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6 Minnesota Vikings head coaching candidates to replace Mike Zimmer

Andrew Buller-Russ

Shortly after the regular season ended, the Minnesota Vikings fired head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman after another season of missing the playoffs.

They both had their share of successes and failures during their time in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Specifically, Zimmer had a fine tenure in Minnesota, reaching the NFC Conference Championship in 2017 but the inconsistency of his team’s play had been maddening at times.

Minnesota’s head coach reportedly faced a mandate to reach the playoffs or for the exit door handle. While he posted a 72-56-1 win-loss record since taking over in 2014, Zimmer’s days in purple are over.

The Vikings have hired their general manager, with the introduction of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, now they turn their attention to hiring a new head coach.

Here are six Minnesota Vikings coaching candidates to keep an eye on over the next few days.

Related: 2022 NFL Power Rankings – New York Jets climb, Patriots and Bears fall after NFL Draft

Kevin O’Connell becomes latest Sean McVay protege to land HC gig

NFL: Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For anyone who’s not a fan of Kirk Cousins, kindly scroll to the next segment, you’re not going to like this one. Currently the Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator, Kevin O’Connell has interviewed for a head coaching gig in two spots this offseason. Not coincidentally, one was the Denver Broncos, where former AGM George Paton now works as their top decision-maker, and the other, is the Minnesota Vikings.

O’Connell also has ties to the Vikings’ current QB, Kirk Cousins, as seen above wondering why he retired as a player only to coach players such as Nate Sudfeld. Bad jokes aside, O’Connell spent 2017 as the quarterbacks coach, which was the final season for Cousins in Washington.

After being promoted to offensive coordinator his final season in Washington, O’Connell joined Sean McVay in LA in the same role, where they led a top-10 offense in both yards and points scored in 2021. In all, O’Connell has worked for Jay Gruden, Chip Kelly, McVay, and Mike Pettine.

What O’Connell would bring to the table is what several Vikings fans have been clamoring for — a bright, young offensive mind. As a former QB himself, O’Connell can help the Vikes get the most out of Justin Jefferson and may be able to maximize the potential of whoever ends up being under center in 2022.

Just 36 years old, O’Connell only has a total of seven years of coaching experience in the NFL. He’s probably not Adofo-Mensah’s top choice, but he did overlap with O’Connell in 2016 with the 49ers.

Minnesota Vikings opt for Super Bowl experience over potential

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings already had one of the more experienced head coaches calling the shots, with Zim. Though, the big difference here is he’s a defensive-minded head coach whose defense hadn’t held up in the back end.

Someone like former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson should be a popular candidate for many teams in a similar position as the Vikings are. Of course, Pederson won a Super Bowl just five years ago, more recently than any other candidate with head coaching experience in this hiring cycle.

Many expect Pederson to be hired this offseason after taking the 2021 football year off, but teams don’t seem to be lining up to get a chance at hiring him, with only three interviews so far. Only the Jaguars’ vacancy remains of the teams who have interviewed Pederson and he doesn’t appear to be a finalist there either.

It doesn’t feel like the Vikes are preparing to hit a full reset button, probably preferring to try and retool as they aim to compete for the playoffs again next season. Which is something both team ownership and recent GM hire Adofo-Mensah have echoed. A good way to ensure they don’t tumble down the standings could be by hiring an experienced hand like Pederson.

Raheem Morris gets shot at redemption with Minnesota Vikings

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams Joint Practice
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

One interesting candidate that could still emerge as a finalist is current Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris. Curiously he’s interviewed with just one team so far, yet that team is the Minnesota Vikings. Yes, Morris received an HC opportunity once before, but that was over a decade ago, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Since then, Morris started back from scratch, as a secondary coach with Washington. He spent three seasons biding his time before getting another opportunity with the Atlanta Falcons, spending five seasons as their assistant head coach, while serving in various other roles. The past two seasons he’s been back to coordinating a defense, first with the Falcons and this year with the LA Rams, who have reached the NFC Championship.

Notably, Morris has never led a top-10 unit in defensive yards allowed, but he did have one season in the top-10 in points allowed, coming back in 2010 when he was a head coach. With the Rams, Morris has been able to coach three future Hall of Fame defenders with Von Miller, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, but those players won’t be coming with him to Minnesota.

While Morris could likely help the team improve their run defense, after finishing 26th in yards allowed compared to the Rams finishing sixth, he may not be the total package. Raheem Morris would bring head coaching experience, but it remains to be seen whether he’s the best head coaching candidate for the Minnesota Vikings in 2022.

Minnesota Vikings hire young defensive specialist, DeMeco Ryans

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Houston Texans
Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Suddenly 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has emerged as a top head coaching candidate for the Minnesota Vikings and has already interviewed with the team once. With ties to Adofo-Mensah from 2017-19 when KAM was in San Fran, Ryans is another rising star with previous playing experience, but unlike the other candidates listed here, “Mufasa” played defense.

Most would say the Vikings already have a strong foundation on offense, and several talented pieces on defense as well. Yet, it’s hard to argue that the defensive side of the ball should be prioritized with their recent struggles.

The momentum for hiring Ryans has only grown with each week that goes by. Whether it’s his defensive gameplan helping shut down Aaron Rodgers, kicking the Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs, or the hiring of Adofo-Mensah, Ryans might actually be the current frontrunner to take over for Mike Zimmer as the next head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

Minnesota Vikings re-hire Eric Bieniemy, this time as head coach

NFL:  Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Current Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy entered the NFL coaching ranks with the Minnesota Vikings back in 2006 under Brad Childress. Bieniemy’s title was running backs coach, since he’s a former RB himself, it was a great role. His NFL coaching debut was also Chester Taylor’s first year in Minnesota, who produced a career-best 1,216 rushing yards.

The following year, the Vikings selected future Hall of Fame halfback Adrian Peterson, who was immediately effective, winning Rookie of the Year. Bieniemy coached the Vikings’ running backs for five seasons before leaving once Childress was let go in 2010. He then went to his alma mater at Colorado as their offensive coordinator for two seasons before landing another RB coach gig, this time with Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2018, he was promoted to offensive coordinator after Matt Nagy left for Chicago.

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During his time with the Chiefs, Bieniemy achieved what the Vikings’ franchise never has. The illustrious Super Bowl ring. Of course, Patrick Mahomes is the ringleader there, but Bieniemy has consistently drawn praise throughout the league. Notably, he is not their play-caller, those duties lie with Reid, but Bieniemy has called plays at times for the Chiefs.

With the success the Chiefs have had since drafting Mahomes, Bieniemy has been on the head coach hiring shortlist, receiving several interviews, but has never been able to land a head coaching gig. Maybe Bieniemy’s waiting for the ideal landing spot, a place where he feels confident about his chances to win.

It’s easy to say he’s not the engine making the Chiefs a dominant offensive force or to knock him for a lack of play-calling experience, but many coaches don’t call their own plays, such as Tampa Bay’s Bruce Arians. If Bieniemy can hire experienced play-callers, he should be considered a strong candidate for any open head-coaching spot, including the Minnesota Vikings.

Vikings make splash hire with Jim Harbaugh

jim harbaugh
Credit: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

I’ll readily admit, Jim Harbaugh is by far my favorite candidate on this list. Not only does he have extensive experience coaching an NFL team, he’s also proven he can be successful doing so. He’s also done the same at the college level with the Michigan Wolverines.

Now, Harbaugh could be getting back into the NFL. Ever since the college football season ended, Harbaugh has been rumored to be interested in going to the next level again, but so far there hasn’t been a single team who has officially interviewed the former QB.

It could be that Harbaugh is just using the NFL as leverage as several other college coaches routinely do, or it could be he’s just waiting to find the perfect landing spot.

One thing silently working in favor of Harbaugh landing in the North Star State is his experience with Adofo-Mensah as well. During the first two seasons of KAM’s NFL career, Harbaugh was coaching the 49ers. Harbaugh’s 44-19-1 NFL record looks quite intriguing, especially when remembering he brought his team within four points of a Super Bowl victory in 2012, only to lose to his brother, John. Older brothers suck, don’t they?