When the Vikings first turned their attention to John DeFilippo during their offensive coordinator search, they knew they might have some hurdles to clear before landing him.
Word of the Vikings’ interest in DeFilippo leaked out during Super Bowl week, while the 40-year-old was in the Twin Cities preparing for the game as the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach. DeFilippo, who grew up in the Philadelphia area, was in no rush to leave the Eagles, and had earned some interest from the Colts after Josh McDaniels backed out of their head coaching job.
The Eagles won the Super Bowl in Minneapolis, of course, and Philadelphia granted the Vikings permission to talk to DeFilippo several days before his contract expired. And by the time general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer flew to Philadelphia to interview DeFilippo after the Eagles’ parade, the coach had done enough research to know he was going to take the job if it was offered.
“When you go and take a chance on a situation, there’s three things you want to look at: Stable ownership, stable front office, stable head coach,. This place was 3-for-3,” DeFilippo said in an interview in his office. “You know when you’re making a life decision like that, and leaving a place where you’re from, a place where you’re comfortable, you just won the Super Bowl and you have arguably — if he didn’t get hurt — the MVP of the league last season [Carson Wentz] and the Super Bowl MVP [Nick Foles], and you’re really happy in your role … I didn’t know Frank was going to get the head job in Indianapolis. I think, the more people get to know me, I’m not some egomaniac where I need to be an offensive coordinator. To make that decision, my wife and I sat down, and I said, ‘Honey, this place has stable ownership, a stable front office and is stable at the head coaching position.’ Once we talked about that, it made the decision much, much easier. I had faith they were going to go out and do what’s best for this football team at the quarterback position. If I didn’t feel that, there was no way I would have taken this job.”
My story in Sunday’s paper centered on DeFilippo’s relationship with Kirk Cousins, and the early days of their partnership after years of admiring one another from afar. My hour-long conversation with the offensive coordinator touched on a number of different topics, though, and during our discussion, DeFilippo offered a look at his offensive upbringing, which should make for a relatively easy transition from Pat Shurmur.
“The things you keep the same are formations, for example — what you call formations,” DeFilippo said. “We’re calling the run game pretty much the exact same. If there was a [similar] pass concept that we’re putting in, we called it what they called it last season. Coach Shurmur got taught by Coach [Andy] Reid, and like the purest West Coast guys. I’ve learned from some of the guys on that tree, as well. So from a philosophical standpoint, there’s very similar things. It’s more what you believe in philosophically. It’s not like Coach Shurmur and I were on two ends of the spectrum. We both kind of came up the same way, the same system. It’s just, everyone’s taken that West Coast system and kind of created their own flavor to it.”
As DeFilippo put it, two of the Vikings’ last three offensive coordinators — Shurmur and Bill Musgrave — were “like, one step below, the guys” in the West Coast offense (Bill Walsh, Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan). “The next guys are like, Coach Shurmur, Coach [Brad] Childress, Coach Reid. I’m that next rung; I’m like the grandchild.”
That being the case, DeFilippo won’t have the same kind of tall task that faced Shurmur when he had to convert the offense from Norv Turner’s Air Coryell scheme back to a West Coast-based offense.
“There’s no digits [in play names] in our offense,” DeFilippo said. “Coach Shurmur had to convert some of that stuff. I haven’t talked to Coach about it, but I’ve just heard from some of the other guys on the staff what that process was.”
DeFilippo’s addition to the Vikings’ offense might come through the no-huddle schemes he learned from Doug Pederson and Frank Reich in Philadelphia.
“That was one of the best things for me, just learning their way of doing the no-huddle offense, which was way more efficient than what I had been used to,” DeFilippo said. “A lot of our third-down thoughts came from San Diego, and what Frank did with those guys in San Diego. That was a really good package, as well. I know some of that trickled down from his time in Buffalo [with the Bills’ offense in the 1990s].”
Cousins said his conversation with DeFilippo was one of the most important parts of his free agent visit; “It’s a big part of success in the NFL — not only the strategy of the play design during the week, but during the game, the general theme of the system, the focus on what you want to be about. How similar was my background to his background? I have a lot of reps banked on doing things a certain way, so if there’s a lot of change, it’s going to change the way that I can play. That whole conversation was helpful. He has a West Coast background; I have a West Coast background. I love his intensity, and how committed he is to being the best he can, and being on the best team possible.”
As we discussed in the story, Cousins first met DeFilippo at the 2012 NFL combine, when DeFilippo was the Raiders’ QB coach. “The little bit of time I was with him, I liked what I saw,” Cousins said. “He’s been around a lot of coaches I respect in this league — Coach [Greg] Olson and some other people — and his time with the Eagles was very convincing, not only what Carson Wentz was able to do, what Nick Foles was able to do, Nate Sudfeld, in the game he played, I think it says a lot about Coach Flip’s coaching. Nate Sudfeld was a teammate of mine with the Redskins, and I reached out to other people like Carson Palmer, who worked with him in Oakland, just to get a feel for what he’s like. I did a lot of background, just trying to get an understanding from people who had crossed paths with him.”
The coordinator couldn’t say at this point how much of the Vikings’ offense will mirror what the Eagles did with Wentz, since it will be dictated by what Cousins does well. One area where DeFilippo might be able to help Cousins, though, is in the red zone, as our Andrew Krammer discussed last week.
DeFilippo was responsible for much of the Eagles’ red-zone scheme last season, and after helping the Eagles lead the league in red-zone efficiency, he’ll inherit the NFL’s ninth-ranked red zone offense, while trying to coax more production out of Cousins at the ends of drives.
“The best red zone teams do two things,” DeFilippo said. “No. 1, they run the football. They have success running the football. So right now, when you come out to our practice, you’re going to see us throwing the football more than we’re going to [during the season], because we have to work on that timing. It’s so unique down there; we’ve got to get that timing down. I told our O-line the other day, ‘Hang in there with me, fellas,’ because I would be shocked if we don’t have more rushing attempts inside the 20 than we do passing attempts. I just told them to hang in there with me. “No. 2, when you find out what the quarterback does good down there and what he feels comfortable with, you find different ways to do those things, over and over again, so now the quarterback feels comfortable cutting the ball loose into a tight window. The receivers have confidence in faith throws, of crossing the corners and safeties’ faces, knowing the ball’s going to be there on time, facemask or higher. Those are the two things we’re going to do to help him: Tighten up the package a little bit, and obviously, we need to have success running the football down there. Those are two things we can do to help him out.”
DeFilippo offered an immersive look at his red zone philosophy in this video produced by the Eagles’ in-house media network last year, and some of his core principles (throwing the ball high, targeting the back of the end zone, etc.) figure to carry over to the Vikings.
“Red zone football is about matchups,” DeFilippo said. “It’s who can beat who, one-on-one. Can a back beat a safety one-on-one in the hole? Can a receiver beat a DB one-on-one, in a two-yard space, where you’re telling him he has two yards to work from the back of the end line to go up and get a football? I’ve been on a team where we had a bunch of 5-foot-8 receiver [in Cleveland}, and it made life really, really hard, and our 6-foot-5 tight end [Gary Barnidge] broke Ozzie Newsome’s record for touchdowns in the red zone. So, does having guys that are bigger, like [Stefon] Diggs and [Adam] Thielen and [Laquon] Treadwell and [Kyle} Rudolph help? Heck yeah. “You’ve got to have some personnel. I’ve been on teams that had no problem moving the ball. You can scheme up and down the field on people. But once you get inside the 12-yard line? Phew. It’s tough sledding if you can’t win.”