Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell decided to part ways with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell on Thursday evening. The news didn’t necessarily come as a surprise after the Minnesota Vikings finished 28th in points allowed and 31st in yards allowed this season. The switch to the widely popular Vic Fangio 3-4 defense didn’t go as planned under Donatell. Fans bickered throughout the year over edge rushers Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith dropping in coverage too often.
If the Vikings decide to promote from within, Mike Pettine is the leading candidate to oversee the defense. Pettine previously served as the defensive coordinator under head coach Rex Ryan for the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills from 2009 to 2013 before becoming the head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 2014 to 2015. He later became the defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers from 2018 to 2020.
Fangio himself is another name that is getting tossed around. The former Denver Broncos head coach took this past season off after being fired following the 2021 season. He has already interviewed with the Atlanta Falcons for their vacant defensive coordinator position and is widely regarded as the top defensive mind available on the open market. Donatell worked under Fangio from 2011 to 2021 with the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, and Broncos.
But considering Fangio’s scheme resulted in the third-straight year where the Vikings remained a laughingstock defensively, does it make sense to run it back with Doantell’s mentor leading the charge in 2023? At this point, it’s fair to question whether any scheme can make this unit respectable. With aging veterans at all three levels, it might be time to face the music and rebuild this defense from scratch.
That’s why current San Francisco 49ers safeties coach Daniel Bullocks makes for an intriguing option as Minnesota’s next defensive coordinator. Bullocks has been on Kyle Shanahan’s staff in San Francisco since the moment he took the head coach position in 2017. Bullocks started as the assistant defensive backs coach from 2017 to 2018 before being promoted to safeties coach in 2019.
When Bullocks joined Robert Saleh and DeMeco Ryans on the 49ers defensive staff in 2017, they inherited a defense that was dead-last in points and yards allowed from the previous year. Sound familiar, Skoldiers? While it didn’t happen overnight, they made incremental progress year after year before assembling arguably the league’s best defense starting in 2019.
The 49ers have run a base 4-3 defense with an emphasis on speed, aggression, and physicality — something the Vikings haven’t seen in quite some time. This defense allows their dominant front four to get after quarterbacks with stunts and timely blitzes.
Bullocks’ most recent gold star with the 49ers came with his tutelage of second-year safety Talanoa Hufanga. The 2021 fifth-round pick out of USC entered the fray as a first-year starter in 2022 and became a first-team All-Pro safety.
No one player on San Francisco personifies that speed, aggression, and physicality more than Hufanga. And with Bullocks as his primary position coach, he deserves the most credit in helping turn a former fifth-round pick into an All-Pro seemingly overnight.
The traits that Hufanga possesses as a safety are eerily similar to what made Lewis Cine a first-round pick by Adofo-Mensah and the new Vikings regime. And Bullocks is the exact kind of coach who can help maximize Cine into an impact player in Year 2.
Now, before we all get aboard the Daniel Bullocks train, it’s important to note that there are some obvious hurdles with this proposition of Bullocks as Minnesota’s next defensive coordinator. Considering that DeMeco Ryans is likely headed off to be a head coach within the next few weeks, Bullocks will probably have a surplus of options, especially since he is Ryans’s most trusted voice from the booth on gamedays.
- Does Bullocks get promoted to San Francisco’s defensive coordinator once Ryans leaves?
- Will Ryans recruit Bullocks wherever he lands as a head coach?
With the way San Francisco’s defense has churned out quality head coaching candidates in Saleh and Ryans, it’d be mighty tough for Bullocks to turn down an opportunity to oversee that defense if Shanahan believes he’s the right man for the job in 2023. But what if Shanahan has someone else in mind? Furthermore, if Bullocks decides to follow Ryans when he becomes a head coach, it’s more than likely that Ryans will remain the defensive play-caller, with Bullocks serving as his “eye in the sky” on gamedays.
It’s worth mentioning that Adofo-Mensah spent three years working with Bullocks in San Francisco, so there’s obvious familiarity between the two. And as a young, former NFL player, Bullocks appears to fit the mold of the culture that currently exists within the Vikings under O’Connell.
With everything he’s accomplished throughout his tenure in San Francisco, Bullocks has certainly earned the career options that are likely heading his way over the next few weeks. It’s by no means a guarantee that he would even consider the Vikings’ defensive coordinator job.
The chance to coach Cine in a similar way that he’s done with Hufanga has to be enticing for Bullocks. And if Adofo-Mensah assures Bullocks that he would be heavily involved in personnel decisions through the draft and free agency, maybe Bullocks is receptive to another fixer-upper opportunity, but this time as the primary decisionmaker for his defense.
Bullocks is a rising star as a defensive coach. Whatever he decides, he’s definitely going to be in high demand by Kyle Shanahan, DeMeco Ryans, and the entire NFL over the next few weeks.