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Zulgad: Take your time: This is one decision the Vikings can’t afford to get wrong

Pat Shurmur was hired as the New York Giants coach on Jan. 22, meaning it has been two weeks since the Vikings employed an offensive coordinator.

Since that time the Vikings reportedly have interviewed four candidates for the coordinator’s job. That list includes quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski; Saints assistant head coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell; former Seattle and Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell; and Texans quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan.

On Tuesday, it was reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the Vikings want to talk to Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. However, there is a catch. They must wait until 10 days after the Eagles’ championship season has ended, meaning DeFilippo can’t interview until Feb. 14.

So is the 39-year-old DeFilippo worth waiting on? Absolutely.

It’s not because he’s necessarily the right guy for the job, it’s because Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer can’t afford to get this hire wrong and should take as much time as they need.

The two most important decisions made by the Vikings’ brass this offseason will be 1) deciding on a quarterback for 2018; and 2) hiring an offensive coordinator.

We were reminded this season of just how big of difference a good offensive coordinator can make, especially when the head coach, Zimmer in this case, is focused on defense.

Shurmur did an outstanding job of combining his philosophies with the personnel he was given. He spent the offseason working with Sam Bradford, expecting the veteran quarterback would be the starter.

Shurmur and Bradford had worked together in previous stops and when Bradford threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns in an opening-night victory over New Orleans it appeared the Vikings had found a perfect match of coordinator and quarterback. But that was the last full game Bradford would play in 2017.

With Bradford sidelined because of a knee injury, Case Keenum stepped in and helped guide the Vikings to a 13-3 finish and a berth in the NFC title game. Keenum went from being a career backup to a guy who either stands to get the franchise tag from the Vikings or earn a multiyear contract this offseason.

Either way, he will make life-changing money based on this play.

Keenum, a career backup until this season, deserves plenty of credit but you can’t dismiss what Shurmur’s coaching and play-calling meant to his success.

For two plus seasons, we saw Norv Turner run an offense that was focused on his principles and that was built around an aging running back (Adrian Peterson) instead of his quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater).

The Vikings won the NFC North in 2015 but it made little sense that Turner didn’t do more to accommodate Bridgewater’s skillset. Turner stepped down during the 2016 season, and Shurmur was promoted from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator.

The first sign that things would be different under Shurmur came shortly after he took over when wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson went from being a forgotten man to seeing the field again. Patterson was buried on the bench by Turner because of his inability to run a correct route. But Patterson had freakish athletic ability.

Shurmur realized this and got Patterson back on the field, using him in a variety of ways that best utilized his skills.

Now the Vikings must find the next Pat Shurmur and not the next Norv Turner (at least the guy who worked in Minnesota) or the next Bill Musgrave.

There already has been plenty of debate as to which direction the Vikings will go at quarterback. They could bring back Keenum and/or Teddy Bridgewater or go outside for a free-agent like Kirk Cousins, who is going to break someone’s bank. (Sorry Bradford fans, but my guess is a guy with a chronically bad knee is gone.)

There are very few quarterbacks who can overcome an average play-caller and still have success. If your name is Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers you are probably fine. But there is no one listed in the above paragraph who can reach the top of their abilities with the wrong coordinator.

Want more evidence of the importance of having the right QB-coach combination? Look at Nick Foles, who went from being a star in Philadelphia in 2013 (27 touchdowns, two interceptions) to being a terrible quarterback in St. Louis in 2015 (seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions) to being a star again with the Eagles.

Foles was the MVP of the Super Bowl on Sunday in part because he has always had talent, but he needed the right coach to put him in a position to succeed. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson had the ability to do that.

Do you think Keenum has the success he had this season with Musgrave or Turner calling plays for him?

During Brad Childress’ first season with the Vikings in 2006, my then-Star Tribune colleague Kevin Seifert asked the Minnesota coach about his struggling offense and whether the West Coast system he had installed was going to work.

Childress’ now legendary response was that it was a “Kick Ass Offense.” The issue was Childress needed the exact right players to make it effective. Childress’ unwillingness to adjust to what his players did was stubborn and silly.

A good coach or coordinator doesn’t need the perfect personnel to run a system because they have the ability to adjust to the players they are given and make it a success. And that success starts with the quarterback.

Shurmur reminded us this was the case in 2017.

Now, Spielman and Zimmer need to make sure they hire a coordinator with the same abilities Shurmur possessed or the Vikings might not be making a return to the postseason in 2018.





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