Souhan: Zygi Wilf can't afford to botch Vikings' coaching hire

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 5, 2014 - 12:00 AM
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Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and head coach Leslie Frazier spoke during practice on Wednesday. ] CARLOS GONZALEZ cgonzalez@startribune.com June 19, 2013, Eden Prairie, Minn., Winter Park, Minnesota Vikings minicamp ORG XMIT: MIN1306191755248528

We know Zygi now.

We could pick him out of a crowd of Groucho Marx impersonators.

We could read his mind while he tossed a shovelful of snow at the groundbreaking for the ZygiDome.

We know that he loves the New York Giants and tried to emulate the Philadelphia Eagles.

We know that he vows to bring a championship to Minnesota.

We know Zygi Wilf now, after close to a decade of owning the Vikings.

What we don’t know is whether or how he will accomplish his goal.

But we’ll know a lot more, very soon.

Wilf is about to make his first coaching hire as an experienced, sentient NFL owner. This will be the hire that defines him.

He inherited Mike Tice from previous owner Red McCombs, and fired Tice minutes after a victory over the Bears in the Metrodome that made Tice 9-7 for the 2005 season.

That he would fire Tice was a foregone conclusion. That he did it in the wrong place, at the wrong time while displaying what looked like a lack of self-control marked Wilf as an amateur, as surely as the golfer who puts the glove on the wrong hand.

Wilf’s hiring of Brad Childress was similarly emotional. He interviewed Childress in a Minneapolis hotel, and was so impressed he refused to let Childress leave to interview with Green Bay, which subsequently hired Mike McCarthy.

Wilf had no choice but to fire Childress after a home loss to the Packers in 2010 in which Childress lost control of his team, and Wilf made a logical choice in naming Leslie Frazier his interim head coach.

When Frazier displayed signs of leadership, Wilf made another reasonable and convenient decision: Giving Frazier a few years to prove himself as a head coach.

Everything Wilf has done as an NFL owner is prologue to this hire.

For the first time, Wilf will be relying on his own knowledge of the league rather than seeking hints from other owners and the league office, which is how he tumbled to Childress, a representative of the model-franchise Eagles.

For the first time, Wilf will be hiring a coach with help from a full-time general manager, Rick Spielman, who is sure to present Wilf with binders filled with detailed information on every breathing coach in North America, complete with their sleeping patterns and favorite Will Ferrell movies.

For the first time, Wilf should be able to separate hype from reality, and allow knowledge and experience to overrule his excitable nature.

His competitors already have done him a favor.

The Texans hired Bill O’Brien, whose claim to competence was working in the vicinity of Tom Brady and helping Penn State recover from scandal enough to compete in the mediocre Big Ten.

The Buccaneers hired Lovie Smith, perhaps the most boring competent coach in recent NFL history.

All of the candidates Wilf should want still are available. He can opt for the familiar (Darrell Bevell), the nostalgic (Jack Del Rio), the flavor of the month (Adam Gase) or the overdue assistant (Mike Zimmer).

He can look for the next Mike McCarthy or Mike Tomlin, an assistant whose leadership skills outweigh a thin résumé, or the next Pete Carroll or Bill Belichick, the retread head coach who learned from his previous firing.

There is a great coach out there waiting to be hired. Now, for the first time since he bumbled through his first news conference as Vikings owner, Wilf should be prepared to display prescience.

Over his years as an NFL owner, Wilf has learned to avoid podiums and emotionalism.

Sometime in the next month, he’ll make the hire that will define him as an NFL owner.

Zygi should be ready for his close-up. Zygi should be ready to prove he can do more than write out a check.

 

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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