When Panthers coach Ron Rivera woke up around 3 in the morning Tuesday and started jotting down ideas about his offense and coaches he thought could improve it, he could have called the name at the top of his list.
It was only midnight in San Diego, where former Chargers coach Norv Turner lives.
Turner has been out of the NFL since leaving the Vikings near the end of the 2016 season, but he could be jumping back in soon. Turner has emerged as Rivera’s top target for the offensive coordinator post that became vacant when Rivera fired Mike Shula after five seasons Tuesday.
Given Rivera’s hiring history, it’s almost certain he’s going to hire someone he knows well and has worked with before.
Turner, who hired Rivera in San Diego, also happens to be available after stepping down as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator last season. He also has two family members on Rivera’s staff – his brother, Ron, an offensive consultant, and nephew Cameron, the assistant quarterbacks coach.
It could get to be a really big family reunion. Scott Turner, a former Carolina assistant, is expected to return to Charlotte with his dad as the Panthers’ quarterbacks coach. (QB coach Ken Dorsey was also fired Tuesday.)
There are other proven coordinators unemployed with ties to either Rivera or the Panthers, including former Carolina offensive coordinator and Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski and ex-Chargers head coach and Broncos coordinator Mike McCoy.
But the Rivera-Turner pairing just seems to make too much sense.
And if Rivera doesn’t hire him, Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks might. Turner has been mentioned as an offensive coordinator candidate in New York if Wilks gets the Giants’ job.
During a Tuesday news conference, Rivera said he and interim general manager Marty Hurney had discussed “a couple” of candidates – “a few of them, actually.”
When I asked Rivera specifically about Turner and Chudzinski (aka “Chud”), he said the Panthers would stick to the plan.
Rivera didn’t get into details about what that plan might look like, other than to say he thought the offense needed “different perspective” and “different ideas” after those heady days of 2015.
But how much different do the Panthers want to get with Cam Newton, who lacks the kind of precision and accuracy to run the West Coast offense, for instance?
Rivera said he still expects the offense to feature power runs and zone reads, both of which play into Newton’s strength.
As Newton has said repeatedly his running skills set him apart. Also, a healthy rushing attack opens up play-action passes, which Newton has thrived on, particularly with tight end Greg Olsen.
There are a couple potential red flags with Turner. He’s 65 and he left his last job abruptly, although he told Monday Morning Quarterback’s Albert Breer he left because he and coach Mike Zimmer weren’t on the same page as far as the offense’s direction.
That wouldn’t be the case in Carolina, where Rivera has often spoken about his admiration for Turner, who recommended Rivera for the job with the Panthers.
I’d actually be surprised if this doesn’t happen. And soon.
Rivera was interested in hiring Turner in 2013, but Turner went with Chudzinski to Cleveland instead. Rivera ultimately promoted Shula to coordinator.
Rivera didn’t reveal much in the way of specifics at his news conference, but he may have provided a clue as to where he’s leaning when he was asked whether he would consider a candidate with college coaching experience.
“For the most part, early, early, early in their careers if they have a little college experience, but most of these guys have been in the NFL for some time,” Rivera said.
Early in his career Turner coached at Southern Cal under John Robinson, who was on Oregon’s staff when Turner was a Ducks quarterback from 1971-74.
Rivera also should talk to Chudzinski and McCoy, both of whom also are available. (Chudzinski was on the Colts’ staff that was fired last week, while McCoy was let go in Denver in November.)
Newton had the two most prolific passing seasons of his career under Chudzinski, who left Charlotte after the 2012 season to become Cleveland’s coach.
Giving Newton a fresh, coaching perspective will be good at this point in his career.
And Turner has a strong history with quarterbacks, helping mold Troy Aikman into a perennial All-Pro in Dallas and working with Philip Rivers early in his career in San Diego.
Barring something unforeseen, the Turners – father and son – will get a chance to see if they can help Newton rediscover his MVP form from 2015.
Norv Turner wouldn’t be a flashy, up-and-coming offensive coordinator. But it would be someone Rivera knows and trusts.
And given the uncertainty surrounding the entire organization this offseason, a little more stability could go a long way.