The Vikings Can’t Afford To Hire A Defensive-Minded Coach

Photo Credit: Rich Barnes (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Vikings started the process of finding a new head coach a bit later than other teams, but they have done their due diligence in requesting interviews with a slew of enticing candidates.

The Vikings have requested to speak with several defensive coordinators, from younger coaches with high upside like DeMeco Ryans to veteran names like Dan Quinn. Overall, these coordinators could improve the defense and maybe even the entire team, assuming they would be open-minded with the offense.

But Minnesota needs to hire an offensive mind. If you don’t believe me, just look at history.

The Vikings had good offenses under Mike Zimmer. Case Keenum thrived with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs as his primary targets. While Kirk Cousins earned his criticisms, Minnesota has mostly had a high-octane offense.

But look at what happened in the offseasons following offensive success. Pat Shurmur got the most out of Keenum, then Shurmur departed to become head coach of the New York Giants. Kevin Stefanski also helped the team succeed in the playoffs, then left for the Cleveland Browns after the Vikings’ postseason exit in the 2019 season.

Minnesota’s offense was good in 2020, but Gary Kubiak retired. That bucks the trend but still shows how fleeting an excellent offensive coordinator can be for a defensive head coach.

I also want to add this as a stipulation: The Vikings might be fine with a defensive-minded head coach, but it’s just not worth the risk. Bringing in another defensive mind not only emphasizes the less-important side of the ball, but it’s also an admission that even if the offense is occasionally good, it could soon change.

The successful offenses in the NFL right now typically have something in common: continuity. The top-five offenses in the league for EPA/play in 2021 were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, and Los Angeles Chargers. Of those teams, the first three have offensive-minded coaches. Those teams all have had their respective offensive coordinators for multiple seasons besides the first-year Chargers coaching staff.

On a related note, every one of those teams has offensive coordinators with interview requests for head coaching jobs this offseason.

Sure, Buffalo and the Chargers have found success with defensive minds at the helm. But Bills OC Brian Daboll remains a popular name for head coaching jobs, and LA head coach Brandon Staley is on the record saying he favors analytics on offense.

Chargers OC Joe Lombardi already interviewed for the Houston Texans’ head coaching job. Give it time: Someone else could hire him. In short, your head coach has to have a holistic approach, and even then, you risk losing an architect of your offense to another team.

Zimmer ushered the Vikings into an era of respectability. He inherited a team that was 5-10-1 and looked incomplete on both sides of the ball. A defensive-minded head coach can lead a team to the playoffs and even go on a run. But will he consistently stay in the hunt as his offense inevitably changes? The Vikings showed that they couldn’t be a contender year after year in the Zimmer era. And the team’s roster has the potential to be great.

Minnesota has an experienced quarterback in Cousins. They could use a coach to help him become an upper-echelon passer. Cousins has shown flashes of an elite quarterback, but he dropped off towards the end of this season, and, by extension, so did the team’s offense. The core of Minnesota’s offense is there with other pieces like Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, Irv Smith Jr., and Brian O’Neill.

The pool of offensive coaches is deep, too. Only two teams poached a true offensive coordinator to be their head coach in 2021. The Eagles hired Nick Sirianni away from the Indianapolis Colts, and the Atlanta Falcons did the same to the Tennessee Titans with Arthur Smith. Some of the names available have been well established in their current jobs. Daboll, Eric Bieniemy, and others have been intriguing prospects for multiple years now.

That bodes well for Minnesota with its head coaching prospects. It also serves as a reminder: The Vikings did not have that kind of luck with their offensive coordinators. Should this team risk going through that again? No. Given who’s on the roster, it’s time to focus on the offense, the vanguard of the modern NFL. An offensive-minded head coach can help provide continuity in a league where a great offensive coordinator might not be around for long.

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