Vikings' competition for next coach dwindles

Rick Spielman (Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY)

The Vikings and Browns are the only two teams left waiting to name their next head coach. The Vikings could end that today if Mike Zimmer is their man, or else the wait will be prolonged further as more assistants get snapped up by other teams.

And then there were two.

Only time will tell if the Vikings' choice for a new head coach is the wise decision or not. But, as things currently stand, of all the teams that were in the mix to hire new head coaches, only two remain "coachless" – the Vikings and Cleveland.

There is a growing sentiment that, after Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer had his second interview with the Vikings Tuesday, he will be announced soon as the new head coach of the Vikings. But, depending on how the subordinate staff is configured, there have been a lot of unemployed coaches that have been scooped up by new coaching staffs.

In all, seven head coaches that started the 2013 season in their positions were fired – 22 percent of those in the job when we hit December. Along with them, there were coordinators and position coaches that were cut loose. By waiting, the Vikings might be able to elevate assistant coaches from the final four teams still involved in the 2013 season when they eventually hire their new head coach. At the same time, the pool of available assistant coaches is dwindling.

From the start of the hiring process, which included the hiring of former NFL head coaches and one college coach, if the Vikings had any interest in those assistants from teams that gutted their coaching ranks, they're likely long since gone. At the same time, the assistant coaches for the Vikings have been in professional limbo for more than two weeks. Patience may be a virtue, but the NFL isn't a business that is traditionally patient. It's a "what have you done for me lately?" type of operation.

The seven firings began in Week 14, when the Houston Texans got the ball rolling by firing Gary Kubiak. Houston was able to use that time to start its own due diligence and hired hot college prospect Bill O'Brien from Penn State. Washington fired Mike Shanahan and jumped on Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, signing him to a deal shortly after the Bengals were eliminated from the playoffs. Tampa Bay was quick to snap up Lovie Smith, adding Leslie Frazier and Cal head coach Jeff Tedford as its coordinators. Detroit apparently was interested in Ken Whisenhunt, but when Tennessee, the last team to fire a head coach since the end of the regular season, snapped him up, the Lions moved quickly and signed Jim Caldwell.

All that remains now are two teams without a head coach. The Browns are said to be interested in Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase, so their head coaching vacancy may last beyond this weekend's championship games. If the Vikings are interested in either of the Seattle coordinator candidates, they may have a clear path to signing one of them, but may have to wait beyond the self-imposed deadline of Senior Bowl week, which gets underway next week.

If Zimmer is their man, an announcement of his hiring may come as soon as Wednesday, but the Vikings have made it clear they weren't going to rush into a decision and have lived up to that pledge. Whether that was the right decision remains up in the air. Other teams facing the same quandary got their hiring process done and their new coaches are already in the team facility going over film and determining which players will remain on the roster and which will go. The Vikings remain in limbo.

This will go down as one of the watershed moments in the ownership of the Wilf family and the regime of Rick Spielman. After taking so much time, they've put themselves into a corner to make the right decision. A backward step in the hiring of a head coach could have long-term ramifications on the franchise if things don't work out as planned, making the delay in the hiring even more pronounced than it already is.

It was clear from the moment news broke on Dec. 30 that the Vikings were heading in a new direction. Sixteen days later, there still aren't definitive answers as to what that direction may be. At this point, it looks like Zimmer, but the longer the situation drags out, the more questions will be asked.

If the Vikings want Zimmer to be their man, there's no reason to wait any longer. If he's not, the coaching watch will continue … and continue … and continue.


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.

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