Only six years removed from an NFL playing career, former All-Pro linebacker for the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles DeMeco Ryans is firmly entrenched as one of the league’s hottest head-coaching commodities. The San Francisco 49ers’ first-year defensive coordinator has seen his stock skyrocket in his debut season overseeing Kyle Shanahan’s defense.
Fresh off an upset win on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys and their No. 1 scoring and yardage offense, Ryans is scheduled to interview for the Minnesota Vikings’ head coach position on Wednesday. This year, Ryans’ unit was ferocious, ranking ninth in points and third in yards allowed. He did it while playing in an NFC West that produced two other playoff teams and copious offensive fireworks by way of Sean McVay, Matthew Stafford, Kliff Kingsbury, Kyler Murray, and Russell Wilson.
The desire for Mike Zimmer’s replacement to come from an offensive background is undoubtedly warranted. Last week I wrote that a potential head coach with a defensive background would register a 0/10 on the excitement scale. But an organization led by Ryans appears to check all the boxes that the Vikings are looking for.
Trust me, I get it. Skoldiers who long for the 1998-esque offensive explosions courtesy of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, and Kirk Cousins instead of a third-straight defensive head coach in Minnesota aren’t necessarily wrong. Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Robert Smith, Randall Cunningham, and the 1998 Vikings were football nirvana. Anyone who envisions a similar potential for this current Vikings roster is more than just a little justified (see you tonight at the X, Kacey).
But hear me out, because I’ve stood with Skoldiers fantasizing about a return to a truly prolific offense featuring a terrifying vertical passing game for opponents inside US Bank Stadium for much longer than I’d like to admit.
Last week, Mark Wilf highlighted what will be paramount for ownership as they work to secure leadership for this new era of Vikings football.
- Effective Leadership
Ryans has spent his entire five-year NFL coaching career working for arguably the most collaborative coaching staff in the league. It’s a staff that has consistently demonstrated their clear understanding of the power that comes with collaboration. Check out what Robert Saleh had to say below about building a coaching staff. (Ryans coached under in San Francisco from 2017-20.)
When it comes to Ryans’ ability as a communicator and effective leader, it simply can’t be ignored that he not only talks the talk, but he walked the walk as an All-Pro linebacker. And you better believe that resonates inside a locker room with 53 men who are going to battle every day for their leader.
Considering Ryans’ uniquely qualified background, it’s easy to understand why the former Alabama linebacker has the potential to have an immediate impact on the team culture. He could be someone that players would run through a wall for, similar to Mike Vrabel, who just so happens to be the head coach of the No. 1-seeded Tennessee Titans.
Circling back on the power of collaboration: What adds to the intrigue of Ryans as the head coach of the Vikings is the potential of who could follow him to be Minnesota’s offensive coordinator. As long as Kyle Shanahan is on a particular coaching staff, he will always be the one who calls plays for his team’s offense. Before landing their current jobs, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, and Mike LaFleur all served under Shanahan and his play-calling as offensive assistant coaches. McVay and Matt LaFleur became head coaches. Mike LaFleur followed Saleh and is the New York Jets’ play-calling offensive coordinator.
McDaniel serves as San Francisco’s offensive coordinator, but Shanahan calls the plays. McDaniel will interview for the Miami Dolphins head coaching position. Unless Miami hires him, the likely trajectory for McDaniel’s career is to be a play-calling offensive coordinator away from Shanahan’s nest.
Last month I wrote about McDaniel and Shanahan’s coaching tree. With Ryans as the unquestioned leader of the Vikings and the defense, and the next mini-Shanahan overseeing an offense dripping in talent, the possibilities are endless — especially in an NFC North that could potentially be wide open if Aaron Rodgers forces his way out of Green Bay.
The only qualms that accompany a Ryans-and-McDaniel combo in Minnesota is the high probability that McDaniel will be poached to be a head coach. He could be gone as soon as 2023 if all went according to plan with the Vikings.
In McDaniel’s own words below, “It’s not like we’re a bunch of ‘Mother F*** coaches’…”.
With everything that has come out about Zimmer’s demeanor in Minnesota, this sounds like exactly the type of attitude the Wilfs crave: a culture that’s rooted in accountability, but only after building genuine relationships with players and staff.
Ideally, McDaniel has a few minions or quality-control coaches who Shanahan would sign off on following Ryans and McDaniel to Minnesota to help advance their careers. Should McDaniel decide to spread his wings as a play-caller, the logical replacement to be San Francisco’s OC in 2022 is none other than Wes Welker, the 49ers’ current wide receivers coach.
That way, the Vikings could instill some semblance of continuity with Ryans and the Shanahan/McDaniel offensive scheme should McDaniel land a head coaching after just one or two seasons as a play-caller. That is precisely what happened to Matt LaFleur after he spent a year on Vrabel’s staff in Tennessee in 2018.
It might not be what offensive-minded Skoldiers had in mind after eight years of Zimmer. But Ryans as head coach and McDaniel as OC — who spent two seasons working with Cousins in Washington — has all the makings of exactly what the Vikings need in this new era.