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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?

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Carl Knowles

Carl Knowles (Contributor) is a former member of the Professional Bowler Association and an avid lifelong Vikings fan. When he is not bowling you can find him on websites and forum pages sharing his creative insight and enthusiasm for the Minnesota Vikings any chance he gets. Carl was a Phoenix Institute of Technology and Purdue University standout who currently enjoys the challenge of being a graphic director in the printing business. You can follow him on twitter @carlknowles_vt.

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  1. Carl I don’t think these 2 are in the running anymore. There were reports yesterday of 3finalists: Zimmer, Roman, and Bowles. I don’t like either Bowles or Roman so Zimmer is my favorite. I’d also like Ken Wisenhunt but don’t think he’s a finalist.

    1. skol,
      yes, I have seen the reports on Mike Zimmer and Todd Bowles… But the true is it doesn’t take that long to hire a head coach. Jay Gruden was already hired by the redskins in the same amount of time.

      If Zimmer or Bowles were really the top guy… One of them would have been hired by now, don’t you think?

      The reports you are reading about Zimmer and Bowles also say, the top 3 guys will need to be ok’d by the ownership. this could be just a cute way to buy more time? but why buy more time?

      1. With Speilman you never know. The guy is extremely anal and will want to look at every option. I’d be doing the exact same as him even if I thought Zimmer was the guy I’d still wait to check out Kenny and Roman.

      2. I think it is good that the Vikes are taking their time and not rushing it. As far as Gruden to the Skins, well you have the Dan Snyder factor playing into that. Most of the time, Snyder just wants to make a splash with a coach with a well known name.

  2. Skol, when a coach leaves an interview without landing the job, that is usually a bad sign more often than not.

    In my opinion, the top candidate is one of these three… Whisenhunt, Roman or Del Rio.

    I don’t really care who candidate number 2,3 and 4 is. I want to know who #1 is… And I don’t believe that person has met with the Viking yet or can be hired yet.

    Roman interviews with the Vikings today… Sunday night or Monday will be a big day if the right coach is available.

  3. thanks for the homework and the updates, Carl….is it obvious Case is out of the mix because of “timing”?

    1. “if” Gase is out of the mix, timing might be an issue… But lack of experience might also play a key factor.
      Spielman can’t afford a couple more losing seasons. He is in “win now” mode in my opinion.

      Whisenhunt, Del Rio and Mike Zimmer represent the win now guys.

      Roman and Gase represent more of a long range project.

  4. Gotta pull for the Saints today so we can get a higher draft pick in the 3rd round.

    1. No such luck Norse. Oh well, I dislike the Taints anyways. Don’t much care for the Seahags either.

  5. I do like Zimmer as a coach…think he could make this defense respectable next year, maybe great in a couple years.

  6. I’m cool with Zimmer. He has been around the league along time and I think he is ready for a head coaching job.

  7. Just read if Zimmer hired he would bring in Scott Linehan to be OC.
    He did pretty well while he was here under Tice, if I remember right. It was the defense that sucked mostly from 02′ thru 04′. The offense was usually ranked pretty high…
    I’d be okay with that.

  8. I would be fine with Linehan, people are already complaining about that rumor on some other boards, but I think he would work with the personnel he’s given. I would be slightly concerned about Felton and Ellison’s fit…he did utilize K-sass in his 3 years as our coordinator, so it’s not like he’s never had blocking TE’s before. I do think that we should all prepare ourselves for the chance (I think it’s a slim chance) that Bill Musgrave will be retained as our OC. He and Zimmer were on the same staff in Atlanta for a year…and as coach has pointed out on several occasions, our offense played pretty darn well considering how it was handicapped by the QB position. Zimmer’s D didn’t exactly have a tough time shutting us down this season though, so maybe that would kill his chances of being retained if Zimmer thought we looked like a cream puff offense on tape. Still though, whether it’s Zimmer or someone else, we may want to prepare ourselves for that chance.

  9. I don’t even think Wisenhunt had interviewd with the Vikes yet, Del Rio either. Zimmer seems to be the emerging favorite. My guess is it’s him. I hope we get a top knotch OC.