The Vikings struggled on offense in 2018 — both in scoring points and establishing an identity. In an attempt to fix what ails them, they’ve thrown a lot of brainpower at the problem.
So the question today is this: What should we make of the offseason decisions — most notably retaining Kevin Stefanski as offensive coordinator and then hiring Gary Kubiak?
First take: Michael Rand
Well, the first instinct is to wonder if there are, as they say, too many cooks in the kitchen.
This happened to a certain extent in 2016, when the Vikings brought in Pat Shurmur and Tony Sparano — offensive assistants with head coaching experience — to join Norv Turner.
Turner quit halfway through the year in the midst of the Vikings’ season falling to pieces.
Kubiak is an “assistant head coach and offensive adviser.” Philosophically everyone should be pretty well-aligned, but I do wonder whose voice will be heard the loudest.
Columnist Chip Scoggins: I don’t worry about too many voices in this case. Let’s remember that Kevin Stefanski has been an offensive coordinator for three games total. So there are still some unknowns over how he’ll handle the job.
Mike Zimmer is entering the final year of his contract and likely needs to return to the playoffs to earn an extension. As you mentioned, the offense underperformed and Kirk Cousins looked skittish in big moments, especially late in the season.
I see the Kubiak hire accomplishing two things: He gives Zimmer a veteran presence and confidant on staff, much like he had with the late Tony Sparano. And Kubiak can help Stefanski grow into the OC role. Naturally, there will be questions about who is running the offense behind closed doors. But if the offense performs better and the Vikings are winning, the outside perception won’t matter.
Rand: Zimmer probably sees Kubiak as an ally in the desire for offensive balance. As our colleague Mark Craig pointed out, Kubiak’s teams — when he’s either been offensive coordinator or head coach — have run the ball 47 percent of the time in 22 NFL seasons.
The narrative in the NFL is that explosive offenses win, but I’ll note that the Super Bowl matchup between the Patriots and Rams features two teams in the top 10 in rushing attempts this season.
But you also mentioned Zimmer’s contract situation. I can’t help but look at Kubiak’s résumé, which includes a Super Bowl title in 2015, and wonder if he’s being brought in to watch over more than just Stefanski (who is already the Vikings’ fourth offensive coordinator since 2016).
Scoggins: I always like the idea of hiring as many good coaches as possible, but Zimmer probably sees Kubiak as an insurance policy in case Stefanski struggles. If the offense doesn’t make significant improvement early in the season, Zimmer knows he can turn things over to Kubiak in a pinch.
They obviously hope it doesn’t reach that point. But it is similar, as you mentioned, to Zimmer bringing in Shurmur, a former head coach and offensive coordinator, to coach tight ends in 2016.
Rand: I wonder if Kubiak could replace Zimmer instead of Stefanski.
Final word: Scoggins
Maybe, but I don’t really view the move in that way. If a coaching change happens after next season, I’m guessing the Wilfs would start completely over with a wide search.
More Rand: startribune.com/RandBall
More North Score: startribune.com/NorthScore