Hired by the Minnesota Vikings on Wednesday, first-time head coach Mike Zimmer will now ask two experienced coordinators to help ease his transition from assistant to head coach.
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Vikings are close to hiring Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner to run Zimmer's offense. George Edwards, the Miami Dolphins linebackers coach in 2013 and a former NFL defensive coordinator, will be invited to assist Zimmer in the day-to-day operations overseeing the defense, per Alex Marvez of Fox Sports.
Turner has to be considered a home run hire.
A former head coach himself, Turner can provide Zimmer all the guidance and advice he could ever need to successfully transition to his new role.
The promotion from coordinator to head coach can be a jarring, difficult one for assistants, many of whom thrived by running their half of a team before failing when tasked with leading a full 53-man roster. Turner has 15 years and nearly 250 games of head-coaching experience that the untested Zimmer can tap into.
But Turner's biggest impact will certainly come from leading and developing the Vikings' new offense.
Since starting his coaching career in 1979, Zimmer's entire football life has been devoted to teaching the defensive side of the ball. Beginning with his first job as a defensive assistant at the University of Missouri, Zimmer has been an inside linebackers coach, defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator.
Turner has a similar wealth of experience coaching the offensive side.
|1985-1990||St. Louis Rams||WRs Coach|
|1991-1993||Dallas Cowboys||Offensive Coordinator|
|1994-2000||Washington Redskins||Head Coach|
|2001||San Diego Chargers||Offensive Coordinator|
|2002-2003||Miami Dolphins||Offensive Coordinator|
|2004-2005||Oakland Raiders||Head Coach|
|2006||San Francisco 49ers||Offensive Coordinator|
|2007-2012||San Diego Chargers||Head Coach|
|2013||Cleveland Browns||Offensive Coordinator|
Source: Pro Football Reference
After starting his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Oregon, Turner has gone on to coach both receivers and quarterbacks. His appointment as the offensive coordinator in Minnesota will mark the seventh time he's held that position, with six of those jobs coming in the NFL.
His track record coaching offense is an impressive one.
As a coordinator and head coach, Turner has led 10 different offenses into the top 10 in scoring production. He once helped the Dallas Cowboys become the league's second-highest scoring offense from 1991 to 1993, and the San Diego Chargers ranked at least fifth or better in points for five straight seasons (2007-2011) when he was their head coach.
Turner utilizes a run-based attack that is dependent on play-action fakes, timing routes to the intermediate part of the field and an aggressive vertical passing game.
The bogus idea that Turner is a pass-first play-caller doesn't include his storied history of getting the most out of the running back position.
Five times a Turner-coached running back has won the league's rushing title; Emmitt Smith did it three times, along with Ricky Williams and LaDainian Tomlinson. Overall, his offenses have been in the top 10 in rushing attempts seven times and in the top 11 for rushing yards 13 times.
The presence of Adrian Peterson in Minnesota should guarantee that the Vikings will stay committed to rushing the football. It's certainly possible that in 2014 Peterson will become the fourth of Turner's running backs to win the rushing crown.
But Turner's biggest challenge in Minnesota will be developing the quarterback position, something Leslie Frazier and former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave failed to do over the last three seasons.
The Vikings finished 2013 with Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman as the team's three quarterbacks. It's possible that only Cassel will be back and that a top draft pick—the Vikings select No. 8 in the 2014 draft—will begin his grooming process next season.
Turner has already proved he can coax the best out of the worst of quarterback situations.
In Cleveland last season, Turner had to endure a merry-go-round at quarterback, with Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer all assuming the starting role at some point. Yet the Browns finished 11th in passing yards and touchdowns, and receiver Josh Gordon developed into a legitimate star.
Overall, Cleveland finished 18th in total offense and 27th in points, despite playing three underwhelming quarterbacks and getting next to nothing from a talent-deficient running back position.
Turner now needs a promising player at quarterback that he can groom for the long term. In the past, he's worked wonders with quarterbacks such as Troy Aikman and Philip Rivers.
Aikman completed 66 percent of his passes with 49 touchdowns and a passer rating of 91.7 with Turner in charge. Rivers threw for over 4,250 yards during each season from 2009 to 2011 and three times (2008-2010) had a passer rating over 100.0.
*Years in which Turner was an OC
But even if there is a learning curve at the quarterback position, Turner will have weapons to use in the Vikings' passing game.
Veteran Greg Jennings signed with Minnesota last offseason and remains one of the game's better route-runners. While in Green Bay, Jennings excelled at both yards after the catch and getting down the field in the vertical passing game.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph is a similar player to Jordan Cameron, who just delivered a Pro Bowl season under Turner. Over 15 games in 2013, Cameron (6'5", 254 pounds) caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Turner also helped turn Antonio Gates (6'4", 255) into one of the NFL's most dynamic tight ends in San Diego.
Rudolph, who stands 6'6" and weighs 259 pounds, has caught 83 passes with 12 touchdowns over 24 games since 2012. If healthy for 16 games, he could be looking at a breakout season in 2014.
Yet the most tantalizing projection into the Turner offense has to be receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, a first-round pick in 2013 who showed the potential to become one of the game's best playmakers.
The rookie scored nine total touchdowns last season, including four receiving and three rushing. Despite being mostly locked out of the offense early on in 2013, Patterson caught 45 passes and managed 627 yards from scrimmage.
His long stride and overall length should make him a constant vertical threat under Turner, and his open-field running ability will allow Turner to have a multitude of ways to get him the football. Bubble screens, quick slants and straight go routes all fit Patterson's game.
While not a perfect comparison, it's fair to note that Gordon—a 2013 All-Pro—caught 87 passes for a league-high 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns over just 14 games with Turner last season. It's just as fair to expect Patterson to improve greatly on his own numbers in 2014.
Predicting Edwards' impact on the defensive side is a more difficult task.
Considering Zimmer has a long track record of success coordinating and calling the plays on defense, Edwards may have a somewhat limited role in reshaping Minnesota's unit. But he still brings experience leading defenses and coaching both the defensive line and linebackers.
He also has past history with Zimmer, who in 2000 and 2001 worked as the defensive coordinator in Dallas while Edwards was the linebackers coach.
Edwards later went on to be the defensive coordinator in Washington in 2003 and in Buffalo in 2010 and 2011. He completed his second stint as the Dolphins' linebackers coach last season.
Edwards laid out his basic defensive philosophy to Alain Poupart of the Dolphins' official site in March of 2012:
The biggest thing that you see in this league, there’s such a wide variety of things offenses are doing in terms of matchups and that kind of thing. From week to week, the biggest thing is you don’t want to beat yourself. You don’t want to give up a lot of big plays, you want to be able to stop the run, get off the field on third down, the different aspects that you break down, you want to not give up points in the red zone, so from that aspect of it you want to break the game down and you want to look at it from those coaching points. You want to go out and do the best that your personnel can do to get those things stopped that they’re trying to accomplish each week.
But the results of his past stints as defensive coordinator don't exactly paint a pretty picture.
Under Edwards, Washington's defense finished 24th in points and 25th in yards in 2003. In 2010 and 2011, the Buffalo Bills finished 28th and 30th in points and 24th and 26th in yards, respectively. Buffalo did complete the 2010 season ranked third in passing yards allowed, but that defense also ranked 32nd against the run.
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However, the addition of Edwards could be a signal that the Vikings will attempt to become more multiple in their defensive fronts next season. He previously worked with the 3-4 and 4-3 looks, oftentimes using both during the same season.
Zimmer also has experience in using both defensive fronts.
Vikings defensive end Brian Robison would welcome more of a hybrid look.
"I would love to do a hybrid type of defense," Robison said, via Master Tesfatsion of the Star Tribune. "Maybe throw in some 3-4 plays, some 4-3 plays. I’m open to being a 3-4 outside linebacker. I’m confident in my athletic ability to do anything at this point."
Still, expect any decision on that front to be made by Zimmer. He will be expected to assume control of the Vikings defense after enjoying so much success on that side of the ball with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Turner, an experienced leader who should have complete control on offense, will make the bigger impact of the two coordinators. He has historically shown an ability to build an offense around its star players and get the most out of his quarterbacks.
A first-time head coach, Zimmer has wisely surrounded himself with experienced coordinators. The changes that the three men have in store could eventually have big returns for the Vikings.