Souhan: Vikings need diamond in the rough

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2013 - 3:06 PM
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Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman

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Rick Spielman says he’ll consider 13 categories of coaching candidates while replacing Leslie Frazier.

What he didn’t say was that when he orders from an Asian restaurant, he’d choose one from Column A, one from Column B and one from the Italian joint next door. That he changes his parking spot in the Vikings’ lot depending on the month, angle of the sun, time of day and square root of the square footage of his shadow. That his Starbucks orders last longer than some NFL careers.

Spielman is capable of overthinking lunch. He’s also capable of using the 12th pick in an NFL draft to select Christian Ponder. So how can he be trusted to hire a coach?

If he’s true to his word, he may be on the right track.

I don’t agree with the decision to fire Frazier. The Wilfs and Spielman gave Frazier lousy quarterbacks and held him responsible for their play.

Now that Frazier’s gone, I do agree with the simple thought behind Spielman’s seemingly byzantine plan.

Sift through the verbosity, and what Spielman seemed to be trying to say is that he won’t limit his coaching search to a certain résumé type.

If he follows his own guidelines, he has a chance to avoid the biggest mistake NFL franchises make when choosing coaches or quarterbacks: overlooking a brick of gold bullion in the blinkered search for a diamond.

The best coaches in the NFL come from a wide variety of backgrounds and offer a wide variety of personalities. Here’s a list of successful NFL head coaches, and the key line of their résumé before they were hired as head coaches:

• Baltimore’s John Harbaugh — special teams coach.

• San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh — college head coach.

• Seattle’s Pete Carroll — rah-rah college coach twice fired as an NFL head coach.

• Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy — offensive coordinator for one of the NFL’s worst offensive teams.

• New England’s Bill Belichick — fired as the stubborn, thoroughly unlikeable coach of the Browns.

• Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis — experienced defensive coordinator.

• Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin — one year as defensive coordinator for a 6-10 Vikings team.

• Philadelphia’s Chip Kelly — college hotshot with an offense predicated to fail in the NFL.

• New Orleans’ Sean Payton — offensive coordinator.

• Denver’s John Fox — fired as Carolina’s head coach.

• New York’s Tom Coughlin — fired in Jacksonville.

• Kansas City’s Andy Reid — fired in Philadelphia.

There is no prototype for winning head coaches, nor is there an ideal résumé.

Spielman and the Wilfs will have to discern leadership qualities and functional intelligence during interviews and due diligence. They’ll have to find the right guy even if his experience and his team’s record suggest he’s not ready or capable.

That’s what should frighten Vikings fans.

Spielman can’t produce a statistical formula for rating coaching candidates, can’t grade prospects out to decimal points like he does draft prospects. He’ll have to use intuition or, as he might call it, “The shift-alt-delete-backspace function on my MacBook.’’

There’s no doubt Spielman will do his homework. The question is whether he’ll do so much homework he’ll fool himself. His pick of Ponder made sense if you graded Ponder on intelligence, experience, athletic ability and responsibility. It made less sense if you watched Ponder react to the blitz.

NFL head coaches are always reacting to the blitz. The good ones are crisis managers, perpetual evaluators, innovators, chess masters. There’s a good one out there, available to Spielman, but he might not look like anybody who’s ever won a Super Bowl.

Former Viking Jack Del Rio might become the next to succeed in his second stint as a head coach. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer might be ready to run his own team.

The Gophers once rushed Charlie Strong off campus so they could hire Tim Brewster. Strong excelled as Florida’s defensive coordinator and has elevated Louisville to a national power.

He might be the guy, and if he is, Spielman will have to discard formulas and decimal points and go with his gut. Or, as Spielman calls it, his “food-processing center.’’

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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