Longtime NFL coach Norv Turner, the offensive coordinator of the 5-2, first-place Minnesota Vikings, has resigned in the middle of the season.
The stunning news, confirmed by the club on Wednesday morning, leaves one of the league's brightest Super Bowl contenders without one of their most important architects. The Vikings have longtime coordinators Tony Sparano and Pat Shurmur on the coaching staff as position coaches. Shurmur was Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford's offensive coordinator at two different stops in St. Louis and Philadelphia.
"This was the hardest thing I've done in football," Norv Turner told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. "I respect Zim so much. I don't want anyone to think I am bailing. It just wasn't working."
Turner told Rapoport that he hadn't slept in days before making his decision, which he stated was not health related.
Earlier Wednesday, Turner issued a statement through the team following his resignation:
"I have tremendous respect for (head coach) Mike Zimmer, our coaching staff, and our players and at this time I think it is in the best interest of the team to step down. I thank the Wilf family for my time here in Minnesota and want to see our players and coaches achieve success."
Speaking to reporters, Zimmer said he was "very, very surprised" when Turner notified him Wednesday morning he was resigning.
"He decided it was in his best interest to do this and I accept the reasons, and they are personal, and I won't get into the reasons of why he did," said Zimmer, who also said he underwent a minor surgical procedure Tuesday to repair a torn retina.
"We talked about a lot of things and I told him about how much respect I have for him ... I think Norv is a great coach, a great teacher, a great person."
Zimmer emphasized that Turner told him simply he was resigning and didn't say whether he was retiring from coaching.
Turner, 64, has been in Minnesota for the entire Mike Zimmer era, which saw the Vikings rise to power in the NFC North behind the development of a brutal defense and young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. With expectations at their highest in 2016, the Vikings have played some of the league's best football save for a stagnant performance against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football this past week.
Minnesota is currently 31st in total yards per game (293.3) and 23rd in points per game (19.9).
Speculation will likely run rampant in Winter Park this week. Was it a coincidence after the team's second-worst offensive output of the season? Was it a reflection of the scheme not covering for a deficient offensive line? Was it a nod to Shurmur, who has more experience with Bradford? Was Turner simply tired of the grind?
NFL Network's Mike Garafolo noted Wednesday that a potential resignation has been rumbling for some time. The initial plan was for Turner to say one season in the new stadium, though its ultimately unclear why the decision was made in the middle of arguably the most important year in recent franchise history.
Turner has been a pro coordinator or head coach since 1991.