Black Monday hit hard in the NFL, in particular with the Minnesota Vikings. Gone are Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman. Unlike many other teams that are in search of a new coach and/or general manager, this isn’t a rebuilding situation. A lot of the puzzle is already in place. Given the potential candidates, the Vikings need to look no further than some of the prospects who will be searching for their first head coaching gig.
The names of veteran head coaches rumored for the job don’t inspire a lot of confidence. Vic Fangio would be a great defensive coordinator, not a head coach again after fizzling out in Denver. Jim Harbaugh would be wildly intriguing, but his name pops up all the time. It may be another instance of him gaining leverage for a better deal with Michigan. The list of up-and-coming talent new to the head coaching ranks is compelling, though.
Byron Leftwich is sure to get plenty of attention for the job he’s done with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Will the former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback stick out the Brady era in Tampa? Or could he deem this the right time to make the jump? There’s a high possibility that he gets at least one offer if he chooses the latter option. For the Vikings, a young, offensive-minded coach should be the focus. Leftwich could be the golden ticket.
If not him, there are plenty of others.
Kellen Moore rolled into Minneapolis this season on Halloween night without his starting quarterback in Dak Prescott. Instead, the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive coordinator had Cooper Rush to work with. Rush piled up 325 yards passing and two touchdowns as the Cowboys pulled off a tiny stunner, upsetting Minnesota 20-16. Moore’s name was a popular one last year too. He’s been massive in Dallas’ well-oiled machine on offense and will garner plenty of interest yet again. The list doesn’t stop there.
It’s somewhat incredible that Eric Bieniemy still isn’t a head coach somewhere. This offseason has to be the one, right? Bieniemy has coached alongside Andy Reid in Kansas City, pushing all the right buttons for an offense that has been nearly unstoppable for a few seasons. This year they regressed a bit early on, but they kicked it into gear when it mattered and landed the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Bieniemy will have no shortage of interest, and the Vikings should wedge their way into those conversations.
A first-time head coach may seem a bit perplexing for the Vikings, given the spot they’re in. But are the other candidates who have head coaching experience really more proven commodities? It’s hard to make that case.
Minnesota’s roster is in good shape, especially on the offense. There is plenty to be optimistic about with Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson. While Kirk Cousins remains the wild card, there are far worse options at quarterback among other teams looking for a head coach. The Vikings are one of the premier openings, if not the top choice for many looking to jump into the top job because they aren’t too far from relevance. If there’s hesitation in hiring a first-time coach, Minnesota can find inspiration in what their NFC North rivals did three years ago.
Matt LaFleur had never been a head coach before Green Bay hired him. He’s posted three-straight 13-win seasons and back-to-back top-seed-clinching years in the NFC. Sure, it’s hard to mess up with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, but Green Bay was tail spinning in a major way in the last couple of seasons when Mike McCarthy was running the show. LaFleur has turned out to be a tremendous hire. Minnesota can go the safe route or go for the jugular.
Going all-out would be taking a chance on the unknown and hiring a Kellen Moore, a Byron Leftwich, or an Eric Bieniemy. The offensive-minded coaches in the market for a head coaching spot have to be salivating at the pieces in place for the Vikings. They far outweigh what other teams like the Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears, and others have to offer. There is no guarantee that hiring any of the first-timers will work out, but there is no guarantee that one with experience will either. Minnesota needs to stray from the conservative path and go for broke to position this offense with its best possible chance to be a consistent contender again. To do so, they should choose from among the first-year options who have an offensive-minded approach.