediately lead to optimism about the Vikings’ future, and his work with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (working alongside his son and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner) had impressed many within the team.
The Bears had surrendered a touchdown in 66 consecutive games entering Monday night. Prior to Sam Bradford’s late-game, fourth-down desperation heave to Stefon Diggs, that streak was in serious jeopardy at the hands of a dysfunctional, injury-ravaged Vikings offense. The historically inept ground attack leaves Bradford in predictable passing situations behind a patchwork offensive line that simply can’t protect him.
Over the past two weeks, the Eagles and Bears have combined for 26 QB hits, 11 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 14 passes defensed. At this point, it’s fair to wonder if Bradford will survive intact before the Vikings find a fix for overmatched tackles Jake Long and T.J. Clemmings. It’s a shame general manager Rick Spielman lacks the salary-cap space to pull off a major trade ahead of Tuesday afternoon’s deadline.
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Handed a reprieve by Brian Hoyer’s broken arm, Jay Cutler crawled out of Fox’s doghouse to author the most impressive quarterback performance versus the Vikings’ top-ranked defense this season. Cutler managed the game well, side-stepping pressure to hit Jordan Howard, Alshon Jeffery and Zach Miller for big plays. While his 252 yards and 100.5 passer rating certainly aren’t astonishing, those numbers stands in stark contrast to the composite 63.7 rating of Minnesota’s first six opponents. Cutler’s performance reportedly was enough for Fox to hand him the game ball.
Turner, 64, has been in Minnesota for the entire Mike Zimmer era, which saw the Vikings rise to power in the NFC North behind the development of a brutal defense and young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. With expectations at their highest in 2016, the Vikings have played some of the league’s best football save for a stagnant performance against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football this past week.
Minnesota is currently 31st in total yards per game (293.3) and 23rd in points per game (19.9).
Speculation will likely run rampant in Winter Park this week. Was it a coincidence after the team’s second-worst offensive output of the season? Was it a reflection of the scheme not covering for a deficient offensive line? Was it a nod to Shurmur, who has more experience with Bradford? Was Turner simply tired of the grind?
NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo noted Wednesday that a potential resignation has been rumbling for some time. The initial plan was for Turner to say one season in the new stadium, though its ultimately unclear why the decision was made in the middle of arguably the most important year in recent franchise history.
Turner has been a pro coordinator or head coach since 1991.