Reports throughout the league indicate that the Minnesota Vikings are pursuing Mike Mularkey to be their next offensive coordinator. However, it seems Minnesota is one of three teams looking to bring him aboard.
The prognostications of football fans, bloggers and professional press all seem to congeal in the off-season.
What player should be jettisoned for available cap money, which should be extended to keep off the potential market, whom should replace or supersede whom, etc? There’s rarely a shortage of opinions.
But when it comes to coaching, what do we really all know?
Sure, everyone is looking for that next Sean McVay or Matt Nagy, but exactly who are these guys, where do they come from, and most importantly, who do they know that can help them become a success with their new team?
McVay had the benefit of one of the league’s finest minds on defense to ease into his first year in Los Angeles, Wade Phillips, not only the defensive designer of the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos’ defense of 2015, but a former head coach.
In Chicago, Nagy had Vic Fangio as his defensive counterpart, a guy who had helped build a solid young unit during John Fox’s years there. Oh, yeah–and he serendipitously got Kahlil Mack, most likely one of the two best defensive players in the league, a short list that includes Aaron Donald, who plays for the aforementioned Rams.
Point being, partnerships fuel championship runs. And none more valuable than in the coaching ranks. Yes, there was once a Mike Ditka and a Buddy Ryan on the same legendary football team–and they didn’t like each other, but Ditka and Ryan unit’s complimented each other.
One controlled the game with a solid ground game, and the other tore offenses apart. Nice recipe if you can get talent like the ‘85 Bears had, but there’s a fat chance of that.
So the subject matter here is whether the Vikings should up the ante and sign Mike Mularkey. I say yes, empathically.
Not only does Mularkey share the same veteran mindset of Mike Zimmer in game theory, design philosophy, and coaching, he is most likely an invaluable link to also signing one of the NFL’s most respected offensive line player and coach in Russ Grimm.
Both the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars have also interviewed Mularkey. So where does that leave the Vikings?
The coach has a home in Atlanta, where, like Jacksonville, the weather is nice in the winter. Minnesota is cold and snowy. But so was Pittsburgh in his days as Steeler OC, and in Buffalo, when he was the Bills’ head coach for two years.
So–is it going to be about the money?
In Atlanta, Matt Ryan and the Falcons are, and always will be, a team that lives by the pass. It’s how they lost a Super Bowl. I’m not sure that Mularkey and Grimm want to reinvent that. In Jacksonville, there are problems with both players and personalities that they may look to avoid.
In Minnesota, the Vikings should make Mularkey a handsomely compensated coach. If it “all starts up front”, they should also make Grimm a unique asset.
With Mike Zimmer moving into the last year of his contract, the Wilf’s have too much invested in this team to not go ‘all in’ on what will give it every opportunity to operate with more success and less disappointment.
Zimmer, Mularkey, and Grimm sounds like a law firm built to protect large steel and concrete structures. That’s what U.S. Bank Stadium is. The Minnesota Vikings are the thing that fills it with people.
Mularkey has no glaring success in his long career to make him appear as the next McVay or Nagy. What he does have is an ancient record of designing and installing offensive team and game plans that use the run to set up play-action and the passing game.
He has had success with this disposition in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Atlanta, and Tennessee.
Is this a narrative ideal that every NFL team needs to employ? Of course not. But it is the ideal that is the natural counterpart to Mike Zimmer’s system defense. Although it was shown to be effective if far from dominant in 2017, it allowed a backup quarterback and a running attack without it’s primary back to be markedly more fruitful than what we saw in 2018 with a massive free-agent QB signing and a running platoon intact.
So, if it is about the money, please Mr. Spielman, Mr. Wilf, pay this man (hopefully these men) what he/they are worth. Not just as coaches, but as coaches of this team, which truly needs their offensive leadership.