Vikings Search for a Defensive Coordinator Narrows

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Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O'Connell

The Minnesota Vikings are guaranteed a new defensive coordinator in 2023, but that man will not be Ryan Nielsen, who was the New Orleans Saints co-defensive coordinator in 2022.

Nielsen accepted the Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator job Friday, tweeted by NFL Network‘s Ian Rapoport, “The Falcons have announced Saints co-DC Ryan Nielsen as their new defensive coordinator.”

Vikings Search for a Defensive Coordinator Narrows

The Falcons main social media accounts broke the news using a witty play on words, “Our Nielsen rating just went up.”

Vikings Search for a Defensive
Oct 20, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; New Orleans Saints co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports.

Vikings fans greeted the Nielsen-to-Atlanta news will a decisive “dah well,” as the former Saints coach was low on their list of preferences. VikingsTerritory polled fans this week, and the Vikings body politic emphatically wants Brian Flores, not Nielsen, as the 2023 defensive bossman.

Nielsen is a sexy name in the NFL coaching carousel. He’s a 43-year-old, California-born former football player who played college ball at USC and started 30 games in his NCAA career as a defensive lineman. Nielsen later signed a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles but failed to make the roster as a rookie. He spent a season in the Arena Football League before he started his coaching career.

Nov 17, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports.

His first gig was as a defensive line coach at Ole Miss. After spending more than a decade in the college football ranks with various schools and in a plethora of roles, Nielsen became the defensive line coach for the Saints in 2017, his first job in the NFL.

Nielsen clawed his way up the Saints coaching tree, survived the exodus of Sean Payton last year, and boom, the man has a job as defensive coordinator for the Saints rival about six years after turning pro.

Oct 31, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores looks on against the Buffalo Bills during the second half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports.

Meanwhile, the Vikings have three candidates for the DC job in their orbit as of Friday night — Sean Desai (Seattle Seahawks), Brian Flores (Pittsburgh Steelers), and Mike Pettine (Vikings). That list could grow at any minute; the team could also announce Desai, Flores, or Pettine as “the guy” as soon as now. The search is fluid.

Too, Minnesota may be waiting for Flores’ situation with the Arizona Cardinals. He’s in the running for Arizona’s head coaching job and figures to be a finalist alongside Sean Payton, Nielsen’s former boss. NFL coaching arrangements sometimes feel like an extended and familiar game of musical chairs.

Nielsen inherits a Falcons defense that ranked 29th via EPA/Play and 30th in defensive DVOA. The Vikings ranked 16th in EPA/Play — probably because they forced a lot of turnovers in 2022 — and 27th in DVOA.

The Vikings play Nielsen’s Falcons next season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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 Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

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