JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Jack Del Rio came to the Vikings, his fourth NFL team, as a Plan B free agent in 1992, meaning his previous employer, the Dallas Cowboys, had become the third team that didn’t value his presence.
He became a Pro Bowl middle linebacker in Minnesota and established contacts that would help him launch the coaching career that led him to New Jersey this week.
Darrell Bevell came to the Vikings, his fifth career stop, as an offensive coordinator in 2006, when Brad Childress became Minnesota’s head coach and called on his longtime friend.
He guided one of the best and most diverse offenses in franchise history in 2009, and this week will run the Seahawks offense against Del Rio’s Broncos defense in Super Bowl BRRR on Sunday.
Both established their bona fides in Minnesota. Del Rio even left the hospital waiting room in 1994 to play against the Saints at the Metrodome, then made it back to the hospital before his son was born. He received the game ball that day and wrote on it to Luke, “Thanks for waiting for Dad.’’
Both were considered candidates for the Vikings’ coaching job this winter, and might have been hampered by their teams’ progression through the playoffs. The Vikings settled on Mike Zimmer, whose Bengals were eliminated in the first round and who was thus more available for lengthy interviews and immediate employment.
Sunday, Bevell and Del Rio will conduct the less celebrated but equally important duel between high-profile coordinators.
Denver’s Adam Gase and Seattle’s Dan Quinn run, respectively, the top-ranked offense and defense in the NFL. The Seahawks offense ranked 17th in yards per game; the Broncos ranked 19th in yards allowed.
Bevell has received credit for helping second-year quarterback Russell Wilson become a star; Del Rio is 10 days removed from frustrating Patriots coach Bill Belichick so much that he began concocting bizarre conspiracy theories about his former receiver, Wes Welker.
“Clearly, the combination of Tom Brady and Bill has ben a very productive combination, and one I hadn’t seen much success against,’’ Del Rio said. “I took a lot of pride in the fact that we were able to put together a good plan, go out there and execute, play well and advance.’’
This Super Bowl matches one coach who is in his second NFL head coaching job, in John Fox, and one who has been fired by two NFL teams, in Pete Carroll. After his playing career, Del Rio became Mike Ditka’s strength and conditioning coach in New Orleans in 1997, then joined the Ravens as a linebackers coach.
That job was the result of Del Rio’s familiarity with then-Ravens coach Brian Billick, who had coached for the Vikings when Del Rio played in Minnesota.
Del Rio became Carolina’s defensive coordinator and then the second head coach in Jacksonville Jaguars history. He earned two playoff berths, and each time lost road games to New England. He lasted nine years in Jacksonville before being fired.
He didn’t act as a head coach again until Fox had heart problems during the middle of this season and ran the Broncos for four games.
Would he do anything differently if he became a head coach again? “Yeah, a bunch of things,’’ he said. “There’s a long list.’’
Del Rio was a charismatic player, a leader who played for and learned from Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin in Minnesota. It’s easy to see why someone would hire him as a head coach.
Bevell remains quiet; friendly but guarded. In 2009, he skillfully navigated the roiling waters between Childress, his boss, and Brett Favre, the team’s most important player. Childress and Favre didn’t like each other. Bevell somehow took the best of Childress’ rigidity and Favre’s reckless brilliance and coaxed Favre into the most efficient season of a Hall of Fame career.
“There were a lot of great experiences I had there,’’ Bevell said. “The ’09 season, Brett playing as well as he ever played. … We had like six guys with over 40 catches, second time it’s ever happened in the league.’’
If in Minnesota, Bevell felt like the judge in a divorce court, in Seattle, he must feel as if his job is to hand out brownies outside of a marijuana shop. His head coach, Carroll, tells his coaches to spread optimism, and his quarterback, Wilson, is one of the most likable players in the league.
“I think they’re both students of the game,’’ Bevell said of Favre and Wilson. “Brett prepared really hard. He liked to keep it a secret that he was preparing, but he was always in the building watching tape, and I see the same things out of Russell.’’
Sunday might provide a practice round for the day when Bevell and Del Rio face each other as head coaches.
When Del Rio filled in for Fox this season, a couple of his buddies told him it must be like riding a bike. Del Rio’s response: “Yeah, but this is a really nice bike.’’
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org