Norv Turner doesn’t name-drop. He fame-drops.
In 20 minutes on Thursday, Turner, the new Vikings offensive coordinator, mentioned John Robinson, Don Coryell, LaDainian Tomlinson, Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Terry Allen, John Riggins, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Ricky Williams and Josh Gordon.
What might hearten Vikings fans is that he also mentioned Brad Johnson and Russell Wilson.
Turner is one of the best offensive coaches of the past 25 years. He has excelled while coaching for and with Hall of Fame coaches, and while coaching Hall of Fame-caliber players.
With Matt Cassel opting out of his contract, the Vikings currently employ one quarterback: Christian “You still here?” Ponder. Turner’s quarterback could be Cassel, should the Vikings re-sign him. It could be a first-round draft pick. It could be a third-round draft pick. It could even be Ponder, because Vikings fans apparently have not been punished enough for the deal with the devil that twice brought Fran Tarkenton to town.
Turner either will be asked to coax a career performance out of a less-than-heralded veteran, or rush a rookie into action, or both.
This is where Johnson and Wilson come in.
The notion of the first-round franchise quarterback as a necessity has become popular, but the two best teams in the NFL, Seattle and San Francisco, each found an unconventional quarterback without using a first-round pick, and each has built a powerhouse without relying on a new-age passing offense.
“The guys I’ve been around that are so-called franchise quarterbacks weren’t considered franchise quarterbacks until they started winning,” Turner said. “You’ve got to get a guy that everybody believes in and put good people around them and find out how far you can go.
“I was with Johnson in Washington. We went to the playoffs and won the division, and the owner was convinced he couldn’t win a Super Bowl, so we let him go. He went to Tampa, and the next year he won a Super Bowl.”
Wilson was a third-round draft pick who won the Super Bowl with the deep and talented Seahawks. Colin Kaepernick was a second-round draft pick who, in a season and a half as a starter, has played in one Super Bowl and two NFC title games. Johnson was a ninth-round pick.
The Vikings hold the eighth pick in the 2014 draft. They will be tempted to reach for a quarterback, just as they reached for Ponder in 2011. If Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles are all gone, and the Vikings don’t think Derek Carr will become an outstanding player, they will need to rely on Turner’s ability to build a power running game and win with the quarterback available to him.
While the West Coast offense became famous because of Bill Walsh’s success with the 49ers, Turner is the fruit of different coaching trees. He learned power running from John Robinson and big-play passing from Don Coryell and Ernie Zampese.
He believes in battering defenses with a power running game, and making big plays down the field in the passing game, making him an indirect yet philosophical descendant of Joe Gibbs.
What separates Gibbs from many other great coaches is that Gibbs could win without Hall of Famers at signature positions. He won three Super Bowls with Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien at quarterback, and John Riggins, Timmy Smith and an old Ernest Byner at running back.
In Minnesota, Turner inherits Adrian Peterson, a solid offensive line, a talented tight end in Kyle Rudolph, a wondrously talented receiver in Cordarrelle Patterson and a soul-sucking, man-eating, neuron-singeing void at quarterback.
“The one thing that has been proved, and you go back to Sunday’s game — quarterbacks come from a lot of spots,” Turner said. “A third-rounder wins the Super Bowl, and there were a lot of good players that weren’t drafted high.
“I think everyone is in agreement, that you’re trying to add a young quarterback to the organization. You just have to make sure it’s a good one, wherever you get him.”