3 Best Coaching Options for Vikings QB Kirk Cousins
The Minnesota Vikings parted ways with head coach Mike Zimmer shortly after the 2021 season ended. It was the second consecutive season and the third time in four years that Minnesota failed to make the playoffs. Overall, the Vikings made the postseason three times in eight seasons under Zimmer.
Now, the search for a new head coach begins, and the future of quarterback Kirk Cousins could play a sizeable role. Cousins hasn't gotten the Vikings to the promised land, but he's been an above-average starter. He's also under contract through the 2022 season.
This means that Minnesota's next head coach will have two options on the table upon being hired: plan to move on from the 33-year-old signal-caller after this season or build around Cousins as a long-term answer.
Here we'll examine three coaches who could be best suited for the latter strategy.
Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn might not seem like an obvious choice if building around Cousins is the plan. He's a defensive coach who isn't likely to work closely with his signal-caller. However, the pairing makes a ton of sense.
Cousins was too often asked to overcome a defense that ranked 30th overall in 2021. If Quinn can get more out of the defense—as he did in Dallas this past season—it would take weight off of Cousins' shoulders.
Quinn could also bring in someone from the Kyle Shanahan tree to aid Cousins directly. Shanahan was Quinn's offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons and also worked with Cousins as the Washington Football Team's offensive coordinator in 2012 and 2013.
There's no guarantee that Quinn would attract a Shanahan protege to be his offensive coordinator, but it would be an added bonus as Quinn works to support Cousins with a better defense. It's worth considering because Quinn might already be Minnesota's top choice.
"I'm hearing he's high on their list, if not at the top," Will Ragatz of Sports Illustrated tweeted.
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans might make even more sense than Quinn because of the Shanahan connection. Ryans began his coaching career under Shanahan in 2017 and would almost certainly try to pull a member of the 49ers staff to be his offensive coordinator.
Running backs coach Bobby Turner might be a name to watch if Ryans is hired. He was Washington's assistant head coach and running backs coach in 2012 and 2013 and worked with Cousins there. He followed Shanahan to Atlanta in 2015 and then to San Francisco in 2017.
Looking at Ryans directly, though, there's a lot to like. San Francisco's defense has been fantastic with him at the helm in 2021, and it just ousted the top-seeded Green Bay Packers from the postseason. Hiring Ryans would make sense for many of the same reasons why hiring Quinn would be prudent.
With a better defense, the Vikings shouldn't have to ask Cousins to do too much. Minnesota blew multiple late leads this past season because of inconsistent defense, not because of Cousins.
Ryans is an up-and-coming coach who could fill Minnesota's need for the long haul. As Ragatz pointed out, it would be a similar situation to the Pittsburgh Steelers' hiring of Mike Tomlin back in 2007.
"Mike Tomlin's name has come up during Minnesota's search," he tweeted. "... Ryans also mentioned for MIN as a similar case to Tomlin in 2007."
If Minnesota insists on hiring an offensive coach, Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell could be the perfect choice.
O'Connell played quarterback for multiple NFL teams between 2008 and 2011. While he never started, he knows the position and should know how to relate to Cousins. O'Connell also has experience working with Cousins, having been Washington's quarterbacks coach during Cousins' last season with the franchise.
While working with O'Connell in 2017, Cousins threw for 4,093 yards, 27 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
Of course, the Sean McVay connection shouldn't be entirely discounted. While the idea of teams interviewing those who have worked under the Los Angeles Rams head coach has almost become a meme, it's worth noting that both McVay and former assistant Zac Taylor have their teams playing on conference championship weekend.
In two seasons with O'Connell as offensive coordinator, the Rams have ranked 11th and ninth in total offense. O'Connell is a logical choice if the Vikings are hoping to get more out of their quarterback in 2022.