Norv Turner came to the Vikings with all kinds of compliments for his offensive prowess, but there are a couple reasons why Turner's reputation may be different from reality.
When it comes to his schemes, Turner has the ultimate respect of his new players. They are smitten with the knowledge and credentials of their new offensive coordinator.
"He's been doing it for 31 years. He's had guys go to the Pro Bowl. He's won Super Bowls. I think he's seen it all and this is a proven system that has won in the past and won consistently," said Matt Cassel, a nine-year veteran of the NFL. "That's something that excites me as a quarterback and all the guys here. We know if we put the time in and we work hard that we have an opportunity to be successful."
In 15 years as a head coach, Turner actually has a losing record with the Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers. Not surprisingly, that included seven seasons with either a .500 record or one game on either side of .500. But his offenses were generally favorably ranked in those 15 years, including the Redskins being ranked No. 1 in points per game in 1996 and the Chargers being ranked first in yards per game in 2010. He also had several second-place rankings in yards and points for his offenses when he was a head coach.
But his ability to successfully coordinate an offense is what he is really known for, not necessarily his abilities as a head coach, where being at or below .500 too often gets people fired often enough.
So how has Turner done as an offensive coordinator? Judgments on that can be handed out citing numerous categories, but it's interesting to note that in eight seasons as an offensive coordinator he hasn't ranked first in points or yards, and in his last five years (comprising four teams) he hasn't even cracked a top-10 ranking in yards or points.
And, yet, there is this: As a coordinator, his teams have a 71-57-0 record. But it's also relevant to note that much of that winning record was built on the backs of the 1991-93 Dallas Cowboys dynasty, going 36-12-0 in those three years. Since then, he has had only one 10-win season or better (in 2003 with the Miami Dolphins) and has been relegated to short stints on bad teams – the 5-11 Chargers of 2001, the 9-7 Dolphins of 2002, the 7-9 49ers of 2006 and the 4-12 Browns of 2013.
But the combination of Turner pulling the strings on offense and Mike Zimmer in control of the overall reins and the defense could have a positive effect. The players seem to be thrilled with the potential.
"I love what this organization is building, the future with the new stadium and hosting a Super Bowl. I think we have one of the best coaching staffs in the league right now led by one of the best coaches in the NFL," tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "Just the way that they come out every day and coach, it's something that I haven't really seen in a long time. I think I've been coached by Coach Zimmer more in the last three weeks than most of my offensive coaches in my life. He's a football coach and they love to coach everybody. That's something as a player you really appreciate. It makes you want to work even harder for them."
Success and failure – measured in rankings or in wins and losses – will always be attributable to a combination of coaching and personnel. Teams have to be strong in both areas to find success. The roster is building back up through a shared effort in the draft and free agency, but general manager Rick Spielman knows that a franchise quarterback is a quick way to cover up for other mistakes. Whether or not Teddy Bridgewater is the answer that Spielman, Zimmer and Turner need to return Turner to the Super Bowl is a question left unanswered for now. Speculation is the only testament to that for now, and that is an unreliable indicator.
Whether looking at positive or negative rankings, players are genuinely excited about what Turner is bringing to the offense. Turner's offenses have averaged being ranked 14th in yards and 13th in points over his eight seasons as a coordinator. Bill Musgrave's offense with the Vikings last year was ranked 13th in yards and 14th in points. But that doesn't seem to matter to the players. They know what they are seeing now and liking it – both from the perspective of the scheme and how they are being coached.
The mediocre rankings from Turner may surprise some players, just like the difference in his personality off the field and on it. Removed from a practice, Turner is calm and thoughtful. In his early Vikings practices, he has been a reflection of Zimmer, getting in players' faces and calling out their mistakes publicly and emphatically.
After Musgrave's timid tactics there, it sounds like a welcome approach of accountability.
"I love it. I love it," Cassel said when asked about Turner's tenacity. "He's a demanding coach and he expects a lot of out of us, but I think that's why he's had success in the past. There's not one detail that he lets slip. He's on you constantly. He's always pressing you to be better, to be quicker, to do those things, but I think that adds a little bit of pressure during practice that will help carry over into the game because when you get into the game, there's a lot more things going on other than just him yelling at you."
The players believing is a solid first step. But turning reputation into results will be the ultimate test.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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