What the Vikings have learned after the failure of John DeFilippo

(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Gary Kubiak
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Gary Kubiak /

What type of wisdom has the Minnesota Vikings have taken from the 2018 hiring and firing of offensive coordinator John DeFilippo?

Everybody is looking for another John Madden, the linebacker coach that Al Davis audaciously made head coach of his Oakland Raiders at 32. In ten seasons, Madden won two Super Bowls, went to countless AFC Championship Games and retired with what is still the second-ranked winning percentage for NFL coaches.

We’ve seen scores of “young guys” get their shot in that endeavor. Some of the successes are Don Shula at 32, Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, and Mike Tomlin at 34. But for every Super Bowl, there’s a bunch of names who fell in way over their head.

Mike Shula, Jim Mora, Jr., Raheem Morris, and Josh McDaniels are some of the names of the past, but nowadays, there are Adam Gase and Kyle Shanahan, whose head coaching record is five cumulative seasons is 33-47.

But there is also Sean McVay, who in his second season, took the resurrected Los Angeles Rams to Super Bowl LIII.

So the search will go on. Why hire old, crusty NFL coaching vets when you can sell tickets with a lean young guy with a decent haircut and a mod, trimmed beard?


What Rick Spielman saw in the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback coach John DeFilippo at the end of the 2017 season is what perhaps we all saw, an individual who could be the final piece of the puzzle in getting the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl as well as a guy with the visor and clipboard, the right shoes, the diction, the attitude, the grasp of the details of a truly modern vertical passing game.

But it was illusion, friends.

There is no way a coach like Mike Zimmer pounded the table for a guy like Flip.

No one remembered that this “quarterback whisperer” was indeed the offensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns in 2015. His offense didn’t run the ball and his team ended the season 3-13.

For five years as the QB coach in Oakland and Philadelphia, DeFilippo never called plays. He did, however, have a great resume with the names of young Derek Carr, Carson Wentz, and Nick Foles and Vince Lombardi (the Super Bowl Trophy), on it.

Spielman saw a balanced and aggressive 2017 Philadelphia Eagles team which ran with power and creativity and blew games open with a bold passing game. He didn’t see that Eagle head coach Doug Pederson, an NFL player and coaches for decades (and disciple of Andy Reid), calling plays from his own sheet.

No. He saw Flip standing next to him, the next great offensive mind of the NFL, pulling the strings.

So, the Vikings hired him. Put him in purple. Flashbulbs and smiles were everywhere. They exclaimed and retorted that they had found their “guy”, the tinker who the golden screwdriver who would put Kirk Cousins, their newly minted quarterback, in all the right positions to win football games.

Young guy! Boy Genius! Flip!

Fast forward to September. OTAs are over, camp is done. DeFilippo’s “aerial dynamics” are installed. Additional fireworks are ordered for US Bank Stadium to celebrate Vikings’ touchdowns. Life is good in a purple number eight jersey.

Then offensive line coach Tony Sparano suddenly dies. Zimmer names two position coaches into a tandem arrangement to replace him.

This was a tough position, true. A trusted coach, tactician, confidant to Zimmer, was now lost. But let’s remember that this was a 13-3 football team in 2017. It had added a significant upgrade at the quarterback position, a healthy Dalvin Cook to its backfield, and was running with two Pro Bowl wideouts at its flanks, one being a first-team All-Pro.

After five games, the Vikings were 2-2-1, and averaging 53 yards a game running the football. After their bye week, they ran for just 22 yards against the Bears in Chicago, losing a close battle, 25-20.

After road losses in New England and Seattle where the Viking offense mustered cumulative 554 total yards (clearly augmented by drives after both games were out of reach), John DeFilippo was fired.

Next Man Up

Who fired him? The question should be–who hired him?

In the three weeks after Flip was asked to leave town, 36 year-old Kevin Stefanski (an assistant coach that had been with the Vikings since the time that Brad Childress was in charge), is given the opportunity to provide a “creative spark” to the Vikings’ offense and lead a flailing team to the back-end of the playoffs.

The Vikings explode at home against the 7-6 Miami Dolphins at home, rattle, and hum against the 5-9 Detroit Lions…!

…and then lay an offensive egg for the Ages against the division leader and rival Chicago Bears in a game at U.S. Bank Stadium in which the offense amasses 164 total yards, loses in humiliating fashion 24-10, and puts them squarely out of the 2018 NFL playoff tournament.

Not long after, a purple bat-light went up. At the switches was not Rick Spielman, but Mike Zimmer. It summoned 57-year-old Gary Kubiak and 60-year-old Rick Dennison, two coaches with so much NFL experience–as players and coaches–that their history on paper would fill a room.

On top of that paper would be one Vince Lombardi and a few Lamar Hunt trophies.

Kubiak would be the Vikings’ assistant head coach and “offensive consultant”, while Dennison would be the team’s offensive line coach and “run game coordinator”.

Oh, yeah, they also anointed Kevin Stefanski the Vikings’ offensive coordinator. Gary Kubiak’s son, Klint, who is 32, would take over Stefanski’s old position as quarterbacks coach.

Must Read. 8 career Vikings records that will never be broken. light

If it does not appear completely obvious that Kubiak and Dennison will run the Vikings’ offense (with, of course, some input from Stefanski whose NFL experience in calling plays as an OC is now three games), then I must be chasing a few illusions of my own.

But after 2018 and John DeFilippo, I certainly hope not.