When Jared Allen got the call this past weekend, he felt a dozen kinds of bummed. Yes, Allen knew changes to the Vikings' coaching staff were probable following a 3-13 season during which the team ranked 21st in the NFL in total defense. But Allen had also been outspoken with his support of the two coaches he had worked most closely with: defensive coordinator Fred Pagac and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar.
Now? Both Pagac and Dunbar have been relieved of their duties, the two coaching casualties to date on Leslie Frazier's staff.
When Pagac called Allen to formally convey his bad news this past weekend, just a week after Dunbar's dismissal, Allen couldn't supress his disappointment. He told Pagac he enjoyed the time they had to work together and wished him well.
"Coach Pagac is a no-nonsense guy," Allen said this afternoon. "He didn't make any excuses for what happened. He just told me he was out here. ... It is what it is with him. That's how he was. It was, 'This is what we're going to do; this is how we're going to attack things.' He never once griped and complained. He could have stood up there and said, 'Listen, we're so beat up in the back end, we can't play the way I really want.' But he never took that route. I admired that kind of attitude. And for him to accept this decision that he was finished here the way he did, to me, is indicative of who he is."
Where the Vikings turn next to fill their two open positions is anybody's guess. In the throes of any coaching search, no matter the magnitude, it can be easy to lose perspective, to grow frustrated and breathless wondering how the interview process is unfolding. So perhaps it’s worth pointing out that the Vikings’ next regular season game is still 237 days away. That’s almost 34 weeks from now, to put it in more conventional terms.
Take a small step back and common sense says that between now and then, Frazier will have officially found a defensive coordinator to replace Pagac. Right now? That position is still being vetted – still being the operative word – with details of the organization’s search kept so close to the vest that even the players feel incredibly out of the loop.
On Monday, four Vikings acknowledged their curiosity and anxiety in tracking the search. But none of them had any exact pulse on how things were developing at Winter Park, instead tracking Twitter, watching the crawl on SportsCenter and the NFL Network and waiting for any kind of news to surface online.
Said one player: "We're just like everybody else. We're waiting to find out how the dust settles and wanting to know what's going on. You're in a state of limbo and wondering what's happening. You really want answers and you want to know who's eventually going to be calling the plays. But you have to wait and hope that we hear something in the next couple weeks."
This evening, Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network reported that Alan Williams, currently the defensive backs coach in Indianapolis, has become a target for the defensive coordinator opening. Over the weekend, Todd Bowles also had his name linked to the Vikings' search, though he may also have opportunities to interview for head coaching openings in Oakland and Miami. (Bowles became the Dolphins interim head coach in mid-December following the firing of Tony Sparano.)
So now more than two weeks after the season ended, Vikings fans and players are still staring at those two somewhat disconcerting words: Stay tuned.
No definitive direction has become obvious.
As a reminder, the Vikings' coaching staff will head to Alabama this coming weekend to spend a week coaching the North squad at this year's Senior Bowl. It would be advantageous to Frazier to have his 2012 coaching staff firmly in place before that trip. But as general manager Rick Spielman noted late last week, the Vikings won't rush a decision based on that timeline either.
What is known to this point is that Pagac has been offically removed from the defensive coordinator positon.
"I hate to see Pagac go," Allen said. "People know how I felt about him and the job he did with what he had to work with. Between here and Kansas City, he's been with me pretty much my entire career. But that's the business. Now, I have to trust that we'll do the right thing and hopefully they'll keep me in mind as they weigh their decisions on who to bring in."