Vikings Dodged a Bullet Last Offseason
The Vikings parted ways with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell after only one season a year ago, entering the market for a new defensive play-caller in Kevin O’Connell’s staff. Donatell’s group ranked 30th in points and 31st in yards allowed, and scary was the career days of some subpar QBs like Mac Jones and Daniel Jones. That postseason loss led directly to Jones’ huge contract extension with the Giants and Donatell’s dismissal.
Vikings Dodged a Bullet Last Offseason
There were a bunch of candidates in the mix for the vacant position, and the team conducted interviews with assistant head coach Mike Pettine, (at that point) Saints co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, (then) Seahawks associate head coach Sean Desai, and Brian Flores.
Nielsen joined Arthur Smith as DC in Atlanta. After Smith’s firing, Nielsen was looking for a new job, taking the same position in Jacksonville. His Falcons defensive unit was solid. Pettine has been in the same position ever since he was hired in 2022, functioning as a consultant for O’Connell and the defensive coaches.
Desai has been an interesting personality in the NFL world, but unfortunately for him, he has been in the news for negative reasons. He withdrew his name from Minnesota’s DC search before the franchise ultimately selected Flores for the gig, but he had been a hot name in the coaching ranks, even receiving the opportunity to interview for some head coaching jobs.
The longtime Bears assistant coach then joined Nick Sirianni’s coaching staff in Philadelphia, coaching one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. Previous DC Jonathan Gannon became the head coach of the Cardinals, a career path that Desai was aiming for.
But he couldn’t translate that roster talent onto the football field. The results were quite insufficient until the Eagles pulled the plug, took his play-calling away, and booted him from coaching meetings. Former Lions head coach Matt Patricia was promoted. Internal dysfunction and bad performance are terrible signs for his future career outlook.
In the first 13 games of the season under Desai, the Eagles ranked 29th in defensive EPA/play, a catastrophic result considering the talent on the roster with first-round picks all over the place.
Desai was fired after the disappointing season, and he went from head coaching interviews as a rising star in the coaching ranks to unemployment within less than 12 months, underlying how tough of a business the NFL really is.
The Vikings, meanwhile, hired Flores, also a former head coach and a highly respected coach in the league. He was viewed as a fantastic pickup, and he proceeded to field a wonderful defense for the majority of the season despite some personnel issues. In the middle part of the season, the Vikings had the best defense in the league before they struggled in the final three games.
Flores has always been viewed as a rental, a coach who would move on to become a head coach again. However, he has not received any chances to interview for a head coaching job in 2024. Perhaps his pending lawsuit against the NFL has played a role.
The defensive mastermind is fully expected to return to Minnesota for a second season. He could encounter the loss of Danielle Hunter in free agency, and Harrison Smith might retire, which would be two significant losses for him. The good news, however, is that he can get a lot out of underwhelming players and has some resources (cap space and draft picks) to find players who fit his system.
Although it might have worked out differently with the Vikings, hiring Desai over Flores would’ve been a massive blunder, considering the evidence we have.
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Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt