The Vikings may have set a piece of history as we enter the 2012 season. In terms of finishing with a 3-13 record, the Vikings came out of the annual coaching purge relatively unscathed.
Teams historically dismantle coaching staffs during hard times. If you want to win a bet, ask a bar patron/self-described sports expert how many new head coaches there are from just two years ago? There are only 32 teams, so it can’t be that high, right? Wrong, my friend. While it’s hard to acknowledge that Sean Payton is technically fired while serving a one-year suspension, for the second straight year, there are eight new head coaches in the NFL. Over the last two years, the NFL has witnessed 16 new head coaches – a record that may never be touched again.
This year, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans, Oakland, St. Louis and Tampa Bay all have new head coaches from those in place when the lockout began. Many more have lost coordinators – either being fired or being plucked by other teams as new head coaches.
The Vikings are a different animal. They lost one coach – defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, who left to join the Rex Ryan circus in New York. He was replaced by Brendan Daly, who was an assistant D-line coach under Dunbar, but left to St. Louis when Scott Linehan got the head coaching job. Technically, Daly is coming home. The only other coaching move made during the offseason was the hiring of Alan Williams as defensive coordinator. Fred Pagac, the DC for the Vikings last year, wasn’t fired. He was demoted back to linebackers coach. However, the Vikings already had a linebackers coach in Mike Singletary. He earned the title special assistant to the head coach/linebackers. Somehow the Vikings added a coaching position but didn’t eliminate one. That’s new to the NFL coaching experience.
In the “What have you done for me lately?” world of the NFL, the security of coaches is as bad or worse as those of players. When half the league enters 2012 with a different head coach in place than in 2010, that’s some volatile stuff. But, the Vikings have it good by comparison. Consider the following:
Miami hired Packers QB coach Joe Philbin as its new head coach, but the hiring of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who coached eighth overall pick Ryan Tannehill at Texas A&M, may have the most to gain and the least to lose if Tannehill succeeds or doesn’t. If Tannehill flops, Philbin gets fired. If he succeeds, Sherman gets a head coaching job with the next team trying to develop a highly drafted rookie. One way or another, Sherman is going to be a head coach again.
Volatile wunderpunk Josh McDaniels is back in New England, where he once again sleeps at the feet of Bill Belichick. If the Patriots are the Evil Empire of the NFL, McDaniels is the demon spawn … and he’s back home.
Dunbar will bring his defensive tutelage to the Jets, who have a lot of swagger from head coach Rex Ryan, but have yet to live up to his tough-talking predictions.
What seems like an annual habit, the Ravens lost another coach to the head coaching ranks, as defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano tries to bring winning back to Indianapolis – which is still numb from its first year post-Manning.
Former Vikings head coach Brad Childress is preparing for his first season as the offensive coordinator under fellow Bill Walsh tree branch Mike Holmgren. Chilly hopes to create a “kick-ass offense” out of what in any year other than 2009 could best be described as an “ass-kicked offense.”
One of the more unusual changes comes in Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger was very public in his support of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, but Arians got the gas-pipe in the window and volatile Todd Haley (perhaps a UFC fight with McDaniels is in the offing) was hired. This schism (don’t say that!) could be telling if the Steelers are to be a playoff contender.
In Vikings linebacker news as it pertains to the AFC South, Jack Del Rio is out in Jacksonville as the head coach (he’s now the defensive coordinator in Denver) and Greg Manusky is in as the defensive coordinator in Indianapolis. The NFL circle of life continues.
The hook to Jacksonville doesn’t stop with the firing of Del Rio. He was replaced by Mike Mularkey, who played six seasons at tight end for the Vikings.
The State of Florida is in as dire shape as it was in the 2000 presidential election. All three teams in the state – Miami, Jacksonsville and Tampa Bay – fired their head coaches. The Jags and Dolphins went the conventional route of imploding their coaching staffs. The Bucs went a much different direction.
Tampa Bay is the leading candidate to be the craziest move of the 2012 season. In 2010, Raheem Morris became the first coach since the AFL-NFL merger to start 10 rookies and finish the season with a winning record. He received Coach of Year recognition. A year later, he was fired and replaced by Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano – only after Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, said, “Yes…N…What?...Who?” and bailed on signing on. Schiano was a distant second choice at best, yet, after being hired and told to assemble a staff, he brought in no less than four position coaches from Rutgers. The Sopranos moving to Florida is no schock – after all, Tony Sparano was the head capo in Miami the last two years – but the story of P.J. Fleck casts an interesting light on the Rutgers pull in Tampa Bay.
For those who don’t know who P.J. Fleck is, you’re far from alone. Fleck was the wide receivers coach at Rutgers with Schiano. When it was clear the band was breaking up, Fleck started looking elsewhere for gainful employment. On Feb. 2, he was announced as the offensive coordinator at Northern Illinois University. On Feb. 3, he was announced as the former offensive coordinator at NIU.
Of the other three Rutgers coaches that make the Schiano crew, one was tight ends coach Brian Angelchino. He and Kellen Winslow clashed so badly that one of the few offensive weapons on the Bucs roster was shipped away. Good luck with that.
The Oakland Raiders once again tore up the playbook and went in a different direction – Commitment to Change. The coaching staff was completely overhauled, but several had previous Raiders ties, which begs the question, “If they weren’t good then, what makes them good now?”
In San Diego, Norv Turner somehow survived, but for the second time in three years, he has a new offensive coordinator and for the third time in three years, he a new defensive coordinator (Ron Rivera in 2010, Greg Manusky in 2011 and John Pagano this year). One can only imagine Pagano is on the short list to be someone else’s head coach in 2013.
The worst case of nepotism in the NFL is the defending champion Giants. They only added one position coach to the team – Kevin M. Gilbride. He is known by his middle initial only because his dad, “the real Kevin Gilbride,” is the offensive coordinator.
If any division saw less coaching change, it would have to be the NFC North. The Lions were one of only three teams (along with San Francisco and Seattle) to have all their position coaches returning in the same role among the NFL’s 32 teams. The only major difference on the Bears is that they finally sent Mike Martz packing and replaced him with another Mike – former Vikings head coach Mike Tice. The only change on the Packers coaching ledger was Alex Van Pelt, the new tight ends coach. Why? They lost Philbin to Miami, elevated QB coach Tom Clements to offensive coordinator and switched tight ends coach Ben McAdoo to quarterbacks coach. Dominoes, NFL style.
Offensive coordinators in Atlanta would seem to be an endangered species. If you were a rookie in 2010, Bill Musgrave was your OC. Last year, it was Mularkey. This year, it’s Dirk Koetter, which seems to be a bizarre quid pro quo – since Mularkey is now the Jaguars head coach and Koetter was the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville before becoming the third Falcons offensive coordinator is as many years.
Jeff Fisher is trying to assemble coaching Dream Team in St. Louis. He was denied Gregg Williams as his defensive coordinator because of crimes against Favre, but tabbed second-generation coach Brian Schottenheimer as his offensive coordinator, former Giants head coach Jim Fassel as his special teams coordinator, and former Vikings offensive coordinator Ray Sherman as his receivers coach.
Last year’s lockout pitted players against management and, like it not, coaches fell on the side of management. They never locked out. They went to work during the lockout. However, it would appear that coaches are in no better position than players when it comes to team loyalty. With half of the head coaches that head to training camp in 2010 no longer heading to that same camp site as the head coach in 2012, it would appear that the fickle nature of the NFL extends beyond just veteran players with fat contracts. Coaches are just as vulnerable – if not more so – than players.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.