The Minnesota Vikings are coming off of their worst season in team history, finishing 2011 with a 3-13 record. In the weeks since the season ended, the organization has determined that the solution to the team's 2011 woes is three-fold: promote one of the architects of the 2011 team to lead architect, retain the services of the coach responsible for the on-field performance, and fire anyone associated with a positions of strength on the team.
Following this modus operandi, the Vikings have moved Rick Spielman to General Manager, retained Leslie Frazier, discharged defensive line coach, Karl Dunbar, and offered a substantial demotion to former defensive coordinator, Fred Pagac. Pagac's new role, should he elect to stay with the team, would be that of linebacker coach, a position currently filled by the unpopular Mike Singletary, whom the Vikings are considering as Pagac's replacement.
It's difficult to assess Pagac's contributions to the Vikings in 2011. Taking over a unit led for most of 2010 by Frazier, Pagac inherited a defense that was solid along the line, good in the middle, and horrible in the secondary. As defensive coordinator, Pagac turned out a defense that was very good along the line, awful at linebacker, and awful in the secondary.
The suggestion regarding Pagac's performance is three-fold. First, either the Vikings' grasp of Cover 2 is weak or the Vikings do not have the personnel to run the scheme. Second, Pagac was a far better linebacker coach than was his replacement, Singletary. And third, Pagac, like Frazier, is not currently equipped to both oversee a larger unit and put his imprint on that unit where it is most needed. That the linebacking corps was so bad this year, thus, is both a complement to Pagac as a linebacker coach and an indictment on his defensive coordinator skills--or the team's inflexibility when it comes to allowing the defensive coordinator to make necessary changes.
Rather than attempt to determine whether Pagac was the problem or the problem rests with some combination of personnel moves and head coaching decisions, the Vikings decided that it was better simply to make the easiest decision and fire the defensive coordinator. The decision is far less difficult to comprehend than was the decision to dismiss Dunbar, but it is also far more difficult to understand than is the decision to retain a head coach who can lay claim to virtually no successes in 2011.
The Vikings' decision to offer Pagac the linebacking position makes sense, as, prior to becoming the Vikings' defensive coordinator, the former tight end was a career linebacker coach and had great success in that role. But the move, not announced until one week after the Vikings publicly began interviewing Pagac's successor, not only reflects poorly on an organization that continues to fail in the human and public relations departments, but also makes finding a viable successor to Pagac more difficult.
No currently employed coordinator or any coordinator with other options could conceivably view Minnesota as a stable situation. Those coordinators will go elsewhere, leaving Minnesota the likes of Singletary, who apparently is good enough to coordinate what he could not coach. And that almost assuredly will not be well-received either by the players or would-be ticketholders.
The Vikings' problem is much larger than merely finding a bona fide defensive coordinator, however. The lack of a credible defensive coordinator means that the Vikings will have more difficulty attracting defensive free agents in the off-season. That could make it difficult, as well, to attract any free agent, absent an overwhelming offer that unduly saps the Vikings' otherwise healthy free-agent budget.
And all of this plays greatly into what the Vikings will need to do in the draft. Clearly, the team needs cornerbacks, safeties, wide-receivers, and offensive linemen, to name a few of the team's needs. If free agents are willing to come to Minnesota, there is a possibility that the Vikings can fill most of their needs in free agency, leaving for the draft the selection of the best player available. Such a scenario would allow the Vikings to consider drafting Justin Blackmon over Matt Kalil or even trading down in the draft. Failure to fill needs through free agency could leave the Vikings without a player in the draft who they really want for the dollars committed and almost assuredly will result in the team having zero flexibility in the draft.
There are solutions to this problem. But, of course, the Vikings almost certainly will not entertain them.
Up Next: One Such Solution. Or, How The Vikings Can Succeed as Early as 2012.