2013 Minnesota Vikings Pivot Point: Time to Consider a New Direction?

Scott ReighardAnalyst IOctober 25, 2013

2013 Minnesota Vikings Pivot Point: Time to Consider a New Direction?

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    It’s late October 2013, leaves are changing, the weather is changing, and the Vikings sit at 1-5. This gives new meaning to the word Fall. And just a few days ago it was announced that Christian Ponder will likely start against Green Bay. Hopefully this game will go as well as the final regular-season game last year when the Vikings surprised and defeated the Packers, and Ponder had perhaps his best game as a pro.

    As optimistic as I would like to be for the remainder of the season the order is tall, and unless a minor miracle occurs, it seems as though the Vikings are looking at a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft.

    Many speculate there will be a coaching change at the top, and that the ricochet shrapnel will take the other coaches as well. Also, the idea of drafting a quarterback piques the interest of even the casual Vikings fan.

    More often than not, a coach who was considered a defensive mind is replaced by one who is an offensive mind. I actually include four defensive coordinators in here, but yes, the betting man would say an offensive-leaning guy will be the next “ball coach” for the Vikings.

    From 1961-1983 the Vikings had two head coaches: Norm Van Brocklin and “bow your heads please,” Bud Grant. We love you Bud!

    Now it gets depressing. Since 1984, the Vikings have had seven coaches. My fingers tensed up just typing that.

    In 2010, the Vikings decided to go with Leslie Frazier: a player’s coach, former player, Super Bowl winner, member of the vaunted Bears defense and now embattled head coach. I like Leslie Frazier; he is all that I just described, but whether he is a head coach is still up for debate. That conclusion is quickly suffocating the Vikings hierarchy of power.

    Honestly, I would be okay if the Vikings held on to Frazier with the contingency that he fire defensive coordinator Alan Williams, and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, but then this article would be irrelevant. So the idea is to move forward with possible candidates for head coach should Leslie Frazier get fired.

    I offer several candidates with strong resumes. I leave the civil comments up to you. This is just an opinion piece.

Kyle Shanahan: Washington Redskins, Offensive Coordinator

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    He’s got pedigree, but we’ve seen that fail numerous times in the NFL: Jim and Jim Mora Jr., Bum and Wade Phillips, Lou and Nick Saban. I went old school on that one. This is certainly no recipe for success, but let’s take a closer look at young Kyle.

    I say young in that he was born in 1979. I was a sophomore in high school when this kid was born in Minnesota. His father, Mike Shanahan, was a coach at the University of Minnesota, so there is a connection to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

    Some say Shanahan is untouchable; that he is simply biding time until his father hangs it up, and then the young Shanahan can take over the Redskins. Maybe, but let’s say the money is enough to entice him away from the comfy confines of home and to a place where he is his own man, not living in the shadow of his two-time Super Bowl winning father.

    Shanahan brings an innovative mind and a pretty impressive resume, albeit a short one given his age. That can be good and bad. Good, meaning not a whole lot of baggage; bad, meaning not a whole lot of experience.

    Here is Shanahan’s coaching career ladder.

    2004-2005: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Offensive Quality Control

    2006: Houston Texans, Wide Receivers coach

    2007: Quarterbacks Coach

    2008-2009: Houston Texans, Offensive Coordinator

    2010-Present: Washington Redskins, OC

    Information courtesy of: Pro-Football Reference 

    Shanahan has shown great flexibility with offenses. In Houston he had an offense that was balanced in the true nature of an offense that relied on a strong running game with play action as its down-the-field dynamic.

    In Washington there is still a strong running game, but it is accomplished via the spread or option. The passing game is very vertical and open where a lot of the routes call for a lot of crossing or smash type routes.

    Shanahan has coached Matt Schaub and now Robert Griffin III. I don’t know about you, but maybe split those down the middle and you have Christian Ponder. Keep an open mind. Also, look how he was able to re-adjust the offense to fit RGIII’s skill set. It could be surmised that he would be able to maximize the abilities of either Ponder or Josh Freeman, or whomever they may draft.

    Final analysis: No one can predict with any certainty the type of success a first-time head coach will have. The coaching graveyard is full of guys who were head coaches at one point and then never saw that label next to their name again.

    Kyle Shanahan brings a young mind to the game. I think that would be a welcome philosophy to a team where most critics feel is stuck in the 1980s.

Greg Roman, San Francisco 49ers, OC

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    There might be a misconception out there. One that feels Jim Harbaugh is the meat and potatoes to the 49ers, but I say not so fast. If you look at any successful head coach, he had excellent coaches around him. That is why these so called “coaching trees” are always tossed around. There is some validity to that, I suppose, but let’s take a look at Roman’s career.

    According to Coaches Roots, Roman had not held a coordinator position until he was tabbed by Harbaugh in 2011. Prior to that most of his work consisted of the following: assistant head coach (Stanford, 2010), running game coordinator (Stanford, 2009), assistant offensive line coach (Baltimore Ravens, 2006-2007), coached with the Texans from 2002-2005, the Carolina Panthers from 1995-2001.

    He certainly has NFL experience at many coaching positions, and appears to have a great understanding of all the positions. His resume runs deep except for that of being in charge.

    Roman’s stock has risen because he also has shown a propensity to adjust to his personnel, rather than have his personnel adjust to him….see Brad Childress.

    Roman went from working with Alex Smith and then transforming the 49ers offense into that which could accommodate Colin Kaepernick. Being able to be that flexible gives good bone structure to the idea of a guy who can adapt, and adapt well.

    Roman could be the kind of wonder guy, or he could be one of those not-ready-for-prime-time coaches.

Adam Gase, Denver Broncos, OC

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    At 35-years old, Gase is nearly as young as Kyle Shanahan. This is his first year as offensive coordinator, but he certainly has gained the respect of the NFL given the Broncos average nearly 43 points per game.

    Gase has worked for Nick Saban at Michigan State and Mike Martz in Detroit, so he has some pretty big names for which he can associate himself. Although he does not have the resume of the previous guys discussed, sometimes it’s good to go on potential. According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, “Manning strongly endorsed Gase for a promotion, and that came together quickly.”

    Gase could be that quick-rising coach that fizzles as a head coach, or he could be a true find, a la Mike Tomlin.

Lovie Smith, Currently Unemployed, Head Coach

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    Time to make our run on defensive guys where Lovie Smith vaults to the top of the list. Wouldn’t this be sweet irony for Smith should he land the head man’s position in Minnesota?

    Sometimes people just wear out their welcome or time; Lovie Smith most likely just ran out of time and patience with the fanbase in Chicago. Other than their 2006 Super Bowl run, the Bears always seemed to be on the cusp as perennial winners. They brought in Cutler in the wake of Grossman’s gross performances, but still the Bears seemed to be the bridesmaids of the NFC North.

    According to Pro-Football Reference, Smith had only three losing seasons in nine years and two of those the Bears went 7-9. He amassed a record of 81-63. He was 3-3 in the playoffs with one NFC Championship. He is well respected and seems to be every bit a player’s coach.

    Although he is a defensive coach, as is Frazier, the irony of Chicago playing into all of this is rather frightening; Smith is still a high-prospect candidate regardless. When the smoke clears on the 2013 season and coaches lose their jobs, Lovie Smith will be at the top of every owner’s list.

Matt Patricia, New England Patriots, Defensive Coordinator

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    We get another defensive guy, and what better place to recruit than New England. I know, I know, some of you may be saying that no former coordinator for New England has panned out. Well, maybe four times is the charm. With failures in Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel and the fast rising, even faster burning, Josh McDaniel, Patricia may break the curse.

    Patricia was recently given the position of DC in 2012, although he has been an integral part of calling and prepping the defense since 2009.

    Again, it would seem odd to hire a defensive guy after a defensive guy, but you have to hire the guy you think will be the best fit for your organization, and possibly bring continued success regardless of either side of the ball from which that coach specializes.

Pete Carmichael, New Orleans Saints, OC

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    Much like Bill Belichick, a disciple of Sean Payton is going to get plenty of attention for head coaching positions. Despite Payton being the play-caller for the Saints, Carmichael is still an integral part of putting together one of the most prolific offenses in the league. And since he works under Payton, he gets to see how a successful head coach runs his system, delegates, game plans, etc.

    Carmichael is young, 42, and played his college ball at Boston College.

    Carmichael’s resume includes stints with: Cleveland (2000), Washington (2001), San Diego Chargers (2002-2005), and New Orleans Saints (2006-present).

    His steady employment is a good sign and that he came from San Diego when Drew Brees came over to the Saints is a sign the guy has the confidence of a future Hall of Famer.

Mike Sherman, Miami Dolphins, OC

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    I am sure there are groans on this one, but most people don’t realize that Sherman won 57 games while at Green Bay and went to the playoffs four years. He also was the head coach for Brett Favre, and now for Ryan Tannehill. The man knows quarterbacks.

    Sherman has shown that he is a creative offensive mind. He has shown the ability to adjust his idea of what his offense needs to do. I am sure that when the Dolphins shore up their running game, that offense is going to take off.

    Sherman has a great resume. Here is a snippet of that: Green Bay head coach (2000-2005), Houston Texans OC (2006-2007), Texas A&M head coach (2008-2011), Dolphins OC (2012-present).

    The only negative would be that Sherman will be 59 years old in December. No, it’s not that old, but it could factor into a decision if you have it down to two or three names.

Mike Nolan, Atlanta Falcons, Defensive Coordinator

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    Again, maybe the groans begin, but Nolan did a very good job in San Francisco with the defense. In fact, it could be said that most of that talent currently out there was because of Mike Nolan. The problem with Nolan in San Francisco was that he could never get a good offensive coordinator to complement his defensive-minded approach.

    Remember, Nolan was there when Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Manny Lawson, Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Dashon Goldson and several more were all drafted.

    Nolan ran the 49ers from 2005-2008 and was replaced by Mike Singletary. Nolan has since reemerged as one of the best defensive coordinators in the league.

    If given the chance and the right coordinators around him, Nolan could be a very successful head coach.

Jack Del Rio, Denver Broncos, DC

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    Another former head coach and former player, Del Rio is a well-liked guy by the public, and is very well respected in the locker room.

    There is a feeling that Del Rio is one of the top candidates for the USC job, along with Steve Sarkisian, who is currently the head coach at the University of Washington. That may be the case, but money talks and both USC and Minnesota offer positives and negatives.

    Don’t be fooled by Del Rio’s 68-71 record with the Jaguars from 2003-2011. He made the playoffs twice in 2005 and 2007, and that was in a very competitive division that featured the Titans under Jeff Fisher, Indianapolis under Tony Dungy and Houston with Gary Kubiak.

    Most people feel the Jaguar organization is probably one of the worst from top to bottom and Del Rio was a convenient punching bag. Yes, there were some poor draft-day decisions, but it’s not just one man who makes that decision, it’s a collection of scouts, coaches and management.

    Del Rio has gathered himself nicely and is once again a viable candidate for a head coaching position in the NFL. He is a California guy, and it certainly has its attractions, but Del Rio was one of the top LBs of his time, and the NFL is the best gig around, so it would appear the NFL has the edge. As for pressure, there would be just as much in either place: USC or Minnesota. Plus, as a former Viking, he has great familiarity with the fanbase and organization.

Jim Tressel, VP of Strategic Engagement, University of Akron

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    Here is an interesting name that no one is really talking about. Tressel’s resume is pretty well-known and impressive: Div I-A National Championship with Ohio State (2002), 4 Division I-AA National Championships with Youngstown State and 12 Coach of the Year Awards, per Sports-Reference.

    I have no idea if Tressel is interested in a head coaching position, but if he was, he would have to be near the top of the list for the Vikings, should that be the case. Tressel brings a professional air and extensive resume that is well respected.

    There is no doubt that Tressel would bring in the best young minds to surround him as coordinators. He ran an explosive offense with Ohio State and fielded some great defenses as well.

    His unceremonious departure from Ohio State was well documented, but no worries about recruiting in the NFL; just making good personnel decisions with the GM and putting together a solid staff could do some real damage.

    At one point Tressel was mentioned as being a candidate for the Colts vacancy in 2012, but he wound up being a “game day consultant.”

    The adjustment from college to the pros is always a roll of the dice; some have success: Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll and Jimmy Johnson, but then you have Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban who bombed.

    It’s like anything really. If the guy is good with people, is able to put together a good game plan on a regular basis, understands the business side of it, can manage tough situations, handles adversity with class and treats success and failure with equanimity, then the percentage of improvement increases. I believe Tressel is that type of guy.

    Tressel is 61 years old and like Sherman, age could be a concern. But there is no doubt this man could do the job.

Closing Comments: So What Happens Next?

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    Other notables include: Perry Fewell (Giants), Pep Hamilton (Colts), Darrell Bevell (Seahawks) and Brian Billick (Former HC with Baltimore and OC Minnesota).

    Rick Spielman now becomes the man in the spotlight. Is his job in jeopardy? Doubtful, but the next few months will be interesting.

    The previous list is just one of many guys vying for a head coaching position in the NFL. Those without prior head coaching experience confront the idea of running an entire team, not just the defense or the offense. It’s a tough job with tremendous responsibilities and high demand from an ever-anxious fanbase. Yes, they get paid pretty good money so our expectations rise with the dollar figure, but it has become a 24/7, 365-day job.

    No one knows what the Vikings will do in the ensuing months, but the final nine games will go a long way in determining Leslie Frazier and his staff’s future.

    If it comes down to replacing Frazier, the previous list is a pretty solid group from which to choose.

    Of course there could be a hidden gem not mentioned, but one thing is clear: Change is in the air in Minnesota and it’s not the onset of winter, and fans wait with bated breath as the team makes its eventual move to a new stadium. All too often lately Vikings fans find themselves quoting Shakespeare’s Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” Let us hope it is not an avalanche of terrible events.

    Who will be the head coach when they open their first home game in 2016? Who will be the starting quarterback? All these questions could be answered in 2014.