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Powers: Vikings coach will be best of the rest

By Tom Powers

St. Paul Pioneer Press

So the last shall be first …


Bill O’Brien was the hottest coaching prospect coming out of the college ranks. The Vikings made known their interest in him, yet to no avail. O’Brien wasted little time in joining the Houston Texans.

Jay Gruden was the hottest head coaching prospect among NFL coordinators. The Vikings had an interview set up. But when the Washington Redskins called, Gruden quickly said yes and canceled his meeting with Rick Spielman. At least, we assume he canceled his meeting. Otherwise Spielman is going to be sitting by himself in a hotel room, running up room service charges.

Of the remaining NFL head coach openings, the Detroit Lions job remains the plum. The Lions are a playoff team waiting to happen. Someone is going to look awfully good by taking that job. Everyone knows it, too. So Detroit can have its pick.

The Vikings are going to end up with someone from “the best of the rest.” There won’t be any high-profile coordinators coming here. This job isn’t as coveted as most others. A team built for indoor turf (think speed over power) will spend the next two years slogging around outdoors while their stadium is built. There is wishy-washy leadership from management. The absentee owners are meddlesome from afar. And there is no quarterback.

Yet there are very few opportunities to become an NFL head coach. So there will be no shortage of eager candidates, although many will be from further down the food chain. I don’t have a lot of confidence in Vikings management, yet the organization could end up with a good man. Mike Zimmer and Todd Bowles are said to be among the current front-runners. Both are defense-oriented guys. Who knows?

It could all work out because decent candidates, in any sport, aren’t always at the center of the radar screen. For example, Rich Pitino has gotten off to a good start as coach of the Golden Gophers men’s basketball team, despite being the 47th choice of athletic director Norwood Teague. Teague was rejected so many times that he must have felt like he was back in high school during prom season.

He reportedly was this close to putting an ad on Craig’s List when Pitino, a mystery to most of us, said yes. So far, at least, the Gophers are doing well – even better than expected. So history tells us the last can be first.

Zimmer is intriguing because he can be loud and abrasive – the anti-Les Frazier. He worked his way through the college ranks before moving to the Dallas Cowboys in 1994 where he worked for four different head coaches including Barry Switzer and Bill Parcells. From there, he moved to Atlanta and then Cincinnati.

Five years later, Zimmer still is publicly blasting former Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino for leaving that team during the season to become coach at Arkansas. Zimmer can’t swallow the fact that a coach walked out on his team and has never forgiven him. He recently (again) called him gutless and “a coward.” You have to like that.

Bowles has less experience but has helped create top-tier defenses at every stop. In Philadelphia, Andy Reid promoted him to his first defensive coordinator job in 2012 during an early season shake-up of the staff. He developed a great run-stopping defense in Arizona in 2013. His resume also includes a short stint as interim head coach in Miami.

The only thing that concerns me about Bowles is that his personality often is described as “subdued” and the Vikings need heavy metal instead of more Muzak. Plus, the Cleveland Browns are said to be very interested.

There are other candidates, some rumored and some real. Spielman promised to be thorough in his search and to cast a wide net. That’s all great, but if he finds a guy that he and the Wilfs can live with, he probably should jump. There’s a lot of work to be done toward preparing for next season.

Bottom line is that the Vikings won’t end up with any of the high profile guys, but still could do alright. Everyone is looking for the same things in a potential coach: leadership, football know-how and communication skills. We’re a bit different here in Minnesota in that we should add the terms “fiery” and, well, “mouthy” to the wish list.

And if a candidate demonstrates any insights at all into the quarterback position, hand him a contract.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.