Matt Asiata, still dripping after a shower and sporting a white towel around his waist, strolled back into the locker room at Winter Park around 11:30 on Wednesday morning. He seemed puzzled as reporters and cameramen swarmed him.
He had no idea that offensive coordinator Norv Turner had resigned hours earlier.
“I’m speechless. … That’s crazy,” the running back said.
Turner, who had called plays for the Vikings the past three seasons, arrived at Winter Park at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday and walked into Mike Zimmer’s office. He informed Zimmer that he was resigning. The head coach said he had no idea that Turner, “his right-hand man,” might walk away and insisted he had not considered shaking up his offensive staff.
“I was very, very surprised,” Zimmer said.
Turner’s stunning resignation came two days after the Vikings produced only 258 yards of offense in a 20-10 loss to last-place Chicago. It was the second consecutive game, both of them double-digit losses, during which the offense managed only three points in the first three quarters.
Calling it “the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” Turner said he resigned because he and the Vikings were not on the same page about the direction of their struggling offense.
“It’s the hardest decision based on a number of circumstances that I’m not going to go into,” Turner told the Star Tribune. “A tough day. Tough day. But I got the utmost respect for Mike. I think he’s as good a coach as I’ve been around. But it just got to the point where I didn’t think it was going to work with me. So I removed myself.”
He added: “I truly think this move may end up being a positive thing for the Vikings.”
Earlier in the day, Zimmer disputed the notion that there had been a difference of opinion.
“Since Norv has been here, I’ve given him almost 100 percent, total free will in everything that they’ve done offensively,” Zimmer said. “I’ll come in and make suggestions, but there really has never been a time I have demanded anything.”
Tight ends coach Pat Shurmur, the former NFL head coach whose hiring this past spring raised eyebrows, will replace Turner as the interim offensive coordinator.
“He is the next guy?” Asiata asked, getting nods in return. “It’s time to roll with Pat.”
Shurmur, 51, was head coach of the Browns for two losing seasons and from 2013-15 was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. He was the offensive coordinator in St. Louis in 2010 when the Rams drafted current Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford first overall. He also coached Bradford in Philadelphia last year.
Turner’s son, Scott, will remain on Zimmer’s staff as quarterbacks coach.
“I obviously didn’t see this coming. I was in here yesterday talking to [Norv Turner] and didn’t really think anything was different,” said Bradford, who found out when his wife called him after the news broke around 9:30 a.m. He added: “Hopefully it’ll be a positive. Hopefully it’ll be something that the guys will rally around.”
The Vikings acquired Bradford in a trade with the Eagles in September after Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season-ending knee injury. He took over as the starting quarterback in Week 2. The offense produced 79 points in the next four games as the Vikings improved to 5-0 and took control of the NFC North.
But in consecutive losses to the Eagles and Bears after their bye week, the Vikings, hit hard by injuries on offense, surrendered 11 total sacks.
Both of their starting tackles for Week 1, Matt Kalil and Andre Smith, joined Bridgewater on injured reserve. So has All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, though the Vikings are holding out hope for a late-season comeback.
Under Turner, whose offense was built on power runs and deeper passes, the Vikings topped 400 yards of offense only once in the past 27 games, including playoffs. Five other NFL offenses are averaging more than 400 yards in 2016.
But Zimmer insisted it was not his desire to change offensive coordinators.
“We’re all trying to work together to get better,” the third-year coach said before acknowledging that “obviously we haven’t performed well the last two weeks.”
Asked if he tried to talk Turner out of resigning, he responded: “We talked for a long time about a lot of things, and I told him my feeling for him and how much that I respect him and things that he has done and he has continued to do and how hard he’s trying to get it going. He was pretty set in his ideas and his reasons.”
Zimmer said that at no time during their long chat did Turner, 64, mention retirement. Turner said he would wait for the season to end before weighing his options.
The Vikings ranked in the bottom six in total offense in each of Turner’s first two seasons as play-caller. This year, they rank 31st in yards and their 11 offensive touchdowns also are second fewest.
Zimmer, his bottom lip quivering, got choked up near the end of his news conference when talking about his relationship with Turner, one of Zimmer’s first hires in 2014.
“I think Norv is a great coach, great teacher, great person,” Zimmer said.
Turner also was well-liked by his players.
“It’s tough, not really anything that somebody expected,” running back Jerick McKinnon said before Shurmur’s first practice as interim offensive coordinator. “But going forward, we’ve got to find a way to regroup and get better on offense and start racking up some wins again.”
Staff writer Mark Craig contributed to this report.