MINNEAPOLIS -- After the Minnesota Vikings hired Pat Shurmur -- a former head coach who has five years of experience as an offensive coordinator -- on Saturday night, locking him up before he could talk to the Los Angeles Rams about a possible job as a passing coordinator, coach Mike Zimmer had compiled an offensive staff with three former NFL head coaches and coordinators on it.
And while a league source said Shurmur's job title has yet to be finalized, it's probably safe to assume this: Shurmur wasn't going to end his job search after one stop had Zimmer not pitched him on a plan big enough to get him to put down roots in Minnesota.
Whether he has a coordinator or assistant-head-coach title, or some derivative of one, ultimately is somewhat trivial. Shurmur, who coached against Zimmer when both were in the AFC North, carried enough value that the Vikings' head coach sought to get him under contract and work out some of the details later. It also means the mechanism for change in the Vikings' offense is now in place.
Zimmer said after the season he anticipated offensive coordinator Norv Turner would return in 2016, and a league source said Saturday night that Shurmur's addition would not trigger other changes to the Vikings' coaching staff. Turner had told the Minneapolis Star Tribune a year ago that his contract runs through 2016. But the Vikings -- who had the league's 29th-ranked offense and 31st-ranked passing game in 2015 -- now have more big voices in the offensive meeting room. And in Shurmur and offensive-line coach Tony Sparano, they've got men who have coordinated West Coast offenses, in addition to running concepts as diverse as the Eagles' spread offense or the Dolphins' old Wildcat system. Turner's Air Coryell offense figures to remain the currency of the realm as long as he's calling plays, but the Vikings will have other ideas to add to the pot.
While that shouldn't be used to assume Turner is on his way out, it also shouldn't be glossed over, especially in light of what happened in the final weeks of the season. Zimmer spoke his mind more frequently about the Vikings' offense toward the end, saying he agreed with Adrian Peterson that the Vikings should have run the ball more against Seattle on Dec. 6, that Teddy Bridgewater needed to be more assertive in saying what he wanted in the Vikings' game plan and that he didn't like the final play call in the team's 23-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 10. When the Vikings hired Sparano -- who'd worked with Zimmer under Bill Parcells in Dallas -- to coach the offensive line, they canceled an interview with Pat Flaherty, who coached under Turner in Washington. There are more of Zimmer's fingerprints on the offense than there have ever been before; that's a far cry from where the Vikings were when Zimmer was hired in 2014, and it's naive to think things will necessarily stay the same as Zimmer evolves from a defensive-minded coach to a CEO of his entire program.
Expectations will be high for the Vikings as they look to defend their NFC North title during their first season at U.S. Bank Stadium, and Zimmer already showed he'll hold his staff accountable when he decided not to renew offensive-line coach Jeff Davidson and parted ways with strength-and-conditioning coach Evan Marcus after a run of pectoral injuries. As important as offensive improvement will be to the Vikings' chances of winning the division again and making a playoff run in 2016, Zimmer doesn't seem like one to honor the status quo for fear of upsetting people. Whether Turner's role changes, or whether his offensive staff merely gains another prominent member, the Shurmur hire is a signal that Zimmer isn't going to rest with an attack that wasn't productive enough in 2015. The knife edge might not yet be in position to strike, but it will not be going dull.