Column: Vikings’ strange season gets weirder with departure of Norv Turner

Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) walks off the field after losing 20-10 against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 31.
(Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

This one wasn’t on the laminated play chart.

Norv Turner ran a fly pattern this week, bolting as Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator after his team mustered 10 points in consecutive games, losses to Philadelphia and Chicago.

The move was abrupt and unexpected, even catching the Vikings off guard.

“I obviously didn’t see this coming,” said quarterback Sam Bradford, accustomed to getting blindsided after being sacked 11 times in the past two weeks. “I was here [Tuesday] talking to him. I didn’t really think anything was different.”


Then again, big changes are the norm for the Vikings this season. They lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a devastating knee injury at the end of training camp, then lost All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, and their starting left and right tackles. The Vikings are the poster child of unpredictability.

Somehow, the team got off to a 5-0 start, a testament not only to Coach Mike Zimmer, but also to General Manager Rick Spielman and personnel guru George Paton, who assembled a roster deep enough to withstand a cyclone of injuries.

The trade for Bradford was pivotal, and Turner was widely thought to be a key component to keeping the wheels on a franchise that was running on four spares. But the Vikings also had tight ends coach Pat Shurmur, who was Bradford’s offensive coordinator in St. Louis and Philadelphia and has a good relationship with him. Shurmur has replaced Turner.

Precisely why Turner left so abruptly is a mystery. Like the players, people within the Vikings organization were caught flat-footed. His son, Scott, remains the team’s quarterbacks coach.


“Norv is a very, very good friend of mine,” Coach Mike Zimmer told reporters. “He helped me tremendously in the three years that I’ve been here. He’s had an unbelievable career. He’s been, really, my right-hand man.”

In various interviews with reporters who cover the team on a daily basis, Turner didn’t elaborate on his decision but indicated it had to do with 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.

What the development underscored was how quickly situations can change in the NFL; how two bad (or good) weeks can have a dramatic impact not just on a season but on career paths.


Very little can be said definitively about teams this season. New England is predictably solid, and Cleveland is bouncing along the bottom. Dallas is on a roll, and Oakland has gotten good at winning close games on the road. But for the most part, the NFL is a mush pot of teams in the middle.

Consider that the six NFC teams that made the playoffs last season — Carolina, Arizona, Seattle, Green Bay, Washington, and Minnesota — are a combined 2-7-3 over the past two games.

Teams can slip off the rails so quickly, or get right back on track. It’s a dicey proposition to look at a snapshot in time, and try to predict where a team will be a few weeks down the road.

After the Bills won four in a row, a headline in Buffalo read: “Rex Ryan’s old school ways working for Bills.” In the past two weeks, Buffalo has lost to Miami and New England.


The Dolphins lost four of their first five, prompting the headline, “Time to stomach the uncomfortable truth — this Dolphins team is bad.” Subsequent wins over Pittsburgh and Buffalo have at least softened that sentiment among many.

In a flash, momentum can shift, and teams can be swarmed and overrun, just the way defenses are attacking Bradford, blitzing him from all over.

The Vikings, who have the league’s second-ranked defense, are heading into a four-game stretch that goes: Detroit, at Washington, Arizona, at Detroit. Getting back on track is entirely possible.

For a franchise that has beaten the odds so far, what’s one more surprise?