Hartman: Vikings' new coach to face big obstacles

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 9, 2014 - 1:23 AM

The team has many free agents, holes on defense, no clear answer at QB and two years of playing at the U.

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Minnesota Vikings took to the field for a team huddle before the Vikings took on the Lions at Mall of America Field, Sunday, December 29, 2013.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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No doubt General Manager Rick Spielman and his scouting staff think the Vikings had enough talent to finish better than 5-10-1, one reason Leslie Frazier was fired.

But can they convince a first-class coach to take the job when they have 15 free agents coming off the books, a number of obvious holes on defense and a big question mark at quarterback?

The Vikings have to believe they need to sign an impressive coach in order to convince fans on the team’s potential as they prepare to sell season tickets with personal seat license fees for their new stadium.

The Vikings also will have to sell a potential coach on the prospect of playing the next two seasons at TCF Bank Stadium, which obviously will be a much smaller, colder environment than the Metrodome, and the Vikings haven’t been a good outdoor football team in recent memory.

Since Frazier took over the team as full-time head coach in 2011, the Vikings are 2-13-1 in outdoor games.

Spielman will have his work cut out for him to persuade a talented coach to accept the job, but if the team decides to wait until Seattle finishes its season, he can hire Darrell Bevell, the former Vikings offensive coordinator who is familiar with all the Vikings’ negatives and can devise ways to correct them.

Roster turnover

There’s also the chance the Vikings will lose mainstays such as defensive linemen Jared Allen and Kevin Williams to free agency or retirement. Cornerback Chris Cook, running back Toby Gerhart and defensive end Everson Griffen also are free agents.

The Vikings placed only two players in the Pro Bowl this year, and only one position player in running back Adrian Peterson. Cordarrelle Patterson, who was named to the Pro Bowl as a special-teams player, looks as if he can turn into a great wide receiver and returner. But who knows who will be the Vikings quarterback next season? Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman are free agents, and Christian Ponder is the lone quarterback signed for next season.

One thing working in the Vikings’ favor was the great play of several reserves who hadn’t seen much playing time early in the season, only to thrive once they got a chance in the last few games.

Running back Matt Asiata, with whom the Vikings have exclusive rights as a restricted free agent following this season, rushed for 166 yards and three touchdowns in the season’s final two games after previously registering three carries for 9 yards in his career.

Linebacker Audie Cole, a seventh-round draft pick in 2012 out of North Carolina State, finally got some playing time after an injury to Erin Henderson and recorded 42 tackles and a sack over a four-game span late in the season.

Chase Ford was another player who surprised. The rookie tight end caught seven passes for 98 yards in two December games against the Eagles and Lions.

Twins to add players?

Twins President Dave St. Peter was asked if he thinks the club will make more roster moves before spring training.

“We had a session on Friday, Terry [Ryan, general manager], [owner] Jim Pohlad and myself,” St. Peter said. “There is certainly a desire to look for ways to improve, whether that be with the bat or potentially another pitcher. We think there are going to be some guys that might fall through the cracks a little bit. There’s relatively slim pickings, I think, in terms of the offensive side, but one never knows.”

However, St. Peter added that, “As we get closer to spring training and roster space becomes an issue for clubs, I think there are going to be some guys out there. We’re trying to get better and we’re also trying to get a good look at our major league roster over the next few weeks in terms of the health of guys and where guys are at.”

More Big Ten parity

For years Ohio State and Michigan were the Big Ten football powers, well ahead of the rest of the conference.

But this year, with Ohio State and Michigan losing bowl games and not dominating the league the way they once did, Gophers football coach Jerry Kill was asked if the days of those programs winning most of the time are changing.

“I think Ohio State is still Ohio State,” Kill said. “They’re pretty good certainly on offense. They have some shortness on defense right now, but I know Coach [Urban] Meyer will get that secured. They have had good recruiting classes so I think they’re still very, very good.

“Michigan is going through some changes there and I think that I know [coach Brady Hoke] well enough that they’ll continue to get better.”

Kill said he still thinks that Ohio State has the best, most athletic talent in the league.

The Gophers play Ohio State and Michigan next season. Maybe this fall the Gophers can beat Michigan for the first time since 2005 and Ohio State for the first time since 2000. The Gophers didn’t play Ohio State last fall, but they competed well against Michigan and Michigan State, which I believe is the new power in the league.

“Physical toughness and all those kinds of things is Michigan State,” Kill said. “You can say all you want, Mark [Dantonio] has done a great job and they play great physical defense and their quarterback [Connor Cook] has really come along, he really has. I still think in the Big Ten, there is a lot more parity than what there used to be.”

Jottings

• Former Gophers assistant coach John Butler, who was defensive coordinator at Penn State, is one of six assistants following Bill O’Brien from the Nittany Lions to the NFL’s Houston Texans. … The New York Mets have named former Twin Frank Viola pitching coach for their Class AAA Las Vegas affiliate. … Minnesota Duluth football coach Curt Wiese was named the 2013 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year for Division II, an amazing accomplishment in his first season as head coach.

• Gopherhole.com reported this week on Carlos Morris, a 2014 shooting guard commitment for Richard Pitino. Morris is playing for Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla., which is 14-1. He is averaging 14.8 points, five rebounds and two assists per game. … Nate Mason, a Gophers point guard recruit from Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, Fla., scored 20 points in a 100-90 loss to Northside Christian last week. Arlington Country Day was ranked No. 13 in USA Today’s Top 25 before the loss. … Power forward recruit Josh Martin of Seattle Bothell won MVP honors at the Bothell Holiday Classic. He is averaging 26.9 points per game.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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