Two minutes, 26 seconds. In NFL time, that’s long enough to turn 10 victories into five, contract extensions into firings and the status quo into the upheaval of a franchise’s core offensive and defensive philosophies.
Two minutes, 26 seconds. That’s the combined time left on the clock this season when the Vikings blew last-minute leads in regulation against Chicago (10 seconds), Cleveland (51), Dallas (35), Green Bay (46) and Baltimore (4).
That, according to General Manager Rick Spielman, also was an unacceptable trend that helped owners Zygi and Mark Wilf determine that Monday was the time to fire head coach Leslie Frazier.
Presumably, the team also will say goodbye to its conservative 4-3, Tampa 2-based defensive scheme and hello to a more imaginative offense that incorporates some of the spread concepts from the college game while maintaining enough carries for face of the franchise Adrian Peterson.
“There are so many [schemes] going out there,” Spielman said. “I am very excited about the process, just to learn and to talk to a lot of different people to see their philosophies.”
Spielman said he heads into the process with a blank slate. Then, to prove his point, he announced his candidates fall into 13 different categories covering each level of experience at the college and professional ranks. He wouldn’t say how many people he’ll interview, but he joked that ownership will be very busy over the next three or four days. He also said a decision won’t be rushed to predate the Senior Bowl in late January, which is the usual target date for teams needing a new coaching staff.
Two minutes, 26 seconds. While Frazier and some players referred to that as proof that major changes weren’t warranted, ownership and Spielman viewed it as enough evidence that the team’s offensive and defensive philosophies — particularly the four-minute offense and two-minute defense that’s critical to finishing off games — needed a reboot.
“I understand how difficult change is for people and how difficult change is because it’s the unknown,” Spielman said. “But I also know sometimes when you make that change, it also can bring a spark as well.”
Defensively, the Vikings will move away from the Tampa 2-based scheme for the first time since Mike Tice was the coach in 2005. With only four core starters returning — left end Brian Robison, outside linebacker Chad Greenway, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and free safety Harrison Smith — the potential for a significant change in scheme is greater on defense.
Of course, other factors would include ranking 31st in third-down defense and coming within four points of matching the franchise record for most points allowed in a single season (484).
“I wouldn’t just say it’s just the scheme,” said strong safety Jamarca Sanford, “but at the end of the day, we kind of need a change around here. I’ve been here for five years and we’ve been running the same thing. Not saying that it didn’t work, but a change can be for the good.”
With right end Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, a 4-3 defensive tackle, unlikely to return, that clears the way for a possible switch to one of the increasingly popular 3-4 schemes out there.
“We’ll look at all that,” Spielman said. “It will be interesting when you talk to a lot of these coaches, whether it’s a 3-4 or a 4-3, or some teams run a 4-3 with a hybrid 3-4.”
Unlike Allen, who always resisted any suggestions that the team switch to a more unpredictable 3-4 scheme, Robison said he’d welcome change.
“I feel I could play a 3-4 outside linebacker,” he said. “I feel like I’ve already proven I could play a 4-3 end. So I’m open to whatever gets us a lot more wins than we had this year.”
Two of the team’s four core defenders — Robison and Greenway — will be 31 next season. But there were signs of younger players such as linebacker Audie Cole and safety Andrew Sendejo taking the next step this season.
Offensively, Peterson will be 29 in April. He’s one of eight core starters returning, including receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings, tackles Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, center John Sullivan, tight end Kyle Rudolph and fullback Jerome Felton. Only Jennings will be over 30.
Spielman sounded intrigued by the offensive scheme former Oregon coach and first-year Eagles coach Chip Kelly brought to the NFL.
“Usually, [philosophies] have trickled down, where the NFL systems kind of went down to college,” Spielman said. “Now, it seems with the type of athletes coming out in the draft that it’s trickling up to the NFL. Like the Philadelphia Eagles, which is a little bit of a spread offense, yet they had the leading rusher in the league [LeSean McCoy]. I’m looking forward to getting educated as well about a lot of different philosophies.”
Of course, the success of any offensive system depends on Spielman and his new hire solidifying the unsettled situation at quarterback.
“To me, I’d want either a head coach or an offensive coordinator who believes in spreading the ball around because we do have a lot of weapons on offense,” receiver Jarius Wright said. “I’d almost like to get a defensive-minded coach because you have to play tough defense to have a chance in the NFL. Then get an offensive coordinator who believes in passing the ball as well as running. If we can ever get the passing part going, teams would never be able to stop Adrian.”
From a personality standpoint, many players are concerned because Frazier had such a calm but firm demeanor and was receptive to the needs of his players.
“Yeah, it’s a nervous time,” Robison said. “Change can always be good. But there’s also a saying that goes around, too. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I guess we’ll find out.”