Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, believed to be the frontrunner in Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman’s extensive head coaching search, arrived in the Twin Cities today for two nights and will spend Tuesday going through a second interview that will include the team’s ownership, the Star Tribune has learned.
Zimmer, 57, has spent 20 seasons as an NFL assistant, including the past 14 as a defensive coordinator for three teams, including Dallas, where he worked with Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells for four seasons, Atlanta and Cincinnati, where he revived a dormant defense and helped the Bengals post three consecutive playoff seasons for the first time in franchise history.
Zimmer has never been a head coach in the NFL or in college, where he spent 15 seasons as an assistant at Missouri, Weber State and Washington State. If hired, he would be the Vikings’ ninth head coach and the third one hired since current owners Zygi and Mark Wilf bought the team in 2005.
As Spielman’s coaching search entered its third week on Monday, two other finalists were believed to have surfaced. They are Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Seahawks coordinator Dan Quinn.
Both are among the seven candidates Spielman has interviewed. Bowles is available immediately for a second interview, which may take place this week if the team doesn’t move quickly to hire Zimmer. Quinn, meanwhile, would not be available until next week because the Seahawks are in Sunday’s NFC Championship game.
Also in the title game and unavailable until next week are San Francisco’s offensive coordinator Greg Roman defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. They interviewed with Spielman on Saturday in Charlotte, N.C., the day before the divisional playoff game against the Panthers.
Bowles has not been scheduled for a second interview as of Monday afternoon, according to John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance.
Also known to have interviewed with Spielman are Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton. The Vikings had interest in Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, but he has refused all interview requests until after the Broncos’ season is over.
-- Mark Craig and Master Tesfatsion
Hello everyone. Quick update on the Vikings coaching search. The team officially requested permission to interview Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, according to a league source. They are one of four teams that requested permission on Monday.
Per league rules, Gruden was not available to interview last week because the Bengals played in the Wild Card game. Coaches whose teams had a first-round bye were allowed to interview last week.
Led by General Manager Rick Spielman, the Vikings reportedly interviewed Seattle coordinators Darrell Bevell and Dan Quinn over ther weekend.
According to John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the Vikings are in Phoenix today to interview Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. They will interview Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton on Tuesday.
That means they likely will interview Gruden later in the week. It won't be surprising if they also request permission to interview Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
UPDATE: Jason La Canfora of CBS reports that the Vikings also have requested permission to interview San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
The Vikings, Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans have all requested interviews with Gruden and Whisenhunt, according to La Canfora.
The NFL’s annual meeting wraps up this afternoon from the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. This morning, all 16 NFC coaches held court for the conference’s coaches breakfast in the Grand Ballroom. Included: Seattle’s Pete Carroll, the proud new coach of standout receiver Percy Harvin, a Viking for his first four seasons in the league but now a Seahawks after last week’s blockbuster trade.
I had a chance to briefly pick Carroll’s brain on the move to land Harvin and how he hopes to wrap around his brain around the receiver’s fiery personality, which at times is both his greatest strength and most dangerous weakness.
Here’s a quick taste of Carroll’s thoughts ...
Before the trade occurred, when you were trying to do some background on Percy and familiarize yourself with his situation, what specifically did you want to glean from Darrell Bevell, who had obvious comfort with him? What was some of his feedback
Carroll: Darrell had nothing but the best things to say. He said he had had a great relationship with Percy, which I found out after talking to Percy, that it was reciprocated. They work together really well. Darrell raved about his competitiveness. He raved about his work ethic. He raved about his talent. And it was a total positive, supportive perspective that Darrel had. So we felt compelled that that was a perspective that we had to call on, what Darrell provided. That cemented the idea for us as we were looking into it.
In some ways, Percy’s personality can be a bit of a riddle. And people who know him well will tell you that his competitive fire is admirable but yet can get the best of him at times. How do you sense you’ll be able to manage that and channel that fire in the right direction.
Carroll: I think it’s that way with the greatest of the great athletes. I think that’s a positive. Sometimes they push the limits. But they’re like that because that’s who they are. You know what I mean? So I don’t have any problem with that. I have no problem with guys being highly, highly competitive. And so I think there’s an understanding there that’s needed. We’ve already talked about it. I want him to be as competitive as he can be, that way we make sure he’s always helping this football team. So that’s one thing I’ve had to learn, dealing with young kids. That nature has made him what he is. So if you think that that’s a problem, you’re missing the boat I think. So we’re going to figure out how to help him along the way so he can translate that competitiveness to great play and championships and all that kind of stuff. I’m not worried about that one bit.
He was glowing at his introductory press conference. Did you have an immediate sense of why specifically he was so excited for a new start and to join the offense you guys have?
Carroll: I think, from what Percy said, it first started when he began to hear about Russell. He loves Russell’s nature. He loves his approach to the game and his outlook about working hard and competing at all times. That resonated with Percy. And he started to check into it. And I think Russell wanted to see Percy. He came in and met with him when Percy was at our facility as well. Percy had a little background with me [from being recruited to USC]. He had tremendous background with Darrell. He knew that this was a young team coming up. So I think there were a lot of things that added up. So whatever he said, I know he felt very much in his heart.
Percy Harvin's time as a Viking has come to end. According to an NFL source, the Vikings have agreed in principle to a trade with Seattle, formally ending a rocky relationship with their ultra-talented yet mercurial receiver.
The NFL's free agency period will open at 3 p.m. Tuesday, which is also the opening of the new league year. That's the earliest a trade could be rubber-stamped and completed. But as of right now, the deal has been finalized and Harvin will simply have to pass a team physical in Seattle.
A Harvin trade has been rumored for more than a month. And while Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman repeatedly asserted that he had "no intent" to trade Harvin, the Vikings also had begun to run out of patience with trying to make Harvin happy. The moody receiver had pushed the team to deal him after his 2012 season ended with tension.
Harvin played his last game in a Week 9 loss to Seattle in early-November but suffered a severe ankle sprain in the second half of that game. He tried to come back from the injury but was unsuccessful in doing so and was put on injured reserve in Week 14, ending his season.
If the trade to Seattle doesn't hit any unforeseen snags and is indeed finalized, Harvin would reunite with Darrell Bevell, the Seahawks' offensive coordinator who held the same position with the Vikings during Harvin's first two seasons. Harvin would also join forced with Pete Carroll, who in his previous post at the University of Southern Cal, had recruited Harvin out of Landstown High School in Virginia.
Stay tuned for additional details as this story develops ...
When Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway puts on tape of the Seattle Seahawks offense, he sees a whole lot of what he sees on the Vikings’ practice field every day.
He sees an offense that mirrors what the Vikings do. He sees a scheme that is not overly complex from a formation standpoint. He sees a team determined to start by establishing the run, then working off of that with a play-action passing game. Familiar? Yes. Even more so because many of the Vikings’ vets were here when Darrell Bevell – the Seahawks offensive coordinator – was doing the same job here through the 2010 season.
But that doesn’t mean Seattle will be easy to stop.
“I don’t know if it gives us an advantage,” Greenway said. “You still have to go out and play and react. But we do have a better sense of what (Bevell) is trying to accomplish, having been around him so much – the type of scheme, the type of passing game he’s going to utilize off what he’s doing in the running game. And that play-action stuff. They’re going to throw some (bootleg plays) at you, try to suck the linebackers up and throw over the top of you. All these things we know. But we have to go out and play the game.”
Fellow linebacker Erin Henderson agreed. “You have a good idea of how they want to do things, what they want to get done,” Henderson said. “But you won’t know for sure until you go out and see their first 15 plays.”
Despite the good numbers Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch has put up, the Seahawks have struggled to move the ball consistently and to score points; the team ranks 30th in the NFL in yards gained and 27th in scoring.
For the Vikings to make sure that continues they have to stop the Seahawks running game first. That’s a goal that, considering the problems Minnesota has had stopping the run of late, won’t be easy to reach.
But familiarity might breed defensive consistency.
“They are built very similarly to us,” Greenway said. “I mean, the biggest thing for us is going out and playing in a very tough environment. We’ll see if we can handle it or not. This will be a huge game for us.”
Thinking of home
Henderson is from Aberdeen, Maryland, which is about 45 minutes north of Baltimore. He has a lot of family there, as well as some family that lives in the New York area. So he has spent a lot of time the past few days keeping in contact with people back home to see how they’re dealing with Hurricane Sandy.
“They didn’t get hit to bad in Maryland,” Henderson said. “Just some high winds and a bit of rain, stuff like that. But I had some family in New York that got affected a little bit more. It was kind of devastating to see some of the pictures they sent us. Everybody made out OK, though.”
Still, Henderson said it hasn’t been easy to be in Minnesota while family out east dealt with the storm.
“You want to be there with them, and be there to support them as best as possible,” he said. “But you have a job to do. You have responsibilities you have to tend to here. It’s just a matter of trying to communicate as much as possible on the phone, make sure everything is OK.”
A game of inches
It’s not just last Thursday’s game that is bothering Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. Halfway through the season Kluwe ranks 11th in the NFC with a 43.5-yard punting average and eighth with a 39.9 net average. Both are down from his career averages.
“I’d say mediocre,” Kluwe said when asked to assess his season so far. “I'd like to, obviously, be leading the league in both gross and net. Unfortunately sometimes you don’t punt well.”
The difference between a good punt and a bad one? Less than you might think. Kluwe said he was rushing himself a little bit, trying to go a little too fast. “And my drop hasn’t been super consistent,” he said. “That’s something to hopefully hone in on and try to get corrected.”
Kluwe said a drop that is even an inch off can change a kick. "Or maybe the ball is tilted three or four degrees forward or three or four degrees back," he said. "That can change the entire outcome of the kick. It's a very small window that you have to hit in order to kick the ball well."
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