The Chargers arrive today without Marty Schottenheimer, and with a great chance of winning. They could be doing the Vikings two big favors.
A loss would better position the Vikings to land another high draft choice, and give them reason to land a new coach.
Schottenheimer went 14-2 coaching San Diego last year. He lost to the Patriots in the playoffs in part because a defensive back fumbled while returning an interception. Also because -- this just in -- the Patriots are pretty good.
The decision by the Chargers to fire Schottenheimer, one of the most consistent winners in modern football, could be the Vikings' windfall.
If the Chargers win today -- and that's the way to bet -- the Vikings will be 2-6 and well on their way to a four- or five-victory season, two years after the bare-bones, Love-Boat Vikings went 9-7 and three years after an underfunded, understaffed Vikings team won a playoff game.
If owner Zygi Wilf would hire Schottenheimer to coach the Vikings, and bring in a real general manager to oversee the football operation, Minnesota could be in the playoffs in a year or two.
Schottenheimer is known for MartyBall -- power running and strong defense. Having lost 13 of their past 17 under Brad Childress, the Vikings should be trying to play AnyoneElseBall.
Schottenheimer is known for losing playoff games. The current Vikings should have such problems. And, in retrospect, we should acknowledge that Schottenheimer lost a lot of close playoff games to superior teams. He also turned too conservative when he had superior teams, but if you're a Vikings fan today, that has to qualify as nitpicking.
The Vikings have two big problems -- muddy thinking in the front office, and muddy thinking on the sideline. The front office is led by Rick Spielman, who can take credit for having assembled two of the worst teams in football.
He was the director of player personnel of the Miami Dolphins from 2000 to 2003, and their GM in 2004. With the personnel he assembled, the 2007 Dolphins might be on their way to the first winless season in an NFL 16-game schedule.
With the Vikings, Spielman, along with Childress, has neglected the quarterback position, giving us a game of musical chairs in which nobody wants the music to stop.
If the Vikings are trying to win -- which is what they claimed in 2006 -- it takes a lot of self-delusion to neglect the offensive skill positions. If the Vikings are trying to rebuild -- the line they're selling now that winning looks hopeless -- it takes a lot of self-delusion to spend dozens of millions on veteran talent at other positions.
For all of its problems, this roster would suit Schottenheimer.
What Wilf should be thinking is that if there is going to be a rush on coaches at the end of the season, why not start shopping now? Why not hire Schottenheimer, who might be the best coach on the market, before Wilf faces competition?
When Childress took the job, he said he chose the Vikings because they offered the best chance to win right away. Schottenheimer should take the same view. With his coaching, the Vikings would be a competent quarterback and No. 1 receiver away from the playoffs. With a high pick in next year's draft, Schottenheimer could make an immediate and franchise-transforming impact, and improve Wilf's chances of acquiring stadium support.
Wilf's dream braintrust would probably include Bill Parcells, but he looked weary of coaching by the end of his Cowboys run. He'd make a great GM, though.
Schottenheimer is still full of vinegar and ambition, and available to run a team that is not as bad as it looks.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. email@example.com