The Carolina Panthers will have a new look on offense next season.
In the team’s first major move after losing in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, the Panthers replaced offensive coordinator Mike Shula with veteran offensive mastermind Norv Turner.
The change instantly makes head coach Ron Rivera’s 2018 staff the most experienced in his eight years at the helm. In fact, Turner is the first assistant Rivera has employed who has previous head coaching experience.
Turner has been a head coach for nearly half of his 32 NFL seasons. He headed up Washington from 1994 to 2000, Oakland in 2004 and 2005, and San Diego from 2007 to 2012. He won a total of four divisional titles and advanced to the AFC Championship game once. Turner was named Coach of the Year in 2009.
Turner has also spent 11 previous seasons as offensive coordinator, most notably with the Dallas Cowboys from 1991 to 1993, a span that included two Super Bowl titles.
The change should benefit Cam Newton, who will be the latest promising quarterback talent to benefit from Turner’s approach on offense.
When Troy Aikman was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he chose Turner as his presenter, in recognition of the coach’s impact on his career.
“Norv was my coach for three years,” Aikman said in his induction speech. “That’s it. I started playing football at the age of 7 and retired when I was 34. Of all those years, Norv and I were together for only three. Yet there’s no doubt in my mind that if Norv Turner had not entered my life, I wouldn’t be joining these men in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Aikman also called Turner “the big brother I never had” and “the biggest single influence on my career.” Six years later, Aikman tweeted, “Norv Turner is the best offensive play-caller in football…not even close.”
Aikman saw his quarterback rating jump by 20 points after Turner took over the offense, and two of the three highest quarterback ratings of his career came in the three years the two were together.
Similarly, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has had four seasons with a quarterback rating over 100. Three of them came under Turner. Rivers also praised Turner extensively, at one point going to the owner to lobby for a contract extension for the coach.
“Norv has coached Hall of Famers, he’s set a lot of people on the career paths that they’ve had,” Rivera said. “I’m excited about his knowledge and his offensive prowess. It’s going to be invaluable to us have him evaluate our personnel and help take our quarterback to another level.”
Turner hired Rivera as Chargers linebackers coach in 2007, then promoted him to defensive coordinator after a year. Rivera held that position until leaving to take over the Panthers in 2011.
Rivera hired Turner’s son Scott as the team’s offensive quality control coach in 2011, giving the younger Turner his first NFL coaching job. While the team hasn’t announced the move yet, Turner is expected to join his father on the Panthers’ staff as quarterbacks coach. Rivera also employs Norv Turner’s brother Ron (offensive consultant) and nephew Cam (assistant quarterbacks coach).
Turner’s impact on an offense is immediate. In his nine previous stops as a head coach or coordinator, teams saw big jumps in every offensive category.
If the Panthers show the average improvement under Turner, Cam Newton will post numbers that rival the best seasons of his career.
Shula seemed to struggle at times to find the best way to use Newton’s talents on offense, and, while there was no outright hostility between the two, frustration occasionally crept into Newton’s postgame remarks.
After throwing a game-winning touchdown pass to beat Minnesota in December, Newton said, “Everything that I was told not to do, I did. Throwing across your body … But sometimes you have to overcome coaching.”
By all accounts, Newton should be able to benefit from coaching under Turner.
As Aikman said in his Hall of Fame speech, “(Turner) gave guidance to a young quarterback who was in desperate need of some direction.”