When Pat Shurmur took an assistant coaching job with the Minnesota Vikings last offseason, it raised a red flag.
The Vikings were coming off a division title, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was entering a pivotal third season and Minnesota’s defense was seemingly built to contend. And suddenly last January, the Vikings were adding Shurmur, a strong offensive-minded voice who had spent the previous seven seasons as either a head coach or coordinator.
At the time, those who knew both Shurmur and Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner took note. Not because Shurmur wasn’t qualified to be a Vikings tight ends coach. If anything, he was overqualified. To those who knew both men, the hire seemed to be an invitation for awkwardness. And the potential for a problem orbited two questions:
What would happen if the offense struggled in 2016? What would happen if Bridgewater failed to take a significant step forward?
Flash forward to Wednesday morning – when Turner unexpectedly tendered his resignation, making both of those questions relevant again.
Nobody is revealing exactly what triggered Turner’s resignation Wednesday. Both Turner and head coach Mike Zimmer have declined to specifically state what changed after Monday night’s embarrassing road loss to the Chicago Bears. But both have said enough to indicate that everyone wasn’t on the same page about how to move the offense forward.
Sources aligned with Turner said the coach didn’t quit to avoid a firing and a few factors inside the Vikings changed underneath him – and they appear to have strengthened Shurmur’s hand.
Among the factors that developed this season that Turner supporters noted:
• Those close to Turner said he had hoped to groom his son Scott, the Vikings’ quarterbacks coach, to eventually succeed him as offensive coordinator. But when Shurmur was brought into the fold, it became apparent that any change at coordinator would open a door for Shurmur. Those close to Turner believe that Shurmur was hired with the understanding that he would be given an opportunity to take the coordinator job if there was a change. That effectively eliminated Scott Turner as a candidate whether Norv was fired or resigned. It also appears to have played out, as Shurmur was elevated to the offensive coordinator position on Wednesday.
• There were internal concerns about some of the offensive mechanics almost immediately this season, most notably the lack of effectiveness of running back Adrian Peterson. While some of these problems were pinned on Peterson, there was concern about how he fit the scheme prior to his injury.
• When quarterback Sam Bradford was brought in, there was no doubt which coach on the offensive staff was most comfortably aligned with him. Shurmur had a hand in his drafting by the St. Louis Rams as well as his acquisition by the Philadelphia Eagles. Shurmur was also a strong proponent of the Vikings trading for Bradford.
Those close to Turner also suggest the Bradford trade was a “writing-on-the-wall” moment. Specifically because the severity of Bridgewater’s knee injury and the subsequent Bradford deal shifted the balance within the offense to a player who was most likely to lean on Shurmur in problematic times. And with Bradford suffering more punishment in the past two games – and the offensive line likely to be shaky for the remainder of the season – there is little doubt that the unit is facing a significant challenge the remainder of the season.
While there is no indication Bradford, or even Shurmur, played a direct role in Turner’s resignation, it’s naïve to think that Shurmur would have no involvement in the offense surrounding a quarterback he knows so intimately. It would also be naïve to think the Vikings wouldn’t make every effort to promote Bradford’s success going forward, knowing there is a chance he may be the starting quarterback in 2017 and beyond.
None of this is proof of an offensive rift. But it paints a picture of awkwardness inside the offensive meeting room. In one seat, there was Turner, the coordinator who was under pressure to produce and who hoped to groom his son into his job. In another seat, there was Shurmur, an overqualified assistant who has the highest comfort level with the centerpiece quarterback and whose existence on the staff seemingly thwarted Turner’s grooming hopes. And in the middle there was Bradford, the biggest key to offensive success who has gotten hammered in back-to-back losses.
Nobody is talking in specifics about why Turner submitted his resignation. But given the offseason invitation for awkwardness – and the latest admission that everyone wasn’t on the same page – maybe no further explanation is needed.
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