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Updated: January 1st, 2012 11:22pm
Pelissero: Staff changes could come quickly for rebuilding Vikings

Pelissero: Staff changes could come quickly for rebuilding Vikings

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by Tom Pelissero

MINNEAPOLIS -- Changes could come within days as the Minnesota Vikings sort through the wreckage of a lost season that provided more questions than answers about a rebuilding team's path back to contention.

"We'll have to do some things to not be in this position again," coach Leslie Frazier said after a 17-13 loss to the Chicago Bears in Sunday's finale matched the franchise's worst record and sealed its first winless mark ever in division play.

"There will be a number of things that we'll have to take a look at and evaluate this offseason, because as you know, in our business, you're judged based on wins and losses, and 3-13 won't cut it."

Frazier was scheduled to address the team early Monday morning, spend time with select players individually in between exit physicals and then begin the process of discussing organizational direction with his staff and team executives.

Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf were expected to remain in the Twin Cities as well, increasing the chances that shakeups to the coaching staff that have been under discussion for over a month could be finalized by the end of the week.

"I think you've got to look at everything," Frazier said. "I don't think you can not look at everything."

All indications continue to be that Frazier is safe, in spite of a 6-16 record since taking over on an interim basis on Nov. 22, 2010.

The same can't be said for a defensive staff that mostly survived the cleanout process when Frazier was given the job on a full-time basis last January.

The questions are whether the Vikings will move away from the Tampa-2/Cover-2 scheme they've played for years and how Frazier will go about letting some assistants go -- firing them or simply giving them permission to seek other jobs while he interviews potential successors, as he did with Darrell Bevell and Brian Murphy a year ago.

"We'll see what happens," linebacker Chad Greenway said, speaking generally. "You know it's always room for change, but personnel or coaches -- you don't know. It's always fluid in this league and you hope as many people can stick around, but you know it's not possible."

Barring a surprising change of course, the Vikings are expected to relieve Fred Pagac of his duties after one tumultuous season as defensive coordinator in which he wasn't allowed to run his preferred Cover-1 blitz attack, lost the confidence of some players within the first month and was stripped of play-calling duties for a stretch in November. He remains respected as a linebackers coach, though, and could be retained if he accepts a lesser role.

Two NFL sources said defensive line coach Karl Dunbar has told players he won't be back, although it's unclear if he has another job lined up.

The return of defensive backs coach Joe Woods -- like Pagac and Dunbar, a holdover from former coach Brad Childress' staff -- and his assistant, Matt Sheldon, may depend in part on whom the Vikings select to run the defense. But they've taken some steps to prepare for the possibility they'll be let go, too.

The wild card is Mike Singletary, a longtime friend of Frazier's who was viewed as a coordinator candidate when he joined the team as assistant head coach/linebackers coach in January, less than a month after the San Francisco 49ers fired him as head coach.

Concerns about Singletary's strategic acumen followed him to Minnesota, and his approach to preparation has raised red flags. According to two sources, Singletary has left assistant Jeff Imamura in charge of some position meetings, skipped all of the Vikings' meetings the night before last month's game at Detroit to attend a wedding and has occupied himself much of the season with side projects instead of the next opponent.

That all makes it far more likely Frazier will try to engineer a soft exit for Singletary than promote him into a coordinator position for which many experienced candidates could be available. But their close personal relationship complicates the issue.

"After a 3-13 season, there's going to be some changes," said linebacker Erin Henderson, one of many pending free agents on the roster. "Who knows where they're going to come from or what they're going to be? You never really know. You've just got to wait it out."

Time is of the essence, and not just because many potential candidates -- including Steve Spagnuolo, who reportedly will be fired as St. Louis Rams head coach -- will begin hitting the street in droves starting on Monday.

An NFL source said the Vikings are making plans for their staff to coach a team at the Senior Bowl, for which practice begins on Jan. 23 in Mobile, Ala. No announcement has been made about which two NFL staffs will coach at the event, but Frazier is so convinced he asked offensive line coach Jeff Davidson to delay hip-replacement surgery.

For a rebuilding team, extra access to dozens of top rookies could provide important information in the pre-draft process. And Frazier surely would want to use the event to get his new staff used to working with each other, rather than dragging along assistants who have no future with the team.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, Davidson and the core of the offensive staff maintain strong support within the organization. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer's status is at least somewhat uncertain, but it seems unlikely the Vikings would turn over leadership in multiple phases for a second consecutive offseason.

Then again, nothing can be ruled out for a team that just matched the worst record in franchise history -- including changes to an oligarchic front-office structure that continues to cause friction over personnel moves. Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman has been the Wilfs' guide on football matters for years, so giving him final say over (and accountability for) the roster wouldn't be a total shock.

The one certainty is the roster will be different and probably much younger as the Vikings embrace the rebuilding process. Who coaches that young roster, particularly on defense, is the biggest question to sort itself out this month.

The one player team officials might consult is star end Jared Allen, who came out publicly last week against a potential switch to a 3-4 defense and will have the organization's ear more than ever after finishing the season with 22 sacks.

"I am blessed to be a part of this organization, because I know this offseason they are going to make aggressive moves to put us back in the driver's seat of the (NFC) North," Allen said. "I am really excited to see what we do in the draft. I'm excited to see what we do in free agency. I think we are all on the same page when it comes to that.

"Winning is what this job is all about. It's been a great individual season, but at the same time, we are 3-13. That's garbage. That is absolutely terrible, and things are going to change in certain areas and guys are going to be held accountable to what they put on the field. The expectation is that this is not acceptable, and I think we have the organization to do that."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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