When Norv Turner walked away from the Minnesota Vikings near the end of the 2016 season, he didn’t necessarily walk away from football.
Turner, 65, who has a sizable NFL pension after 32 years in the league, returned to his home in San Diego, took walks along the beach and waited for the right opportunity to return.
That came earlier this month when Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera called Turner and told him he needed an offensive coordinator after firing Mike Shula.
Rivera’s call was not the first one Turner fielded. A couple of head coaching candidates were interested in bringing Turner out of his semi-retirement, including former Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who was introduced as the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach Tuesday.
But the Panthers made the most sense.
Rivera was San Diego’s linebackers coach and defensive coordinator when Turner was the Chargers’ head coach. Turner’s brother and nephew were already on Rivera’s Carolina staff, and Rivera was amenable to having Turner’s son, Scott, come with him as the Panthers’ quarterback coach.
The familiarity extended to the Panthers’ playbook, which featured a lot of the same plays and most of the same terminology as Turner’s offensive scheme because, duh, he designed it.
“I told people I’m close with and not that close with that the only way I get back into coaching if I chose to would be (because) of the general manager and head coach, people I knew,” Turner said Tuesday during a teleconference with Charlotte media.
“I obviously know Ron better than anyone else I could’ve gone with. That was very important. And you want to go with a good team that’s not rebuilding. We’re still talking about Cam (Newton) as MVP a few years ago, and there’s good football players on this team. There’s young players I really think we can develop.
“That all was very exciting to me.”
A quick move
Turner was hired on Jan. 12, just three days after Rivera fired Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey. It doesn’t sound like he has spent much time checking out Uptown or following the story of why Charlotte didn’t make the cut for Amazon’s second headquarters.
Mostly Turner has been holed up in his new office watching tape. He asked the video department to give him cut-ups of the 500-plus passes Newton threw this past season (it’s unclear whether Turner viewed backup Derek Anderson’s eight attempts or punter Michael Palardy’s lone left-handed toss).
Tuesday was Turner’s first time speaking to external media since he was hired, and his teleconference coincided with Wilks’ introductory press conference in Phoenix.
Wilks, who also was on Turner’s San Diego staff, called Turner “a great offensive mind” and said what he learned from his time with Turner was that the NFL game is about trying to exploit matchups.
Turner didn’t delve too deeply into personnel during his 20-minute teleconference. He praised both Newton’s running ability and his strong arm, mentioned Christian McCaffrey’s productive rookie season and talked about developing the Panthers’ young receivers.
Turner did not say the Panthers needed a true No. 1 wideout.
He may need to watch more tape.
Turner’s abrupt exit from Minnesota was because of philosophical differences between him and Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, Turner has said previously.
But he and Rivera are on the same page, right down to the way plays are called.
When Rivera hired Rob Chudzinski as his first offensive coordinator in Carolina, the coach known as Chud brought Turner’s playbook with him and added the zone-read packages Newton ran at Auburn.
“The system evolved differently with different personnel, but the terminology is amazingly pretty much the same we had in San Diego and used in Minnesota,” Turner said.
Turner says there have been some tweaks and a couple of “code names” are different, but mostly the system looks and sounds the same.
“For Coach Rivera, that’s something that’s (a) positive with him – not having to change a lot of verbiage,” Turner said. “The formations are 90 percent the same, the motions are the same. The way we call the runs and passes is very much the same. I don’t see that as being something that will take very long.”
Turner hasn’t spent much time with Newton. The two have had only a brief conversation because of the rules that limit players’ responsibilities during the offseason.
There will be plenty of time for Newton to get to know Norv and the entire Turner clan.
In the meantime, Turner will continue to analyze video, provide input on personnel to Marty Hurney and re-connect with Rivera, who tried to Turner in 2013 after Chudzinski left.
“Ron and I worked together for four years. We know each other pretty well. I know it’s turned around and I’m working for him,” Turner said. “We appreciate the same things about style of football. We’re both from a little bit different era. It’s a little bit old-school. He appreciates that about me.”
As for Turner, he appreciates the chance to work with friends, family – and a perennial playoff team.
“As I told Cam, when you do this, you want to have a chance to win a championship,” Turner said. “This team was in the Super Bowl a couple years ago. It’s a talented football team.”