The most startling news of the week was not that the Vikings hired a veteran defensive coordinator as their next coach. It was that they were willing and able to hire a renowned offensive coordinator. At Winter Park, the hiring of a star coordinator occurs about as often as a dome deflation.
Leslie Frazier had to make due with Bill Musgrave, widely considered a good quarterbacks coach and mediocre offensive coordinator, and two shot-in-the-dark defensive coordinators — Fred Pagac, who received a field promotion when Frazier was promoted, and Alan Williams, perhaps the Vikings’ third or fourth choice for the job after Pagac was later demoted.
Brad Childress brought in one of his cronies, Darrell Bevell, to run the offense. He hired a promising young position coach, Mike Tomlin, to run the defense, then replaced him with Frazier, who once lost his coordinator’s job in Cincinnati.
Mike Tice, working under budget constraints that would have kept Houdini shackled for life, hired a promising young coach named Scott Linehan to run the offense, and tried a succession of defensive coordinators.
Even Denny Green, who built one of the deepest staffs in league history upon his arrival in Minnesota, didn’t hire big-name coordinators. His first offensive coordinator was Jack Burns, who was plucked off Joe Gibbs’ Washington staff to translate Gibbs’ ideas. Green fired Burns and replaced him with Brian Billick, then an unknown assistant.
Tony Dungy would become a great NFL head coach, but when Green hired him, he was coming off a firing as Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator and a stint coaching Kansas City’s defensive backs when Green made Dungy his defensive coordinator.
When Dungy left to become head coach of the Buccaneers, Green replaced him with Foge Fazio, a respected NFL veteran near the end of his career.
Saturday, the Vikings reportedly landed Norv Turner, giving them a chance to build one of their strongest staffs in decades.
Turner is most easily identified as a head coach who always seemed close to losing his job. He became a head coach only after becoming one of the best offensive coordinators in recent NFL history.
Turner learned his craft from Ernie Zampese, one of the brains behind the Air Coryell Chargers. Turner is not a West Coast guru. He believes in power running and deep passing.
This makes him an ideal fit for the Vikings. In 1998, Terrell Davis won the NFL rushing title, then a Super Bowl. Only twice before or since has a running back led the NFL in rushing and won a Super Bowl: When Emmitt Smith did it in 1992 and ’93. His offensive coordinator? Norv Turner.
With Zimmer running the Vikings defense and Turner the offense, the Vikings will be better prepared to win games with gameplanning and gameday coaching than they have since … when?
By the time Billick had revved the Vikings offense, Dungy was gone. Bevell and Frazier did good work, but Bevell worked under Childress’ thumb and Frazier is not known as an innovator. Jerry Burns was a talented offensive coach and Floyd Peters an accomplished defensive coordinator, but Burns’ offense was channeled through Bob Schnelker, whose name, screamed in anger by thousands, was still bouncing off the Metrodome roof as recently as last week.
Zimmer will have to splint a broken defense. He has shown a healing touch before.
Turner will have copious talent with which to work at every position other than quarterback, and he will be working under a general manager who knows that finding a quarterback will be the only way to prolong his employment.
Baseball teams yearn to be strong up the middle of the diamond. NFL teams must be strong up the middle of the organizational hierarchy, from quarterback to coordinators to head coach and general manager.
Zimmer and Turner give the Vikings a coaching advantage on most gamedays this fall. Vikings fans might find that concept strange, and welcome.