Extensive Search: Ken Whisenhunt or Jack Del Rio

Who is a better fit as the next Minnesota Vikings head coach? Is this a classic case of offense versus defense… and which of those represents the bigger need for the Vikings?

 Both coaching candidates carry the dreaded “retread” label as each previously served stints as head coaches in the NFL. Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona from 2007-2012, and Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville from 2003-2011, both experienced some success as head coaches and both were fired after a couple disappointing seasons.       

Ken Whisenhunt started his coaching career at Vanderbilt coaching special teams, tight ends and running backs during his first two seasons as an assistant. After spending time in Baltimore, Cleveland and with the New York Jets, Whisenhunt was hired by the Steelers to coach tight ends in 2001. He moved up the ranks in Pittsburgh and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2004. After 11 seasons as an assistant coach, Whisenhunt was named head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2007.

 Jack Del Rio got his start in 1997 as a strength coach for the Saints and then spent three seasons as a linebackers coach for the Ravens before John Fox hired him as a defensive coordinator in 2002 with the Carolina Panther. One season later, Jack Del Rio was walking the sidelines as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. It only took Del Rio six seasons as an assistant coach before he landed his first head coaching job.

Del Rio is no stranger to Minnesota. He had an outstanding 11 year career as a linebacker in the NFL playing four of those seasons with the Vikings and proudly represented Minnesota in the 1994 Pro Bowl.

 Whisenhunt has no real ties to Minnesota that I could dig up.

Who has won more games as a head coach?

Jack Del Rio is 68-71 as a head coach if you don’t count his 3-1 record this year with the Broncos when he took over for John Fox when he was ill. Ken Whisenhunt is 45-51 but made it all the way to the Super Bowl in 2008.

Jack Del Rio’s winning percentage is .489 compared to Whisenhunt’s .469.

 Who coached against the tougher competition?

I give the edge to Del Rio. The AFC South was owned by the Colts’ Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy for many years during Del Rio’s time in Jacksonville. Jeff Fisher always had his Titans ready to play and Gary Kubiak and the Texans were no slouch either.

 During Whisenhunt’s time in the NFC West, Seattle had three coaching changes, St.Louis had four different head coaches, and the San Francisco 49er’s also hired four different head coaches.

 Who had the most talent to work with? Who will get the most out of Adrian Peterson?

Whisenhunt had quarterbacks like Kurt Warner, Tim Hasselback, Matt Lienhart, and Derek Anderson to work with along with a couple good offensive coordinators in Todd Haley and Mike Miller.

 Del Rio did his damage with Byron Leftwich and David Garrad at quarterback while Bill Musgrave, Carl Smith and Dirk Koetter were his offensive coordinators.

 Whisenhunt is regarded as an offensive guru and is generating a strong demand and buzz around the league… but I think Del Rio is the better fit for the Vikings. Not only because he can turn the Vikings defense around, but he can also keep the running game clicking at a high level.

 Under Del Rio, Fred Taylor or Maurice Jones-Drew hit the 1000 yard mark seven times during Del Rio’s nine years as a head coach in Jacksonville.

Whisenhunt only had a 1000 yard rusher twice in six years, once with Edgerrin James and once with Chris “Beanie” Wells.  

Edgerrin James rushed for 1500 yards four times with the Colts, and topped 1200 yards five out of seven seasons in Indianapolis before heading to Arizona. James’ best effort with the Cardinals under Whisenhunt was in 2007 when he rushed for 1222 yards, 7 touchdown and a 3.8 yards per carry average.

Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew consistently averaged over 4.5 yards per carry and eclipsed 1200 yards 6 times under Del Rio in Jacksonville..

And the icing on the cake is?

Former Vikings offensive coordinator and current Fox Sports analyst Brian Billick has indorsed Jack Del Rio as his top candidate for the Vikings. If Brian Billick thinks Del Rio is the right guy for the job, that’s good enough for me.

Coaching tree notes:

Jack Del Rio played with Ray Horton in Dallas from 1989-1992. Dave Campo the current defensive coordinator at Kansas (under head coach Charlie Weis), spent three seasons as the secondary coach on Del Rio’s staff in Jacksonville from 2005-2007. If Del Rio gets hired to be the next Vikings head coach, don’t be shocked if Ray Horton, Dave Campo, Norv Turner or Charlie Weis show up on his list of assistant coaching canidates.  

Ken Whisenhunt served on the same staff with defensive coach Ray Horton and former offensive coaches Mike Mularkey and Mike Miller in Pittsburg. As head coach in Arizona, Whisenhunt hired Miller as offensive coordinator and Horton as defensive coordinator in 2011-2012. 

Boy, would I love to see Ray Horton as the next defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings. 

Denver versus San Diego:

Whisenhunt and Del Rio will square off against each other this Sunday in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, and the loser will surely land a head coaching job by Monday somewhere.

So, will the Vikings be patient enough to keep waiting for the Denver coordinators, Whisenhunt, or other coaches that might move on to the champoinship games in the playoffs? Or will Spielman go ahead and hire Mike Zimmer, Todd Bowles, Ray Horton, or the best available coach sometime next week?