The Vikings hired a new tight ends coach last week, a fairly unremarkable development ordinarily, unless that person has been either an NFL head coach or offensive coordinator since 2009.
That raises eyebrows. Or at least it should for anyone who doesn’t take things at face value.
Mike Zimmer hired 50-year-old Pat Shurmur for what essentially is a bottom-rung position on a coaching staff. He basically oversees three or four players.
The move is a savvy hire by Zimmer if one examines Shurmur’s résumé. He served as Chip Kelly’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia before taking over as interim coach this season once the Eagles fired Kelly.
He was head coach of the Cleveland Browns for two seasons, an offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams and a quarterbacks coach under Andy Reid in Philadelphia.
He also reportedly turned down an opportunity to interview with the Rams for their passing game coordinator opening to join Zimmer’s staff.
Shurmur’s qualifications made his decision to accept a tight ends job curious.
Zimmer told reporters that Norv Turner will remain as offensive coordinator, but call me a conspiracy theorist for wondering if Shurmur’s arrival might lead to changes, both in scheme short term and possibly in title long term.
Let’s start with the Vikings offense being pedestrian this season. It finished 29th in total offense, 31st in passing, 16th in scoring. Its plodding attack looked as dynamic as C-SPAN.
The second-year quarterback didn’t progress the way many expected.
The star running back publicly criticized coaches multiple times.
Zimmer fired his offensive line coach after the season and admitted he wasn’t crazy about an ill-fated final play call against the Arizona Cardinals that cost the Vikings a shot at an upset.
Overall, the offense had a disappointing season, and Zimmer has made it clear that he expects to see improvement in 2016.
That’s why many of our antennas went up over news of Shurmur’s hire.
Maybe Shurmur will be here only a short time before moving to a higher-profile job elsewhere. Or maybe Zimmer views him as coordinator-in-waiting, if Turner’s offense continues to struggle next season.
Both scenarios seem plausible.
In simplest terms, head coaches should strive to hire as many quality coaches as possible, regardless of roles or titles. Zimmer checked that box with the additions of Shurmur and former NFL head coach Tony Sparano as his new offensive line coach.
A popular theory in Zimmer’s first two seasons was that he handled the defense, Turner the offense. And while that shared responsibility still exists, Zimmer’s actions in response to a sluggish offense indicate willingness on his part to put a larger imprint on offense.
He handpicked two former head coaches with different schematic backgrounds and 34 combined years of NFL experience. They should bring fresh ideas and input to Turner’s offense.
Shurmur’s influences in the West Coast under Reid and the hurry-up under Kelly don’t mean Turner will revolutionize his own way of thinking. Changes might be minimal. No one knows yet.
But all suggestions should be welcomed given the urgency of a playoff team that must fix its offensive shortcomings in order to continue its ascent.
Turner’s staff must decipher an overarching issue of how to marry competing strengths of Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson. Bridgewater is more comfortable operating out of the shotgun; Peterson is more effective in a traditional formation.
That’s a complicated problem.
They also need to rebuild the offensive line, refine Bridgewater’s mechanics, bolster the receiving corps, fix Peterson’s fumbling problems and solve global warming.
Needless to say, this looks like a busy offseason for those involved.
Turner has two new, experienced coaches at his side in tackling those issues. By accepting position jobs, Shurmur and Sparano showed confidence in what Zimmer is building.
Now, does he have bigger plans in mind for Shurmur and/or Sparano beyond this season? That would make sense, too.
Given their struggles on offense, any scenario seems possible.