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Updated: December 25th, 2011 6:34pm
Zulgad's Roundup: Hiring GM has become a must for woebegone Vikings

Zulgad's Roundup: Hiring GM has become a must for woebegone Vikings

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The suggestion has been made in this space before that the Minnesota Vikings need to hire a general manager and forget about trying to run things by committee at Winter Park.

Zygi Wilf and Vikings ownership have ignored this free advice believing that their blueprint for success in real estate can carry over to their NFL team.

Until now, it has seemed like a curious decision.

But to continue in this manner past the 2011 season, will go from curious to potentially devastating for an organization that two years removed from a run to the NFC title game now appears in jeopardy of falling to the bottom of the NFL for many years to come.

The Vikings roster already was in disarray before Adrian Peterson tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligament in his left knee on his first carry of the third quarter Saturday in the a 33-26 victory at Washington.

Until that play, the then two-win Vikings had been able to cling to one basic belief:

This team would return in 2012 with an offense built around a Pro Bowl running back whose success in his first four seasons in the NFL had warranted him getting a seven-year, $100 million last September that included $36 million in guarantees.

Whether you agreed with building the offense around Peterson, the comforting thing was that there was at least one plan in place for a team with a roster that needs to be overhauled.

The Vikings have huge question marks on the offensive line and at wide receiver.

First-round pick Christian Ponder got experience this season but the Vikings still don't know what they have in the quarterback and given Joe Webb's play of late there is sure to be a push to get him a longer look.

Defensive coordinator Fred Pagac isn't expected to be back and there is uncertainty both in the interior of the line and at linebacker. The secondary is a complete mess.

As things currently stand, Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, coach Leslie Frazier and a few others will sit down after next Sunday's regular-season finale against Chicago and attempt to map out the direction of this franchise.

That's a terrible idea.

This isn't a knock on Frazier and Spielman as much as it is a nod to the fact this has become a one-person project. And that person should not be the head coach.

When Wilf hired Frazier last January, he made it clear that previous coach Brad Childress had been allowed to wield too much power by having final say over the 53-man roster.

Wilf thought by having Frazier and Spielman have an equal say over matters that that would correct the problem. But it became clear that was a flawed approach when Frazier pushed for the trade for a clearly washed up Donovan McNabb last summer.

Frazier is a coach and it's his job to always think his team will have a chance to win. However, these Vikings never had a chance to win and somebody with ultimate power in the front office should have had the authority to tell Frazier that.

Coming off a 6-10 finish in 2010, the Vikings should have spent this season in a rebuilding mode and showing signs of progress.

That never happened.

Sadly, there is nothing about this season that was any more productive than the previous year. Everything went wrong in 2010 and eventually the roof collapsed. The 2011 edition of the Vikings will win four games at the most and have now lost Peterson for nobody knows how long.

Take your pick of which season you prefer. We're talking about two lost years in which the Vikings have gone 9-22.

The last thing this organization needs now is to have a room full of people giving their views on how this mess should be turned around. The Vikings can't afford the ego trip this might become for some.

What is necessary is to get a top-notch football guy as soon as possible, give him final authority on every key decision and then get out of the way.

Your next question is, "Well, who is that? Those guys aren't easy to find?"

It doesn't need to be anyone we've heard of. How big of a name was Ted Thompson when the Packers hired him away from Seattle to run the show in January 2005?

Thompson drove some Packers fans up the wall with his initial moves but was able to put together a team that won a Super Bowl title last season and remains the best in the NFL.

If Spielman wasn't the Vikings' choice for their GM job -- and we can debate whether he should be -- he would looking for a new line of work. Honestly, the direction the Vikings need to go probably includes hiring someone from the outside to oversee matters.

What about Frazier?

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Thompson arrived in Green Bay and spent one season observing Mike Sherman before he elected to make the change to Mike McCarthy.

No matter what happens, the 2012 Vikings are going to be in a rebuilding mode. So let's say Frazier is given a much-different roster and allowed to focus solely on coaching that unit.

Frazier made plenty of questionable in-game decisions this year, but there could be an argument made that he will show progress in this area next season. If he doesn't, then the Vikings would have a new coach in 2013.

And that coach would be hired by a savvy football guy who would have a grand plan for this franchise. That would be a far better alternative to what's going on right now, when there doesn't seem to be any plan in place.

Changing of the guard(s)

The Vikings offensive line will have a different look next season with only center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt appearing set to return at their current spots.

Word around Winter Park is that veteran left guard Steve Hutchinson, and right guard Anthony Herrera could both be out. Hutchinson is scheduled to make $6.95 million in the final season of his seven-year contract and Herrera would make $2.65 million in the final year of his deal.

Hutchinson, who will turn 35 on Jan. 1, was a Pro Bowl player for much of his career but that is no longer the case. The 31-year-old Herrera, meanwhile, has battled injury issues for the past two years.

The Vikings plan would be to move left tackle Charlie Johnson to left guard - a position at which he would be more effective - and to have Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco compete for the right guard spot.

The main area of concern will be the all-important left tackle spot.

Until the Vikings beat the Redskins on Saturday, there was a realistic expectation the team would wind up drafting second overall this April and be able to grab Southern Cal tackle Matt Kalil.

But if the Vikings beat the Bears on Sunday, there is a chance they could draft as low as sixth. That means unless they trade up that Kalil will be long gone.

Johnson was signed to a three-year, $10.5 million contract by the Vikings last summer after starting at left tackle for Indianapolis. He got off to a horrendous start when he replaced Bryant McKinnie, but his play this season has turned out be serviceable.

The issue is that the 27-year-old Johnson isn't viewed as the long-term answer at left tackle for this franchise.

Keeping it quiet

David Kahn, the Timberwolves president of basketball operations, declined to say where things stand in contract negotiations with Kevin Love in a recent appearance on "Judd & Phunn" on 1500 ESPN.

Players, such as Love, who were selected in the 2008 draft, have until Jan. 25 to sign extensions with their teams, or they will hit the restricted free-agent market this summer.

The NBA's new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows each club to offer one player coming off his rookie contract a five-year, max deal. The Bulls used this to sign point guard Derrick Rose to a five-year, $94.8 million extension last week.

Love could be in line for a maximum contract that would be just over $80 million.

"I don't want to talk about this publicly and I hope you can understand," said Kahn, whose team will open the regular season on Monday night against Oklahoma City at Target Center. "I don't think it's in our interest, or Kevin's for that matter, to be giving updates about contract negotiations. ...

"I think we'll hope to achieve something before (the Jan. 25 deadline). He knows that, we know that. But I don't want to talk about this. I just don't think it's helpful to the process."

Kahn did say that Love "means a lot" to the Wolves, adding, "I expect Kevin to be here a long time and I expect him to be part of our nucleus for a long time."

Kahn said he had a long meeting with the slimmed down power forward and center before the Wolves started training camp. Love has drawn praise for being a more mature person.

"I do feel that he's very much at peace," Kahn said. "I don't think I'm allowed to talk about his dating history, but I think he's in a serious relationship and he seems very happy with that. I think everything about him, he seems very much in a good place."

And it's not like Love is coming off a disappointing 2010-11 season. He won the NBA's Most Improved Player award after finishing with career highs in scoring (20.2 points per game), rebounding (15.2 a game), assists (2.5 a game) and minutes (35.8 per game).

A weighty issue

Kahn said he wasn't sure reports that Love came into camp 25 pounds lighter were accurate, but the Wolves basketball boss had no problem with the fact Love slimmed down.

Interestingly, Kahn was not pleased that 6-foot-11 forward Anthony Randolph showed up after the lockout having lost weight. The Wolves could not have contact with players during the lockout.

"I think with Anthony Randolph I really feel, gosh, if we had just had July 1 to Dec. 9 with him we probably could have attacked his body in a much more rigorous way," Kahn said. "I think that's something that we'll have to address this offseason. He came in lighter. (Randolph is listed at 225 pounds.) He's in good shape, but he just came in lighter. He needs to add some strength. He needs to add some mass without losing his explosion and his athleticism."

Kahn said he thought Love weighed in at 247 pounds when he arrived at camp.

"To me it's more about you can tell that his body fat is down, he's just sleeker, he's moving better," Kahn said. "I was really pleased with it, and I've seen absolutely no drop off in terms of his ability to rebound the ball, which is I guess the one area where you would say, 'Well, is he really going to be able to hang in there with a little less bulk?' I don't detect any of that thus far. ... I think this has been a great development for him and for the longevity of his career."

A different mood

Kahn acknowledged that the mood around Target Center is different these days with Rick Adelman having replaced Kurt Rambis as head coach.

"I'd say that it's more professional," Kahn said. "I've also tried to pitch in in a little way in terms of I felt we've probably been a little too lax and forgiving of some of the younger players these last couple of years.

"(That's) in terms of how to conduct themselves. Just simple things, like how we travel. Dress codes and things like that. The bigger part of it is the basketball part, and I think our practices have been longer, more intense, more demanding in every way. So there's been a big change, and I think it was very welcomed."

All work ...

Want to be a sports executive? Get ready to work hard and enjoy very little of it.

Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher appeared on "Judd & Phunn" after his team had lost at Winnipeg and then lost in a shootout to Chicago on Dec. 14. However, the Wild was still tied with the Blackhawks atop the NHL standings.

Asked if he had allowed himself to enjoy any of his team's success up to that point, Fletcher said: "I don't think I've enjoyed anything for three years. You're always looking for a sniper around the corner, no matter how well things are going. Something always seems to happen."

The Wild has not won in four games since Fletcher said that, meaning the team's winless stretch is now at six games. That includes losses at Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton on a three-game trip.

The Wild played those games without injured forwards Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi and Guillaume Latendresse.

After a weekend off for the holiday break, the Wild will play host to Colorado at 5 p.m. Monday at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild remains second in the Western Conference with 45 points. The Blackhawks have 48 to lead the league. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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