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.

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