Vikings Lose Promising Young Coach from Zimmer’s Staff

A coach with a robust, Vikings-laden resume is on the move as special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken is trekking westerly.

The Los Angeles Chargers hired Ficken on Thursday for a special teams coordinator job, a role he filled for the 2021 Vikings.

The news hit about 15 hours after reports indicated the Vikings would name Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell the next head coach. O’Connell cannot be announced officially until after his Rams complete Super Bowl LVI.

Ficken coached in Minnesota since 2007 – the dawn of the Adrian Peterson era – fulfilling a Kevin Stefanski-like career with the Vikings. He did it tall.

Ficken’s departure is a blow to the Vikings – at least it feels that way in January – because the 2021 Vikings special teams markedly improved from the 2020 gang. On special teams in 2020, Minnesota’s special teams were nightmarish, ranking 31st in the NFL per DVOA. And in one season, the Vikings improved to 13th per special teams DVOA, so Ficken was justly awarded credit. Ficken’s special teams started scoring kick-return touchdowns, hitting the bulk of field goals, actually gaining yards on punt returns, and disallowing huge gains by opponents on returns. Under Marwan Maalouf two years ago, most basic football functions were burdensome on special teams.

The move for Ficken isn’t wildly surprising. O’Connell will sit on the purple saddle in less than two weeks, presumably hiring his own coaching staff – probably men and women from the Rams and Commanders. Klint Kubiak from Zimmer’s staff already bolted west, too, heading to the Denver Broncos as quarterbacks coach.

More such moves will occur.

The era is new for the Vikings, led by general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. This is how change works. Several quality, reputable coaches will depart as O’Connell finds replenishments.

With Ficken exiting and O’Connell likely in charge of the offense – the next big move to monitor is defensive coordinator. Because O’Connell’s background is not defense-oriented, selecting a defensive coordinator must be a home run. The Vikings played poorly on defense in 2020 and 2021, plus the current personnel on the roster is lacking. The next defensive coordinator will own the defense, unlike the eight years in Minnesota before when Zimmer just controlled all defensive doings.

As it stands, the Vikings could have a brand new everything for 2022, from general manager, head coach, to coordinators – and maybe even quarterback.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. 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).