The ultimate A-Topic for this Vikings team, even before it begins analyzing contracts or attempting to make the OLine great again, is hiring an Offensive Coordinator.
Mike Zimmer has now employed a total of four OCs through five seasons as head coach. Norv Turner resigned midseason in 2016, Pat Shurmur took over & stuck with it until leaving to become the Giants boss last offseason, John DeFilippo had his chance until it wasn't working and Kevin Stefanski stepped in for a 3-game taste.
The Vikings offense, comparing 2017 to 2018, regressed in a few areas during this latest campaign.
-Third down conversions last year? 3rd in the league. This year? 26th.
-Red Zone scoring (touchdown %) last year? 9th in the league. This year? 21st.
-The Vikings were 10th in Points scored, 11th in total yards in 2017. This year? 19th & 20th.
-Vikings had the 2nd most rush attempts, 7th rush most yards in 2017. This year? 27th & 30th.
The list could go on, but you get it. The running game was hideous and the team was bad on 3rd downs/red zone situations. All of this while Kirk Cousins put up one of the most impressive statistical seasons of any passer in franchise history.
Zimmer addressed the media today, stressing that he is indeed looking for offensive balance, that even the best passing teams still run the ball effectively (noting that it helps play action, which is one of the best ways to affect a defense), but that he is also looking "to get innovative" with this position.
Here are some names that you may hear during this search for an offensive coordinator. Some may fit the "innovative" billing better than others.....
-If this were a political race, #92Noon would be stamping its endorsement for Kevin to become the full-time OC for our favorite team. We'd have signs in our yards, buttons & bumper stickers with his face on them and would be knocking on doors in neighborhoods throughout the metro, asking YOU to help create change by executing your civic duty and checking the correct box on election day. Stefanski: A future we can believe in!
-Ivy league educated, his father is an executive in the NBA and he's held on strong in an organization that has shifted leadership several times since he first arrived in 2006.
-Stefanski started as an assistant to Brad Childress during his first few years as head coach, then elevated to Asst QB Coach in 2009, working with Brett Favre and then-OC Darrell Bevell. He remained in that spot even after Childress was fired in 2010, Leslie Frazier was promoted and new OC Bill Musgrave kept him around.
-In 2014, the Frazier/Musgrave regime moved on in favor of Mike Zimmer. Uncle Norv brought his son Scott Turner in as QB coach. The new group still thought highly enough of Kevin that instead of sending him out the door, they moved him to tight ends coach. He did that for 2 seasons.
-In 2016, he had the unfortunate task of trying to make Matt Asiata & Jerick McKinnon into a functional RB tandem once Adrian Peterson was injured in the Week 2 Packers game. He had moved to the RB spot because Pat Shurmur joined the team in the offseason to coach TEs. Another former HC in the mix for the Vikings. Shurmur, of course, took over as OC when Norv resigned midseason.
-Then, in 2017, he became the QB coach under Shurmur and was again in that spot this year with John DeFilippo until getting the interim opportunity for the final 3 games.
-Kevin has seen a lot without actually having to leave the Vikings organization. He is universally respected and would probably be the Giants OC with Shurmur right now if Zimmer hadn't blocked his chance to interview and pursue other jobs. Now that the season is over, we've heard about his interview with the Browns, who likely won't be the only team getting in contact with him. He knows this environment better than anyone else at this stage and has worked with Kirk for nearly a calendar year. Will he stay? As Zimmer noted, he's only under contract for another few days, so the team must decide quickly.
-This would typically be the classic "hey! They worked together for years in a different organization, so it makes perfect sense" type of hype, but there appears to be legitimate steam behind it, if Stefanski isn't an option. To be honest, this prospect doesn't exactly fill my Vikings-loving heart with glee. He went 1-31 in his first two seasons as HC of the Browns...and they brought him back? Only to eventually fire him midseason anyway? What?
-There's more to it than that, with Jackson and OC Todd Haley locked in a philosophical battle over how to raise Baker Mayfield and all that. Fact is, they started 2-5-1, both guys get canned, suddenly bountygate Gregg Williams along with interim OC Freddie Kitchens (sweet name) lead Cleveland to a 5-3 finish. Jackson's 3-36-1 record with the Browns is the worst record of any coach in NFL history with 1 team. But how did Hue do as an offensive playcaller?
-His first OC job came with the Redskins. He was elevated to OC in 2003 after two seasons leading the Washington RBs, making Stephen Davis one of the most productive backs in the NFL during 2001-02. As OC, his Redskins offense was 22nd in points scored and 23rd in total yards in a 5-11 season. In fairness to Hue, his QBs were Patrick Ramsey (11 starts) and Tim Hasselbeck (5 starts). His leading RBs were Trung Canidate and Rock Cartwright. It didn't work out. Note: Vikings DC George Edwards ran the defense in Washington in 2003. Small world.
-In 2004, he became the WR coach in Cincinnati. Jackson helped continue the development and production of Chad Johnson & TJ Houshmandzadeh (both were in their 4th season when Hue arrived). After 3 years of that, he went to Atlanta to be head coach Bobby Petrino's OC in 2007.
-Ponder this massive "L" of a situation for a moment....Petrino gets the HC job in Atlanta in 2007, leaving the University of Louisville, so he can develop Michael Vick into a "complete" QB. He brings Hue with him. In March, they trade backup Matt Schaub to the Texans. In April, the investigation into Vick's dog-fighting ring begins. Vick pleads guilty in August. Vick goes to prison. Hue goes from coaching Michael Vick to managing Joey Harrington & Chris Redman. The Falcons were 29th in Points and 23rd in yards, Petrino quits after 13 games, the whole thing was awful. It didn't work out.
-He spent 2008-09 in Baltimore as a QB coach, working with rookie Joe Flacco. In 2010, he was the Raiders OC and had some success. The Raiders were 6th in total points and 10th in total yards behind the second-best rushing attack in the NFL. Darren McFadden's best season as a pro was in 2010 with nearly 1200 rush yards and another 500+ receiving with 10 total TDs. A big part of Hue's job in Oakland was making QB Jason Campbell serviceable. He did what he could for a team that finished 8-8 with a mediocre defense. He was promoted to head coach in 2011, the team started 7-4 but again missed the playoffs at 8-8 and he was fired.
-Cincinnati part 2(this is where the Zimmer connection emerges)! Back in the Queen City, Hue messed around with special teams and running backs before becoming OC for the 2014 and 2015 seasons (replaced Jay Gruden, now HC with Redskins). In 2014, he led a top-5 rushing attack with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. QB Andy Dalton was 21st in yards and had a 19TD/17INT ratio (somehow made a pro bowl?). The Bengals went 10-5-1 and were smacked by the Colts in the playoffs. In 2015, Cincy had the 7th best scoring offense in the NFL. Dalton threw 31TDs, the rushing attack was top-10 again and the Bengals went 12-4. Sadly, Hue had to finish the regular season and start a playoff game with AJ McCarron at QB. The Steelers beat the Bengals 18-16 in that game.
-Then he went to the Browns. And whiffed miserably. Seems like Jackson has found himself in weird spots several times throughout his career, either dealing with a lack or talent or enduring odd circumstances. He's certainly found some success in certain situations, both in Oakland for a year and then a bit with the Bengals, but nothing that says his leadership can bring a team over the top.
**UPDATE---PA has stated that his intel indicates Hue is NOT a candidate for Vikings OC
-Another familiar name! Bevell was the Vikings OC from 2006-2010 with Brad Childress at the helm, but was replaced by Bill Musgrave after Chilly was fired and Leslie Frazier was hired as official head coach in 2011. He was with the Seahawks until the end of last season and has spent 2018 on the shelf, but is reported to be open and interviewing for OC positions again (the Jags, specifically). What about a reunion in MN?
-Bevell was an undrafted Badgers QB who immediately went into coaching. His first NFL gig was the 6 seasons he spent working with Brett Favre and the Packers QBs from 2000-2005. It was Brad Childress who gave Bev his first OC job here with the Vikings in 2006. How'd it work out?
-In 2006, the Vikings went 6-10 with QB Brad Johnson's second stint in MN and leading rusher Chester Taylor. They were 26th in points and 23rd in yards. Very middle of the road production...Johnson was the 18th ranked passer in yards with 9TD and 15 picks. Tarvaris Jackson was 0-2 in his starts as well. Chester had 1200 rushing yards and a team leading 1500+ yards from scrimmage but the rushing attack was middle of the road as well. One of the worst third down and redzone teams in the NFL.
-2007: I wonder what happened in 2007 that instantly boosted the Vikings from 23rd in total yards to 13th????? Oh yeah. Adrian Peterson (1344) and Taylor combined for nearly 2200 rushing yards, and the Vikings suddenly had a top-5 rush attack while Tarvaris remained the project that Childress thrust upon Bevell. The offense in general was still terrible on 3rd down, but 5th in RZ scoring, thanks to Adrian.
-2008: The Vikings go 10-6 behind the running game and win the North! Gus Frerotte replaced Tarvaris after two games and went 8-3 as a starter but was hurt in a Week 14 game against the Lions (Daunte Culpepper played for the Lions that day). Tarvaris came back in and had the best game of his life against the Cards the next week, throwing for 4TDs, but ultimately he wasn't very good, threw a pick-6 to Asante Samuel in the playoff game against the Eagles and the Purple were cooked. Bevell's offense was 12th in points scored, 17th in total yards.
-2009: We know what happened in 2009. Favre had the best year of his career being reunited with Bevell. The Vikings were 2nd in the NFL in scoring and 5th in total yards. That's all that needs to be said about this particular year.
-2010: The collapse and melodrama was too much. From the Jen Steger bit with Favre, Randy Moss coming back and leaving again, Childress getting fired...the offense was 29th in scoring and 23rd in total yards. They had a 19% turnover percentage. That means that they averaged a turnover almost once for every offensive drive. So bad. Not surprising that housecleaning took place after the season.
-2011 --- Bevell gets fresh run with Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks. Guess who the starting QB for the Seahawks in 2011 was....Tarvaris Jackson????? Can Bevell ever escape this guy? The Seahawks couldn't throw the ball at all, had some success with Marshawn Lynch in his first full season out west, finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs (note: if you don't remember, the Seahawks won the division in 2010 with a 7-9 record. The 10-6 Giants finished 2nd in the NFC East and missed out on the playoffs...funny. But that has nothing to do with Bevell). Bevell, using his Wisconsin Badgers cred, decided to take a peek at and scout some kid named Russell Wilson.
-2012: Wilson is 27th in passing yards as a rookie, but runs for 500 yards and combines with Lynch as the 3rd best rush attack in the NFL. The Seachickens go 11-5, beat the Redskins on Wildcard weekend before losing to Matt Ryan's Falcons in Atlanta in the Divisional round. Top 10 in scoring, near top 10 in third down and RZ offense. They might be on to something with Russell Wilson
-2013: Super Bowl champions! The defense may get a lot of the credit for dismantling opposing teams, but Bevell's offense was 8th in scoring, Russ was 10th in passing TDs with 27 and only 9 picks (3rd fewest), running the ball was the A-Topic and they were 4th best at it. This was the year where the Seahawks OLine really started falling apart. Russell Okung only played 8 games at tackle, had guys like Michael Bowie (who?) and Breno Giacomini playing games outside, Max Unger didn't make all the games...it was a mess. But it didn't matter. Whoever played, kicked ass. Ring Cred
-2014: More of the same...all came down to the final play in the Super Bowl and the Seahawks opted to throw on the goal line instead of handing off to Marshawn Lynch. Enter Malcolm Butler. Patriots win. Pete Carroll has come out and acknowledged that it was his idea to do that, no Bevell's. Bevell probably had to wear sunglasses out in public for a while in Seattle, regardless.
-2015 on: The OLine has been garbage....Garry Gilliam, Alvin Bailey, Mark Glowinski, Patrick Lewis...they trade Max Unger to the Saints for Jimmy Graham, ehhhhh...Germain Ifedi, George Fant, Bradley Sowell, J'Marcus Webb, etc....But guess what, the Offense and playmaking continued because the run game works and the QB makes plays.
-Pete Carroll made a change following last season, and so Bevell was out of work this past year. Versus Hue Jackson and many other NFL coaches, Bevell doesn't have this long list of stops and job titles. He's been with 3 organizations since 2000. Six years with the hated Packers, five with the Vikings and seven with the Seahawks. He's got a Super Bowl ring and he has experience working with terrible OLines. Just a thought. If Stefanski moves on, I wouldn't mind Bevell at all.
-This is Houston Texans QB coach Sean Ryan. I'm including him because he interviewed for the OC job last offseason before the Vikings chose DeFilippo.
-Most of his NFL career has been with the NY Giants. He was a quality control guy for the offense in 2007 when the Giants won the SB. In 2010, he coached the receivers and has been lauded for the success (at that time) of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham as they went on to win another SB ring following the 2011 season.
-He was Eli Manning's QB coach from 2012-2014, which included two of Manning's best seasons, and one of his more forgettable when he threw 27 picks in 2013. No playoff berths for the Giants during this period.
-He went back to WR coach for the 2014-15 seasons and was responsible for babysitting, I mean, coaching Odell Beckham Jr, who we all know is elite.
-In 2016, he joined Bill OBrien in Houston to coach Deandre Hopkins and the Texans receivers, before spending the last two years working with Deshaun Watson as QB coach.
-He's got Tom Coughlin/Super Bowl cred, he's got Bill OBrien/Belichick coaching tree cred and he's working with one of the great young talents in Watson. He interviewed with both Minnesota and the Browns last offseason, but didn't receive an offer from either team. OBrien has said that he will support any chance for Ryan to call plays in the NFL and that he seems destined to. So if the chance if given, the Texans don't appear to be a roadblock. The Texans, however, are in the playoffs and don't have the luxury of a bye week, so conversations or interviews may be delayed in the short term.
-Former Colts/Lions head coach Jim Caldwell has reportedly interviewed with both the Packers and Browns for their vacant HC spots, with a potential Jets meeting in the works as well. If that route doesn't pay off for him, would he consider an OC post?
-He debuted in the NFL as a QB coach for Tony Dungy's Bucs team in 2001, following Dungy to Indianapolis the next year. He went from coaching up former/future Vikings QB Brad Johnson to working with Peyton Manning...
-From 2002-2008, he was the QBs and assistant head coach for the Colts and received a ring after Indy handled the Chicago Bears in SBXLI. He was under the longtime Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore(Manning's OC from his rookie season in 1998 thru his final game in the 2010 playoffs).
-In the 2009 season, Caldwell took over as head coach when Tony Dungy retired, leading the Colts to a 14-2 record and a trip to Super Bowl XLIV. He and Indy, of course, lost to Drew Brees and the Saints.
-2010: Peyton's last year with the Colts, the offense was top-5 with the elite passing game, despite a sled-like rush attack featuring Donald Brown and Joseph Addai. The team went 10-6 and lost to Mark Sanchez & the Jets. In 2011, with no Manning, the Colts were on the unofficial, official "Suck for Luck" campaign, finishing 2-14. Caldwell was fired after the season. They selected Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in 2012.
-A couple weeks after leaving Indianapolis, Caldwell was hired to be the QB coach for Joe Flacco in Baltimore for the 2012 season. He took over for OC Cam Cameron when Cam was fired late in the regular season, guiding Flacco, Matt Birk and the offense as the Ravens eventually beat Kaepernick's 49ers in SBXLVII. The Ravens were 10th in points behind a great rush attack with Ray Rice. Flacco was "just ok," with 22TDs/10INT, 3800yds and a 87 passer rating. That defense, tho.......Caldwell stayed on as OC in 2013 as the offense took a step back in Super Bowl hangover-like fashion. Caldwell became the Lions head coach shortly after the Ravens finished 8-8.
-With the Lions, Caldwell had two OCs in Joe Lombardi (2014-15) and Jim Bob Cooter (2016-17). They dug up the most productive seasons of Matthew Stafford's career thus far, but were never able to establish a running game. The offense gradually improved from bottom-third to 7th in scoring in 2017. Caldwell was 5-3 against the Vikings during his tenure with two playoff appearances. Caldwell was fired after a 9-7 season last year.
-Between the Colts and Lions, Caldwell tallied a 62-50 record as head coach. His 36-28 record in Detroit makes him the first Lions coach since Joe Schmidt (1967-72) to actually have a winning record with the historically awful franchise.
-His focal point will likely be to find a head coaching opportunity as noted above with the interviews he's already participated in. But he is certainly someone to pay attention to if this process drags out beyond next week. I think Caldwell is a good coach, but I don't see him as a likely option when it's all said and done.
-Eden Prairie native Todd Downing! He started as an intern with the Vikings in 2001, and is now back with the Vikings. After a year of playcalling with the Raiders, he initially joined the Vikings as a "senior offensive assistant," but the tragic passing of Tony Sparano had several assistants changing their responsibilities right in front of the 2018 season. Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko took over O-Line duties and Downing filled Barone's vacated TE coach position. (Hearing Zimmer talk during his presser about the impact Tony made on this team and their close friendship was heartbreaking)
-Downing went from PR intern in 2002 with Minnesota to "football systems analyst" in 2003-04 and then offensive quality control guy in 2005. He worked with and developed a relationship with then-OC Scott Linehan.
-Linehan left the Vikings in 2004, and became head coach of the Rams from 2006-08. He brought Downing to St Louis for defensive quality control work. In 2009, Linehan went to Detroit to become their OC with new head coach Jim Schwartz. Downing again followed Linehan to the Motor City where he did more offensive quality control (2009-10), assistant QB coach (2010-11) and QB coach (2011-13). He cultivated a 2009 rookie QB Matthew Stafford. In 2011, Stafford threw for 5000 yards and 40 touchdowns as the Lions ended an 11-year playoff drought.
-Schwartz was fired at the end of the 2013 season (replaced by Jim Caldwell) so Downing and most of the staff left town as well. Todd was the QB coach in Buffalo for the 2014 season (remember the 4th & 20 at Buffalo where Kyle Orton found Scott Chandler for the conversion, setting up Sammy Watkins for the game-winning dagger?).
-In 2015, he took a QB coach job with the Oakland Raiders and is given a ton of credit for the early success of Derek Carr. Carr threw for 3900+ yards in both 2015-16 with Downing's guidance. In 2016, specifically, Carr threw 28TDs/6INT and the Raiders went 12-3 with him before he suffered an injury late in the season. The Raiders tried and failed miserably to win a playoff game against the Texans with Connor Cook. But the future looked very bright for Carr, Downing and the Raiders. (Side note: Former Vikings head coach Mike Tice was the OLine coach, former Vikings OC Bill Musgrave ran the offense overall and former Vikings LB Jack Del Rio was head coach)
-In 2017, OC Musgrave went to Denver and Downing was elevated to Offensive Coordinator! His first opportunity calling plays in the NFL. Unfortunately, there was a significant regression with the offense. Derek Carr took a step back after the injury, the three-headed rushing attack led by Latavius Murray in 2016 was replaced by an aging/disinterested Marshawn Lynch and the offense looked disjointed for most of the season. A top-10 offense in 2016 was 23rd in points 17th in total yards.
-Downing & Carr reportedly had a fantastic relationship, but it's unclear what factors led to the 2017 demise of the Silver & Black. Now, he's back here in Minnesota, working his ass off and presumably waiting for the next opportunity.
MATT CAVANAUGH - WASHINGTON REDSKINS OC
-He was the QB coach for Cousins in Washington. So there's that connection. But Sean McVay was the OC and probably deserves all that credit. Cavanaugh's offense with Alex Smith and Adrian Peterson slugged along, but no chance he's given an opportunity.
ZAC TAYLOR - RAMS QB COACH
-He works with McVay, the subject of much affection throughout the NFL for his offensive prowess. Taylor will have opportunities
ADAM GASE - MOST RECENTLY DOLPHINS HEAD COACH
-Didn't work out with him in Miami, and he may be pushing for another HC job immediately. He was fantastic working on offense in Denver and Chicago, but he couldn't bring the Dolphins group together (in fairness, he didn't have QB Ryan Tannehill for an entire season and change). I think it'd be wise for him to peek at OC opportunities and wait for another head coaching gig.
MIKE MCCARTHY - FORMER PACKERS HEAD COACH
-Eh...next. Just wanted to throw that in there.
PEP HAMILTON - MICHIGAN WOLVERINES QB COACH/PASS GAME COORDINATOR
-Coached QBs for Jets, Niners and Bears. Was the OC in Indianapolis from 2013-15 with Andrew Luck.