Sunday, January 19, 2014

Turner Brings Experience to Vikings While Hinting at Quarterback Addition

Late Friday, word leaked that the Vikings had added former Cleveland Brown offensive coordinator Norv Turner as the team's new offensive coordinator.  The move should bring to an end the micro-short  running/passing system introduced by Bill Musgrave and suggests that the Vikings are in the market for a down-field passer with some experience.  That probably means that addition of veteran Josh McCown of the Bears.

More on this move shortly.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Vikings Tab Zimmer As New Coach: Will Zimmer Ride Spielman's First-Round Charm?

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Vikings did the expected, naming former Cincinnati Bengal defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, their head coach.  Despite having no NFL head coaching experience, the 57-year-old Zimmer has much to commend him as the ninth head coach in Vikings' history.

Among Zimmer's attributes are the fact that he consistently coaches solid defensive units, has adapted to both the 4-3 and the 3-4 systems, has a long history of solid performances, and appears not to settle for substandard effort or results.  If sideline bellicosity is any indication, Zimmer insists on changes on the fly and does not shy away from necessary confrontation.

For Vikings' fans, the announcement of Zimmer's hiring is both expected and probably welcomed.  The Vikings have been a disaster on defense each of the past three seasons and not much above average for long before that, save for the run defense in the Pat Williams era.  If Zimmer truly is a coach who will insist on and make changes as soon as they are required, that will be a welcome change from the Childress and Frazier eras of "staying the course" and "not making changes on the spur of the moment."

In addition to Zimmer's positive attributes, there is the fact that he was widely viewed as a viable head coaching candidate, with only age and lack of head coaching experience apparently impeding his prospects this year.  This is the area in which, whether through luck or simply sufficient common sense, Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman has thrived.  When the odds say something will work and Spielman has made the move, he generally been correct.  Only when he ventures into the unknown--or the cautioned against--does Spielman seem inevitably to falter.  As such, attaching Spielman's name to Zimmer's hire likely is a good omen for the Vikings.

The only knocks on Zimmer are his lack of head coaching experience and the fact that he appears to be willing to confront and speak his mind.  The former is a hurdle for all first-time head coaches, though Zimmer is probably seasoned enough, having worked for several head coaches, including Bill Parcells, to have learned the main lessons.  The latter, however, could cause problems in an organization with a heavy top down organizational structure that loathes the free spirit.  That concern might be off-set somewhat, however, by the fact that Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf personally vetted the hire.

Zimmer is reportedly interested in bringing Norv Turner to Minnesota as the new offensive coordinator.  That, in and of itself, would be worth the Zimmer hire.

Up Next:  What Zimmer's Hire Portends for the Vikings' Quarterback Position.  Plus, coordinator matters.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Given Team's Objectives, A Few Leading Vikings' Coaching Candidates Appear Clear, Some Who Should Be Not Yet on Team's Radar: Day Three

Throw in every current NFL, college, and high school football coach and you have a near complete list of coaches in whom the Minnesota Vikings have expressed an interest as their next head coach.  The list takes into consideration General Manger Rick Spielman's self-created "thirteen types" of coaches.  Cutting through the chaff, however, it seems evident that the Vikings true list is far smaller and that, from that short list, there must be one or two leaders.

After three consecutive disastrous seasons on defense, it is almost impossible to believe that Spielman would be permitted to hire a head coach who does not have significant experience working with an exceptional defense.  That, in and of itself, almost certainly whittles the Vikings' true pool of coaching candidates to former NFL head coaches, current college coaches, and NFL defensive coordinators.

Of the former NFL coaches with significant experience coaching strong defenses, three stand out as worthy of consideration.  Those three are Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, and Tony Dungy.  All three have made clear that they are not interested in returning to the NFL.

At the college level, nobody clearly stands out as a defensive mind, but one head coach has had continued success both overall and with his defense, despite facing certain recruiting disadvantages.  That coach is David Shaw of the Stanford Cardinal.  Since taking over as the Cardinal head coach following Jim Harbaugh's departure to the NFL, Shaw has amassed a 23-4 record.  What stands out more than the record, however, is that Stanford has won employing a steady diet of competency on both offense and defense, increasingly so on defense.

In an article in the San Francisco Gate earlier this month, Shaw was applauded for his general coaching acumen, but was also taken to task for being a bit thin-skinned and too wedded to the game plan and "what got us here" and too indifferent, at last in this year's Rose Bowl game, to what Michigan State presented and how that should have affected game-day decisions.

At Stanford, the consensus is that Shaw desires a return to the NFL, preferably as a head coach, and that he is destined to make that move at some point in the near future.  For historians of the game, Shaw's experience and demeanor offer a comparison of sorts to another familiar face in Minnesota, Denny Green.  Both oversaw good offenses, put together good teams in a challenging recruiting environment, and bristle at criticism.  Shaw, however, also suggests attention to defense and has NFL coaching experience.

Within the NFL ranks, the Vikings are almost certainly focusing on coaches who can work with others, mentor younger players, and deal with veterans, while ensuring a return of a semblance of defense in Minnesota.  Not surprisingly, the Vikings have focused their early attentions on Cincinnati Bengals' defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.  Zimmer's defensives have proven relatively stout, albeit in a division relatively bereft of offensive talent.

While Zimmer has had some success in Cincinnati, he is a very vocal leader and does not mince words.  That likely will unsettle Spielman in his never-ending quest for thought control and might exclude Zimmer.  If Spielman's unease with Zimmer does not disqualify Zimmer--and the Vikings have reportedly set up a second round of interviews with the coordinator--other options might.

Among those options are Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.  Both Quinn and McDermott have put together fantastic defenses.  What arguably gives McDermott the leg up on Quinn, however, is that McDermott built the Carolina defense, while Quinn inherited his.  It also helps McDermott that he has built the Carolina defense with arguably less talent than Quinn has had to work with in Seattle.  Without suggesting anything bad about Quinn's system, that at least suggests that McDermott's system can work with lesser talent--a promise that the Vikings desperately need to hold on to.

The Vikings apparently are also interested in San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman.  Roman has done a decent job with what is regarded as a new-style quarterback and that might appeal to the Vikings if they are interested in taking Johnny Manziel in this year's draft, rejuvenating the career of Joe Webb as a starting quarterback, or making sure that they have not missed something in Christian Ponder.

Right now, the Vikings appear to have their preferences ordered Zimmer, then Roman, with the rest only modestly mentioned, if at all.  Based on who has done the most with what they have, however, a more suitable pecking order probably would have Shaw or McDermott in the top spot, with Quinn and Zimmer in the next tier.

Up Next:  Next Year's Minnesota Viking Starting Quarterback.  Plus, managing the cap.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Vikings Hint at New Coach: Day Two

Day two of the Vikings' off-season plan is far more complex than was day one and is clouded by the Vikings' decision to retain Rick Spielman as General Manager.  Spielman is driven by two forces.  The first is to prove that he can make the right choice at quarterback.  The second, and probably less imperative to Spielman, is to show that he can make the right choice at head coach.

The Vikings' retention of Spielman will only feed Spielman's sense that he is a guy who mostly gets things right and reinforce his investment in his own decision-making.  This likely means two things--that Spielman is intent on hiring someone to whom he will concede zero personnel authority and that Spielman will continue to search for a quarterback.

The latter would mean that the Vikings have already answered a day two or day three question--whether they should draft a quarterback in this year's draft.  The answer to that question almost certainly is "yes."  What is left unknown, however, is whether that pick will be in round one or two.  The answer to that question will be determined by who the Vikings select as their next head coach.

Earlier this week, Spielman gave a hint as to the direction that the Vikings currently are leaning in the draft, when he noted that the Vikings will have "a lot of cap space" this year.  That means several things.  First, it means that Jared Allen and Kevin Williams almost certainly are gone.  Second, it means that, given the loss of Allen, the Vikings either will sign an expensive end or consider a shift to a 3-4 defense.  Third, and depending on the previous, it means that the Vikings are leaning toward hiring a defensive specialist, possibly with experience running the 3-4 defense, as head coach.  Finally, it means that the Vikings probably will rely on a short-term measure at quarterback in 2014 and draft a "diamond-in-the-rough" in the second round of this year's draft, focusing on defense in round one.

So many uncertainties as the clock winds down.

The most certain of these uncertainties, however, is that Allen is gone.  The Vikings can do far more with $17 million than hire a single-digit-sack specialist.  With Allen's $17 million, the team could find two starting linebackers and retain Toby Gerhart.  Throw in Williams' 2013 salary and the team could retain Everson Griffin, as well.

Likely to join Allen and Williams as former Vikings in 2014 are Chris Cook, Fred Evans, Desmond Bishop, and, quite possibly, Erin Henderson.  The exodus of these players still would leave only one glaring unfilled hole--that at defensive end--with Audie Cole likely tabbed to succeed Henderson.  But the transformation of the Vikings' defense would be an opportune time for someone with experience shaping a defense to enter the picture.  That would not require a defensive-minded head coach, but the Vikings are likely to view defense as a priority and lean in that direction with the head coach.

Up Next:  The Vikings' Coaching Candidates--and Those Who Make Sense.