For the last 40 years, Norv Turner has been a quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator, head coach, even a defensive backs coach. Now, he’s adjusting to his most unfamiliar role: Spectator.
Turner abruptly resigned in November as offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings after the team followed a surprising 5-0 start with consecutive losses. He has yet to elaborate on why he walked away, and insists he harbors no ill will toward Coach Mike Zimmer or his staff — a good thing considering Turner’s son, Scott, remains the team’s quarterbacks coach.
“Mike and I just had different ideas about what we needed to do and how we needed to do it,” said Turner, 64, reached at his home in Del Mar. “It wasn’t going to work, so I removed myself from it.”
That has left him in the strange position of watching football at home, working on his golf swing, and putting on hold the only career he has ever known.
“I got fired with three games to go in Washington [at the end of the 2000 season], and that was weird,” he said. “But this is totally different. I’ve talked to some of my friends who have retired, and they say, ‘Retirement’s not that bad. You should make sure you give it a real good look.’ But no.”
Turner declined to play the “what-if” game or talk about any potential coaching openings, only saying he intends to return to the league. It’s tempting to play connect-the-dots and say that the offensively lackluster Rams might eventually look his way, especially in trying to develop No. 1 pick Jared Goff, but Coach Jeff Fisher has made it clear he’s not changing offensive coordinators the way he did a year ago. The Rams were one of Turner’s many coaching stops, as he oversaw their wide receivers from 1985 to 1990.
It’s worth noting that the only team that has generated fewer yards than the Rams this season is Minnesota, although the Vikings have been ravaged by injuries, losing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, running back Adrian Peterson and both starting tackles.
Regardless, Turner has a reputation as a quarterbacks expert, helping develop such players as Troy Aikman, Philip Rivers, Brad Johnson and Alex Smith. Turner was 114-122-1 in 15 seasons as a coach, but is widely considered a top-shelf offensive coordinator.
“Norv was patient with me,” said Johnson, who played for Turner in Washington and threw for a career-best 4,005 yards in 1999. “He was patient when I couldn’t call a play in the huddle. He was patient when I got there and had to have knee surgery, and he told me to just come watch practice.
“He just had a feel for the timing of the plays, and the quarterback’s clock. He just made me a lot more decisive in the pocket.”
“His mind is unreal as far as scheming things, but yet he had a very common-sense approach to certain things,” Rivers said of Turner. “Very early on it made me comfortable. He taught you how to read things and all that, but he wanted you to throw something if you saw it. Play by feel. We kind of hit it off from the start.”
Rivers, who played for Turner in San Diego from 2007 to 2012, called Turner “my favorite coach of all time, other than my dad. What we built over those years was a friendship forever.”
Johnson, for one, hopes Turner isn’t an NFL spectator for long.
“Coaching is in his blood, so I hope he gets back into it,” he said. “He’s so well respected by everybody. I don’t know where he’ll wind up, but he needs to be back in the game.”