The Vikings History with 1st-Year Coaches Isn’t Good

The Vikings History with 1st-Year Coaches Isn't Good
Kevin O'Connell

If the 2022 Minnesota Vikings want to finish anywhere near better than average, they’ll have to defy team history.

Since 1961, the team’s inception, Dennis Green was the only first-year Vikings skipper to take Minnesota into the playoffs. The year was 1992, future NFL MVP Rich Gannon was the quarterback, running back Terry Allen was at the peak of his power, and defenders like John Randle and Chris Doleman took care of the rest.

Indeed, the Vikings won the NFC Central in Green’s maiden voyage, winning 11 games to just five losses. Unfortunately, Minnesota encountered a first-round spanking at the hands of the Washington Commanders 24-7 at the Metrodome. Not for nothing — the Commanders were reigning Super Bowl champions at the time.

Before and after Green, Vikings rookie coaches experience generalized futility, or at best, mediocrity. Here’s the skinny on Minnesota’s first-year skippers:

  • Norm Van Brocklin = 3-11 (1961)
  • Bud Grant = 3-8-3 (1967)
  • Les Steckel = 3-13 (1984)
  • Jerry Burns = 9-7 (1986)
  • Dennis Green = 11-5 (1992)
  • Mike Tice = 6-10 (2002)
  • Brad Childress = 6-10 (2006)
  • Leslie Frazier = 3-13 (2011)
  • Mike Zimmer = 7-9 (2014)
  • Kevin O’Connell = ?-? (2022)
Vikings Rank Higher Than Expected in ESPN Predictive Index
Mar 2, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

The 1986 team, led by Jerry Burns, missed the postseason by a whisker, employing players like Tommy Kramer, Darrin Nelson, and Keith Millard. Unbelievably, the Vikings ranked fourth in points scored and fifth in points allowed in 1986 but somehow still failed to qualify for the postseason tournament. Current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was the Vikings defensive backs coach that year. Bill Parcell’s New York Giants won the aforementioned tournament. Lawrence Taylor helped.

Thankfully for O’Connell, he inherits a roster arguably better than any other first-year Vikings coach. The 2002 team, coached by Mike Tice, was debatably equipped with a better offense — Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, Michael Bennett, Matt Birk, and Bryant McKinnie — but the defense was atrocious. The best players for the Vikings 2002 defense were Lance Johnstone, Chris Hovan, and Corey Chavous. Compare that to 2022 with Danielle Hunter, Za’Darius Smith, Eric Kendricks, and Harrison — and the forecast doesn’t seem awful.

Oct 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

If one uses Vikings history as precedent — which may or may not hold true for O’Connell — Minnesota will finish 6-11 (.352) in 2022. On the high side mathematically, the team is staring a 7-10 year in the face.

But that’s just how men did things in the past. O’Connell could reasonably drag the team to the postseason as Green did in 1992. If he does, though, he’ll shatter history.

Moreover, just five NFL coaches in the Super Bowl era reached the Super Bowl in Year One. Two have won the Super Bowl — Don McCafferty (Colts) in 1970 and George Seifert (49ers) in 1989.

Per oddsmakers, the Vikings are slated to win nine games in 2022.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).